Image and Exploration: Some Directions in British Photography 1980-85
21 June - 31 August 1985
Image and Exploration is a broad survey of work by seventy British photographers whose concerns hinge more on an ideal, personal, creative expression than commercial imperatives. For the most part all participants in this exhibition are young to photography, either self-taught or having graduated from colleges during the 1970s and '80s, but maintaining a serious and innovative commitment to the medium. However, there are several exceptions to this general rule - photographers of an earlier generation who have not received broad recognition.
The exhibition is divided into broad categories entitled Landmarks, Objective Subjects, and Social Commentaries with smaller sections relating to new colour photography, still life studies on the human form and multiple images. It was felt by the selectors that to pigeonhole any photographer was rather constraining and work by individual photographers does appear in different sections.
Landmarks represents the largest section within the exhibition showing pieces of work by twenty-five photographers. It traces their multiple responses to the intimate, constructed, urban and rural environments. Through the interiors of Mary Cooper, Berris Conolly and Damian Gillie we are given evidence of man's domestic habitat- not an intimate view but an inanimate one. The sequence continues with work by Peter Gale and Christopher Taylor who reduce urban structures to formal graphic motifs while Chris Colclough, Mark Warner and Paul Reas present a cityscape, that is, in many ways, redolent with a sense of alienation. The work of Paul Highnam and Chris Bekher provides a different focus. Both photographers have been influenced by the American new topographies school and they concentrate their respective energies on a meticulous documentation of the City of London and A Crown Building.
Sarah Morley and Helen Harris' work provides the turning point of the section - they assess the juxtaposition of man-made and rural environments. This theme is continued in the work of David Sample and Mike Harper, whose landscape photography duly acknowledges man's presence in the rural heartlands of Cumbria, Lincolnshire and Humberside, either by documenting imposing electrical pylons, oil pipelines or disused woodland roads and quarry tracks.
Matthew Conduit's series 'Groundworks' investigates the fusion between drawn marks in a man-made landscape and their relationship to the photographic image. There is also an element of performance In Conduit's work as he physically 'marks' the landscape before photographing. Two complete colour series with text end Landmarks: 'Kent Guide' by Matthew Needham investigates an acceptable photographic language using a sequence of different approaches to landscape and John Podpadec provides a six piece polemic entitled 'A Tribute to Exploitation' - man's destruction of the landcape for technological gain.
Objective Subjects deals with methods of and responses to portraiture. There is a general sense of the subject in direct confrontation with the camera. Portraiture has developed to the extent that the human subJect is of no greater importance than the selection of objects that surround him/her. This is particularly prevalent in the work of Michael Allott and Sue Packer. Even in the self portraits of Christine Duyt and Maurice Hobson the method of representation advances an objective investigation into how we see ourselves and in relation to whom. The photography of school children is an area in which many photographers are currently working and three different approaches are seen in the work of Joyce Edwards, David Rutter and Dave Williams. Humorous insights into the genre are provided by Maureen Paley's snapshot remakes and Bill Stephenson's portrait record of a Sheffield social club.
Social Commentaries runs parallel to that of Landmarks. It provides a more traditional reportage viewpoint of areas of social concern. The photographs chosen illustrate not only serious documentary subjects but also provide a visual aesthetic that goes beyond straight forward reportage. Works by John Charity, Martin Haswell, Nigel Inglis, John Kerr, Ged Murray, Mark Power, Glyn Satterley, Bill Stephenson, Patrick Sutherland and Paul Reas are included in this section.
An increasing number of photographers are working in colour. Photographs by Peter Fraser, who owes much to American photographer William Eggleston, are included in this section. Richard Barclay, Noel Brown, Bob Phillips and Meir Wigoder, while essentially presenting a 'documentary' view, also explore the manifest world with an intelligent understanding of the formal potential inherent in colour photography. Large scale works by Chris Craske, Stephen Lawson, Garry Miller, Ron O'Donnell and Paul Wombell present exploratory and highly individual approaches to the medium.
A small section on still life traces two different methods from the carefully constructed sets of Andrew Gray, Pradip Malde and Don McAllester to the more organic records of Mick Fattorini, Ivan Haggar and John Nesbitt.
For The Photographers' Gallery this exhibition marks a re-statement of its commitment to showing new British photographers and provides a cornerstone on which to base future exhibitions which will explore new directions in the field.
A catalogue with essays by Jonathan Bayer, Ian Jeffrey and Alex Noble and including 60 black and white and 12 colour reproductions will be available from 28 June. The catalogue and exhibition are respectively edited and selected by Jonathan Bayer and Alex Noble.
Written in 1984 for the exhibition leaflet by Alex Noble
Featuring Chris Belcher, Chris Colclough, Berris Conolly, Mary Cooper, Peter Fraser, Peter Gale, Damian Gillie, Helen Harris, Paul Highnam, Pradip Malde, Don McAllester, Sarah Morley, Mark Power, Paul Reas, Christopher Taylor, Mark Warner, David Williams, Alexander Nobel, Maureen O. Paley, Paul Wombell, Stephen Lawson, Neil Inglis, David Sample, Mike Harper, Matthew Conduit, Matthew Needham, John Podpadec, Michael Allot, Christine Duyt, Maurice Hobson, Joyce Edwards, David Rutter, Bill Stephenson, John Charity, Martin Haswell, John Kerr, Ged Murray, Glyn Satterley, Patrick Sutherland, Richard Barclay, Noel Brown, Bob Phillips, Meir Wigoder, Chris Craske, Andrew Gray, Mick Fattorini, Ivan Haggar & John Nesbitt.
Curated by Ron O'Donnell & Sue Packer