A strong summer for photography

FreshFaced + WildEyed 2013 at the Photography Gallery

To be chosen as one of the 22 top photography graduates of visual arts BA and MA courses across the UK is staggering if you consider the sheer amount of talent that is spewed out of the arts education system annually. It surely indicates a real eye for a narrative, technical skills, a strong body of work and even stronger things to come. This annual exhibition at the Photographers Gallery is designed to showcase exceptional talent and to give graduates a platform to grow.

The resonating theme this year was political and social unrest and upheaval. It isn’t surprising that this captured the imagination of the judges with a year of conflict and clamouring for change across many parts of the Middle East (two of the entrants work included work in this very area – Julian Bonnin and Harry Mitchell). Similarly, the winners of this year’s Deutsche Börse Photography Prize were Broomberg & Chanarin with War Primer 2, perhaps further indication of a growing need to understand conflict and it’s far reaching repercussions within our wider culture.

Within this impressive exhibition there were standouts for me. Andrei Nacu’s body of images were focused on the lives left behind after conflict in Eastern Europe. Tension and unexpressed, unfathomable powerful emotion lie just under the surface. In one work a man and a woman face each other across either side of a living room sofa, representing opposing sides. The elderly man stands upright as a soldier, his face impassive as a woman who could be his wife or mother gestures in frustration. He is impervious to her actions, completely self-contained.

Another photograph is the view through a window where tower blocks outside are partially obscured by a floral curtain. We are placed in the position of the inhabitant of the flat, gazing out warily at an unknown and unquantifiable enemy. A sense of claustrophobia, of being trapped or contained, is increased by the framing of the shot. War, and its aftermath, seems to be full of waiting. Waiting to die, waiting to live, waiting for the man with the gun, or the hand grenade or the aerial attack, waiting for news of family or friends, for the call to arms, for the end. Nacu’s work doesn’t sensationalise or highlight the violent, very visible aspects of war. It quietly displays the restless despair, the utter waste of time and of huge chunks of people’s lives which have choked.

Andrei Nacu, part of the collection of work entitled 'In the Forsaken Garden Time is a Thief' (2013).  © Andrei Nacu

Andrei Nacu, part of the collection of work entitled ‘In the Forsaken Garden Time is a Thief’ (2013). © Andrei Nacu

Equally powerful was the work of Sunil Shah exploring he and his family’s migration from their home in Uganda in 1972. Shah was a three-year old child when they were expelled from the country by Idi Amin’s aggressively racist regime. His work is a fragmented part-history, part-memory, part-fictionalised narrative illustrating the tension between personal and public memory, between family histories and collective accounts.

Under the guise of documentary photography family photographs sit alongside purposefully detached statements. We are told about a man being hanged, a close friend of a member of Shah’s family, the account all the more powerful for the lack of emotive language. We are left to fill in the bulk of the imagery, to create in our minds the feeling of dislocation, humiliation and loss. Here is a study of the all too common violent upheaval of a group of people being forced to leave their homes, lives and possessions behind, told through one set of subjective eyes. The result is quietly unnerving, a body of work which compels self-reflection and interrogation.

Whilst the exhibition is no longer in existence if you have a curiosity for the medium you could do little better than keeping track of the movements of some of these fresh faced newcomers. It will be interesting to see how far they’ve developed when the new batch comes through post-graduation 2014.

Sunil Shah, part of the collection of work entitled 'Uganda Stories' (2013). © Sunil Shah

Sunil Shah, part of the collection of work entitled ‘Uganda Stories’ (2013). © Sunil Shah

The exhibition was on display from the 9th to the 21st July 2013.




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