Exhibition Reviews

Sarah Jones: Photographs
National Media Museum, Bradford
until February 17 2008

The Wikipedia entry for psychotherapy begins by
defining the science as an interpersonal, relational intervention and it is a description that fits comfortably with end product of Sarah Jones' fellowship at the National Media Museum. Perhaps all photography alludes to the same undercurrent but the esoteric gravitas of psychoanalysis permeates, often quite literally, the bedrock of many of these images and most particularly in the manner by which she creates her photographs. At face value the pictures offer few clues - much like the appearance of a first-time patient invited to recline on the psychologist’s couch. These photographs capture some point in the unfolding of the process that ensues. The repetition of natural studies in the thorny Rose Garden series is ultimately revealed to be a composition of imprecisely mirrored images and a painstaking exploration into the relationship between the photographer and her subject. All the scientific attributes of distance, time, and measurement are meticulously recorded and laboured over, yet still something remains in the final photographs that eludes such calculation. In some ways, the range of painterly
images on show are as diverse as the possible
conclusions on the analyst's notebook - among them the study of the colour blue in the Mark Rothko-esque 'Cove' and a homage to 'Sunlight in an Empty Room' by the artist Edward Hopper. The pictures, however, that are likely to provoke most discussion are the portrait series of long-haired girls who, we discover through her commentary, were never originally intended to be photographed at all by Jones. Here again, the photographer explores over a considerable period of time the relationship between her subject and the image - with the girls growing influence over the gestural tone of the pictures. However you decipher it, the photographs in this exhibition possess a carefully guarded vitality that can be enjoyed throughout the forthcoming grey winter months.(review by Simon Ashbee)

In My Stairwell by Mark Seliger
Richard Goodall Gallery, 103 High St, Manchester until 24th November

Former Rolling Stone photographer Mark Seliger's collection of the great and the good from the (predominantly American) cultural scene is celebrity portraiture par excellence. All fifty-four platinum palladium prints, imaginatively and expertly executed, have two things in common: they all feature the same backdrop, the stairwell’s exposed brick walls; and they all contrive to reveal something of the sitter's character or work. A subjective list of highlights might include Mel Brooks improvising Hitler; Jackass' Johnny Knoxville nonchalantly suspended by meat hooks through his chest; a wonderfully flamboyant Tom Wolfe; a magnificently emotional Luciano Pavarotti; a casually seductive Julia Roberts; and a truly iconic Patti Smith. The subjects even include photographers, such as Peter Beard in a kind of pastiche of his own work, and, in character as ever, Cindy Sherman as a schoolgirl.

The new Richard Goodall Gallery is simple, elegant, and just around the corner from its elder sibling. Photographic exhibitions in 2008 will include a collection by model-turned-photographer Helena Christensen.
(review by Simon Bowcock)

Hand To Mouth by Tessa Bunney
Impressions Gallery, Bradford.

As one famous radio wit succinctly put it: You can't find a plumber or prostitute anywhere in Poland now. The eastern European exodus of young workers in search of more prosperous lives elsewhere in the EU has filled the pages of the Daily Mail with horror and the shelves of supermarkets with new lines in pickled root vegetables. Romania and Bulgaria joined the throng earlier this year.

In Hand To Mouth, Tessa Bunney invites us to explore one of the remoter parts of the enlarged Union, along with its vanishing traditions and rural lifestyle threatened by the embrace of this new constitution.
The images collected here are the culmination of
Bunney's work over a four year period in one of the most inaccessible and 'underdeveloped' regions of New Europe. The Romanian Carpathian mountains are home to a breed of hardy shepherds and goat herders - a kind of distinguished peasantry that roots out a living from untreated goats milk and primordial mud. The frothy latte drinkers of European HQ would, no doubt, be appalled by the simple and elemental rawness of life depicted in most of the images. Freshly-skinned animals hung up on wooden posts outside a mountaintop shepherd's lair testify to a way of life unchanged for generations. It also bears witness to the fact
that life at this level cannot survive the lately
escaped pressures from both external and internal
social and economic dynamics. Bunney's portraits of sheep-skin clad hillfolk resonate with a dignity that transcends this ultimate doom. The unfenced mountain landscapes, dotted with ubiquitous sheep, evoke a premonition of a borderless space that will be these people's very undoing. How long is it before we see backpackers and assorted so-called adventurers stringing their way across this unspoilt landscape?
For me, the exhibition as a whole left an enquiring hole about the interior life of Bunney's subjects but it is truly evocative of a blood and guts age that has passed away in all but name forever from Europe. Now, where is that jar of pickled cauliflower?(review by Simon Ashbee)

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