We started our trip to Ireland in Belfast, firstly visiting Belfast exposed. Belfast Exposed was foundered as a community initiated project during Belfast’s political troubles in 1983. The community felt that they didn’t have a gallery space to communicate the political, and social experiences of the city. Belfast exposed is now a contemporary gallery highlighting new work.
I planned to visit Belfast’s Exposed Gallery and their exhibition titled “A Natural Order”. I had viewed the review from the Belfast Exposed website, this made my interest even deeper as it showed me a brief insight to the work that I was going to view when I visited. The work is of Lucas Foglia, and was on exhibition between the 18th of January and the 1st of March 2013, which covered the dates I was in Ireland for.
Lucas Foglia’s work “A Natural Order” looks at peoples lives who have chosen to live “of the grid” in the United States. Foglia was brought up in a similar situation, which means he has an understanding of their lives. This links back to the text I recently read by Levi Strauss (Levi Strauss D. (2003), The epiphany of the other in Between the eyes Essays on photography and Politics Aperture USA pages 42‐50) about Salgado’s work and how it differs from other social documentary photographers. The exhibition ‘A Natural Order” had an intimate and inside view on the communities that are self-sufficient.
I particularly liked “Family portrait with the photograph George took of Christina at their wedding, Tennessee”, as it demonstrated their life before hand and the contrast with their life now. The family is dressed in Amish clothes as this means the government would leave them to live how they wished. I felt that the image was very clever as the viewer is drawn in and questions who the woman in the photograph is. The viewer may be able to guess, though it is hard because of the high contrast between the different lives lead. The viewer is only sure who the woman is in the photograph when we read the title. The titles of the images were given to us on a separate piece of paper and weren’t displayed on the walls, I think this is so the viewer is engaged with the artwork first and then addresses the title afterwards, rather than being distracted from their original thoughts by the title.
“Homeschooling Chalkboard, Tennessee” is another favourite image of mine. This image shows a girl writing on a chalkboard, she appears exhausted and in despair. Having read what she has written on the board you begin to think that perhaps she is tired of the world and is scared of where the world is heading. This work is so thought provoking as you wouldn’t have thought such a young girl would have such deep thoughts about the world at such a young age, its unsettling.
I particularly like how the work worked as an exhibition. Having looked at the Photobook afterwards I agree that it is “One of the most beautiful and thought-provoking photobooks of the year.” (The Guardian), however I personally preferred walking around the exhibition and experiencing the different communities as large prints, I felt more involved as a viewer and would only buy the book as a memory of the exhibition not a replacement of seeing the work. I wonder what the Guardian would have said if they had seen the work on the walls; it was spectacular.
Having been around Belfast Exposed we went upstairs to the teaching area, where they encourage the community to take part in projects. We had the opportunity of having a talk from the curator of Source Magazine (John Duncan). Source magazine is based in Belfast, originally based on Belfast however it has grown from that to Ireland, to Britain. It is a contemporary photography magazine. Each edition includes 3 portfolios of photographers work and their essays. Duncan has studied photography himself and advised us to read Source along with other photographic magazine such as Photoworks, Blindspot, Freeze, Flash art, Prefix and Aperture. Source also includes exhibition reviews and book reviews; he said its important to look at what people are working on and thinking, along with reading around critical theory. He also mentioned that Source magazine are highly interested in graduate work as graduates are up and coming photographers and they like to see and show new work. Judith Williamson has a column about commercial advertising and deconstructing the myths, he suggested it was a good read as it deconstructs media imagery and isn’t overly academic. There are also columns about Law and Money, the circulation of imagery and privacy protection debates. Source magazine display the work in a pure platform, images appear in a non-interrupted way, uncluttered by text. The editions are put together by individual interesting pieces of work, sometimes with a strong connection and theme, and sometimes without; however the work always evolves and comes together.
We then stayed in Dublin for a few days in a Hostel called the Generator. Whilst in Dublin we visited the “Gallery of Photography” where they were displaying “Showcase 2012”, Irelands leading award for contemporary photographers. The exhibit contained the top 5 from over 180 artists. Alberto Maserin’s work looked at the transformation of priests in the Catholic Church, looking at portraiture and their visual transformation. Ann Marie Curran’s work looked at transforming empty buildings into beautiful spaces of light and shape. Martin Cregg’s work looks at the learning process in a photography course. Richard Gilligan captures the often misunderstood subculture of skateboarders and their construction of skate ramps. Ciaran Og Arnolds uses black and white imagery to represent the spectacles of an Irish town. The vastly differing work demonstrates the power and vigor of Contemporary Irish photography today.
We the looked at “The National Photographic Archive Gallery”, which covered Irish history through photography. The gallery was Unique and showed a vast amount of history from many generations and historical events. Some small events and some larger, from Amelia Earharts longest non stop flight being the first transatlantic flight by a woman in 1932, to the largest waterfall in Ireland and Britian (Powerscourt, Enniskerry, Co Wicklow) being frozen. The gallery covered everything from wars to the Irish culture in general.
