James Duncan Clark, Direction of Travel
It’s easy to be cynical about student work. Some of it certainly is hobbled by youthful naivety, the desire to please others, or by the sometimes rather narrow requirements of courses and institutions. Even so, graduate exhibitions like The Photographers Gallery’s Fresh Faced and Wild Eyed (FFWE) are a reminder that universities are also producing – or perhaps more accurately polishing – some extremely accomplished photographers. Indeed were it not for the title and lack of another unifying theme, then this might easily have passed for an exhibition of older, more established photographers.
To say there is no other theme to the show isn’t exactly accurate, as there are always some fairly apparent trends to these shows. Last year’s FFWE seemed to me to swing towards documentary photography, this year it veers rather noticeably in the opposite direction, towards the realm of art photography. I’m always reticent about pronouncing whether these trends reflect movements in the wider photographic world, or the predilections of the selecting curators. From the work I’ve seen more generally at degree shows over the last few months I’d suggest it’s possibly the former. At any rate, as the two fields are blurring to such a degree it’s questionable whether the distinction even matters.
On to the actual work, and having said the show is well stocked on the art photography front this seems like a good place to start. To highlight a couple of works; Chloe Rosser’s ‘Form’ manages the seemingly impossible, which is to do something that feels quite new with photographs of the nude human form. By contorting the bodies of her models she creates images reminiscent both of the dismembered statues of antiquity, and at the same time the images of damaged flesh and amputated limbs that have become common since our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another nice work is Johanna Ward’s ‘I shall Say Goodbye with my Strengthening Love for you, Forever and Ever’ a set of concertina books which mix a range of imagery to explore relationships and emotional states.
At the same time the documentary tradition is still quite well represented. For example there’s James Duncan Clarks’ ‘Direction of Travel‘ which records the hinterlands of the 2012 London Olympic site and picks up fragments of the lives which have been literally and metaphorically steamrollered over by the games (a slight confession, I know Clark and wrote the essay for his project, but wouldn’t have done that if I didn’t see something in it). Another nice project located right next to Clarks’ is Nikolas Ventourakis’ ‘Leaving Utopia’ which documents the ongoing economic crisis in Greece through a series of beautiful, delicate photographs which seek to show how the crisis has subtly changed Greek society.
As ever there’s a certain amount of work which probes exactly what photography is. Bruno Freitas de Oliveira’s photographs include not the just the boundaries of the photographic frame (an old trick to show that the photograph has not been cropped) but also parts of the neighbouring photographs on that roll of film, a nice reminder if we needed it that the final photograph is often one of several possible realities. By contrast there’s relatively little which tests the limits of photography or pushes it in particularly new directions. One which certainly does is Tracey Fahy’s Unplugged, which consists of photographs which have been converted into audio and printed as spectrograms, in a visual sense easily the most challenging body of work and one I hope to return to write on in the future. In short, it looks like there are still plenty of reasons to come away from here feeling optimistic about the role of university education in the photographic life of the United Kingdom.
Fresh Faced and Wild Eyed is on at The Photographers Gallery until July 20th 2014.