Informing Contexts – Week Eight reflection

Enter the Academy

What a fascinating week. I have always been intrigued by the ways in which photography is shared and shown. And have also always felt rather annoyed by pretentious art galleries, whatever they are displaying.

For me, art, and photography in particular, is something that doesn’t need to give itself airs and graces. And photography doesn’t need to feel inferior to painting.

I have often heard people decry the point of art or say I could have done that (whether you think Damien Hirst’s work is art or not his response to that latter statement levelled at his Shark piece of “well you didn’t, did you?, is refreshing and very much correct). But perhaps it is the exaltation of art that alienates so many people.  But can you imagine a world without it?

So maybe when we think about how our images should be displayed what we first have to consider is why are we creating it? Is it a personal drive that has to be sated whether paid for or not? Is it to build reputation and attract commissions and/or buyers? But as with great artworks such as the Mona Lisa that are reproduced in various commercial forms and are therefore accessible and affordable as a keepsake of the real thing for many, why is gallery space seemingly so revered as the best means to showcase our work?

I’m not actually against gallery space for photography – although the Guardian’s art critic Jonathon Jones not only seems to think that it’s “soulless” but he doesn’t seem too fond of photography either –  as taking time to consider and enjoy images is often a great experience; it’s more the welcome the gallery staff afford you, and perhaps the interaction or immersion within the show that beguile and adds something extra to it that for me works best.

This week we were asked to take a visit to a museum/gallery and consider how the displays were, displayed.

Working in Truro, Cornwall, I took a visit to the Royal Cornwall Museum. The museum often holds photographic exhibitions but I went along to take a look at its Heart of Conflict exhibition about the lives of those who remained in the county during the First World War.

The room it was held in was large and roomy, with white walls, large info boards and banner-style large print images. It contained glass display cabinets and mannequins of clothing from the time, and was well lit with seating available. When I went no one else was in the room, including any staff, which gave it a more tranquil feel than I think it would have if full of people. The natural flow seemed to follow the display, keeping the wall on the left-hand side. There was no audio.

The exhibition did have very detailed A4 leaflets that could be taken away. They were very simple print outs but correlated to the detail on the wall signs and in the displays. I can only presume the originators of the exhibition wrote the content following the collation of the historic material and stories. I was more engaged by the section on postcards sent by couples separated by the war than the general info sheets aimed at a wide audience.

Overall, the exhibition was interesting and informative and had accessible information but it did feel a little soulless for such an emotive topic. Or am I channelling Jones’ view of photography on a wall?

Others exhibitions, including one of Poldark, included more interactive elements such as the opportunity to throw word dice and make up a story using the rolled words on a replica typewriter as used by the author of the Poldark books. People could then choose to leave their story to inspire others.

I do appreciate that funding restriction may impinge of the most creative ideas for shows but perhaps had the Heart of Conflict included even a short film of life at the time, or perhaps a gramophone for people to play music of the era it would have made it feel more inclusive to me. There are two lunch time talks coming up in April from two historians that may create that interaction I feel is needed. Interesting but not innovative would be my overall assessment.

In our webinar this week we shared where we feel our own work would ideally be displayed.

As I predominately work with historic/alternative and/or camera-less techniques with a dose of digital and smartphone photography thrown in, my first instinct would be to suggest shows such as Shadow Catchers and What is a Photograph? The first showcased the work of five photo-artists working particularly with photograms, while the latter shared the work of those combining analogue and digital. Yet for me, as my work for my MA particularly aims to consider how humans continue to negatively impact on the planet and what could be the potential solution to this, I want my work to be more interactive for the audience. It needs to appeal to a variety of interests from science and environmental, to society and culture, and aesthetically too. My work is not about hitting people over the head and telling them how bad their environmental footprint is, my own is no way perfect, but it is to encourage conversation and a a desire to find out more.

I believe to do that my work needs to be shared in a more communal manner than simply hanging in a gallery. This week we have seen the work of Rirkrit Tirvanija where his creation Free in 1992 of a lounge space within a gallery where people would be given rice and curry was replicated at the MOMA in 2012 and became a secondary living art-in-action project. Commenting on the work, MOMA curator Laura Hoptman said: “So what Free did was literally free people to interact with contemporary art in a more sociable way.” It is this type of sharing that appeals to me.

On a local note, the Eden Project instigated a permanent exhibition called Invisible You. This looks at the invisible ecosystem within our bodies and included a variety of artworks, and photography of belly button bacteria taken from people visiting the site.

©Joana Ricou



There is now a follow-on from this to begin in 2018 called Invisible Worlds that will focus on the links between the health of humanity and our planet. As with the first show, it aims to be immersive and intriguing for everyone who visits regardless of their background or personal interests. It will include laboratories and “a five-year live programme of activities, events, and experiments”. To be part of collaborations between the environment, science and art is very much where I want my work to be seen.

And in response to Jones, the Guardian’s photography critic Sean Hagin gave a fabulous reply, including the sentence “their work makes you look at the world differently” when speaking about a number of fabulous photographers. And maybe this is what will always be important to me, when I view photography on screen, in a book, online, as an interactive event or framed and hung on a gallery wall, it’s their power to move me, and hopefully with my own work, the power to move others.