We also had the chance to hear a talk from Kate Nolan and Paul Gaffney about their recent book work. “Neither” is a book that Kate Nolan has been working on, “an exploration into the hearts of young women in Kaliningrad. The first generation to have grown up after the collapse of the Soviet Union, they look to define their identity in this small island within Europe. The women I have been living with and sharing with have generously opened up their homes and their minds to allow me to better understand this link between place, identity and history.” (Kate Nolan). Kate Nolan stayed with these women for months at a time, she did research before she went however current information was hard to find, she found that her most important source was asking the women about their hopes and fears. She has already spent a total of three years on this project and it is finally coming together as a book. She felt the exhibition was nice, however it didn’t properly encapsulate the project. The book is how she believes her work will be best shown, because of this she has prepared many dummies so that the book is completely perfect and she is happy with it. Nolan’s biggest fear was miss-representation, as she was going in as a foreigner. She wanted to tell the stories, without making it a heavy text book, so she collected diary entries and letters from these women. The first dummy of the book had the photographs categorized into landscapes/details and then portraits afterwards, however separating the women out of their environment didn’t work for her. Kate Nolan’s advice for creating a book is too always make physical dummies, they are important, without these you can’t see how it actually works. Different sized images were used throughout the book, this gives a sense of space (like a good exhibition), however she didn’t want blank pages so the larger images show their importance. With the unique design of her book, she decided to do it herself, as publishers wouldn’t do it her way, as it would be too complicated. Whilst editing down her images she used yes, maybe and no piles (never throw away the no pile though), this is a similar way to how Paul Gaffney also said he worked for editing, it obviously is a successful way of editing.
Paul Gaffney’s work was very different, his work is meditative and pure; he immerses himself into the landscape. He produced his work by walking trails through France, Spain and Portugal for weeks at a time over 5 months in total over the summer. “We Make The Path By Walking” is a book about his journey and the subtle changes and experiences. He believes it’s about sequencing which is why it works well as a book, as they aren’t stand-alone images. John Gosage inspired Gaffney; he also shows a journey through his mind set, looking back over these kinds of books you get more and more from it each time. Paul Gaffney didn’t use any captions in his book, as he wanted his images to be open to interpretation. The title of his photobook came from a book and a poem; the poem by Antonio Machado (1912) called “Wanderer there is no path”. The poem is displayed at the back of the book, this makes the viewer look through it again as the images are first and then the context. His advice was that it is important to show peers and ask advice from others, if the sequencing works well then it has an amazing effect. For his book he thought it was important to have small images so that people were drawn in closer, that they were of high quality, of modest design, with very little text, he says that a portrait book works well for landscape images, and that it is highly important to have a high print quality. He personally likes Francois Deladerriere book “L’Illusion du Tranquille” and the way it is presented. Paul Gaffney thinks it’s important to have a simple modest design, at least for his book, as then it is more affordable to everyone. The design should not over take the images; “if it does you’ve done something wrong” (Paul Gaffney). Having heard from both Kate Nolan and Paul Gaffney I have a few more ideas of how to approach my book project from this term, the talk was highly informative and useful.
I also visited the Project Arts Centre, and their exhibition titled “Detouched”. Before even stepping foot into the gallery the viewer already asks themselves what this means…detouched? Detouched isn’t a word, it is the in-between of untouched and detached. I was confused to why the artists had chosen this title; perhaps confusion was part of their idea.
When I entered the gallery, it was clear that the work was about touch, but not actually touching. This sounds like a contradiction, however this makes sense of the title. We were allowed to touch the work, however this did not mean that we were in touch with it. The work consisted of videos showing the skin moving around underneath what we presume to be a hand dryer, the hands don’t even come in contact with the dryer, they are “detouched” aswell, and the viewer can only view this, they are a step further into the “detouched”. We are invited to explore the realms of touch without being able to touch what is being shown. A plastic mould of a face shows us the idea of a face, however we cannot touch the physical face, we touch the in-between, the layer created from the physical. Again we are “detouched”.
The work prevoked ideas of touch; even though the viewer was “detouched”. It was a gallery about interaction and touch, though we physically couldn’t. We viewed others experiences on screens and sculpture, but were unable to touch what we were shown. Our confusion from the experience means we are “detouched” from it, we don’t understand what the artists have felt, and the viewer is left wondering.
“Today, to touch doesn’t mean the same thing it used to. By merging the hand with the machine, contemporary technology generates a detached sense of proximity, or a sense of detouch. This exhibition presents drawing, moving image and sculptural installations which engage with the distance of touch.” Having read this information afterwards it backs up what I understood and took from my experience of the gallery.
Many of my peers left the exhibition confused still and didn’t understand the work. Perhaps the gallery needed to show more information about the work (giving information on the walls rather than small leaflets) and what it could demonstrate, as it took a while to grasp understanding and take meaning from it. The work was extremely different from other practioners, through the abstract it challenged our ideas of touch. Perhaps this links with the idea of the Internet, we are not viewing the physical; we have the second viewing. Are we actually touching anymore…? I liked how the exhibition made the viewer experience touch in an unusual manner, and made us question what touch really means. In our everyday lives are we touching as many things as we think or are we actually “detouched” from them.
Having visited all these places in Ireland, I now have a wider view on photography. I have taken many things from this trip and hope to use them in my future work.