An exhibition of Red Saunders’ epic photographic tableaux vivants. Extended until 31 December 2011.
In this exhibition at Impressions Gallery, Red Saunders’ epic photographic tableaux vivants (‘living pictures’) recreate momentous but overlooked events from Britain’s struggle for democracy and equality, from the Peasants Revolt of 1381 to the Chartist movement of the mid nineteenth century.
Shown as part of Ways of Looking, a new photography festival in Bradford, this first major solo exhibition of Saunders’ work features the world premiere of two dramatic new works, specially commissioned by Impressions Gallery and The Culture Company.
Exhibition Review by Katie Bootland
Hidden, Red Saunders' exhibition of impressive large scale photographs, sets out to recreate pivotal moments in British history. Focusing not on the household names in history, the exhibition celebrates the often hidden or overlooked achievements of ordinary men and women in the nation's fight for democracy and equality. Eight pieces are presented, each depicting a key event of social change in the style of tableaux vivants, living pictures. Individually lit and staged, they pose as photographic 'evidence' from a time before camera technology was invented or readily available.
Curated by Pippa Oldfield and Nicola Stephenson, Hidden is a highlight of the Ways of Looking festival, which in its first year, explores the theme of evidence. Entering the exhibition the scale of the work is arresting. Hung like huge tapestries the size seems to give instant weight to the issues portrayed. Lit only by spots, the atmosphere is one of reverie, with the work casting a rich impression of colour and life that plays around the the room, drawing the viewer closer. With almost life size figures and props, the images unveil details that emphasize the individuals and their contributions to great events. Facing Wat Tyler and The Peasant's Revolt, 1381, you stand before a group, a few lines deep, of peasants, rogue soldiers or mercenaries. Gathered under a standard of flags and a severed head on a pike oozing blood, the men gather against a backdrop of smoke-filled sky under the brooding silhouette of a castle. Assembled amongst them, certain characters stand out. Like a tableau of popular imagination, the scene is brazen, traditional and bordering on a grotesque version of 'Merrie England'. There is also something odd in the perspective of the photographs that suggests a slightly surreal take to the photographic 'evidence' for the event.
It is a strange juxtaposition that some of the photographs proclaiming to champion the ordinary men and women's contributions to British democracy and equality, are presented like the many oil paintings that celebrate aristocratic ancestry. This irony is perhaps most apparent in Thomas Paine, 1772. Sitting astride his horse in a country setting, dog at his feet, there is only a hint, in the wooded path in the background, that there might be more to this view. In many of the pieces, composition and lighting seem strange, out of kilter with what you subconsciously know to be correct. All becomes apparent however in the 'evidence' room, where you can uncover the process behind the work in a video directed by Roland Denning. In this Red Saunders shows the viewer the techniques behind the photographs, and deciphers the 'evidence', deconstructing the final exhibition pieces. Much of what you see has been done in sections and layered on Photoshop, with elements tweaked or resized post production. This approach helps to create the slightly theatrical quality to the photographs which encourage the viewer not just to accept the 'evidence' placed before them but to explore the rich layering within the work. With important events brought to the fore and figures forgotten from history revisited, it is the approach, the element of storytelling and unusual, modern reinterpretation which gives this exhibition its vibrancy and significance.