Wednesday, 11 July 2012

"On Photography." Wearing at Whitechapel

Gillian Wearing had a recent exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery (shamefully the last 'proper' exhibition I went to) and I loved it.

Arguably her most iconic image (below) featured on the advertising posters all over the tubes and first entered my photography education at sixth form where I attempted to quite literally copy her, however my sign read, "I love Vogue". Not so insightful- or was it? 
 "I'm desperate" 1992-3

The interpretive text at the start of the exhibition quoted this from Wearing;

"I'm always trying to find ways to discover things about people, and in the process discover more things about myself."

For me, this illustrates perfectly the relationship most photographers have with their subjects, their photographs, and their medium. 

This approach to photography applies especially to portraiture and leads to further questions about people in photographs. 
Walter Benjamin writes about the effect of mechanical reproduction on photography and through this explores older photographic processing including daguerreotypes- one of the earliest forms of photography. A single glass plate, with an almost holographic image on top. 

Benjamin discusses the effect of a longer exposure time. My interpretation of his writing develops into an understanding that a prolonged exposure time allows the subject to grow into the image. I love the idea that the longer we sit in front of the lens, the more of us we give to the image, and the more insightful it is.

As Wearing rightly addresses, photography is also about discovery and exploration of the photographer themselves.

A while ago I attended the Degas exhibition at the Royal Academy, there was little photography but the curator had written this about the images that were presented;

"Several of his portraits are startlingly intimate, emphasising the solitude of his later life and his increasingly melancholy disposition."

The portraits were of OTHER people, and it left me wondering how an image of someone else can reveal so much about the person behind the lens, unwillingly? The idea that Degas projected so much of himself into his portraits of other people is almost unsettling to the idea that being behind the lens can be equally as revealing as being in front. 

Through photography, although a deceptive medium at times, there is no escaping a truth, whomever or whatever it may be of.

My notes from the Wearing exhibition simply say "disturbing, insightful and incredibly personal." Perhaps a relevant comment on her subjects AND her.

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