Tongue-in-cheek, intelligent and provocative, the ‘Natalia LL Probabilities’ exhibition at Roman Road Gallery poses questions that are as relevant today as they were when the artworks were originally created in the 1970’s. The two main walls of the gallery are dominated by two grids, each host to twenty black and white portrait photographs from the artists Consumer Art series – one is titled ‘Blonde Girl with Banana’ and the other ‘Blonde Girl with Sausage’. In-case your imagination has failed to conjure up an idea of what these images depict, allow me… all forty photographs feature the same blonde female, innocently framed with her hair in bunches, suggestively fondling, licking and biting either a banana or sausage (as their titles suggest). Far from cheap pornography, Natalia LL is making a feminist comment using phallic shaped objects to show men as a mere product consumed by the girl. This resonates further when put into context, as Natalia LL was a female Polish artist working in a male dominated Communist regime whose works were then used as a political tool to fight for equal rights and challenge masculine domination. These photographs are accompanied by two retro television sets playing different films, both depicting young, attractive females eating sexualised objects or writhing in their remains once they have been consumed! Finally a text based vinyl piece spanning the entire height of the gallery, plays with the artists own name ‘NATALIA!. Originally the letters were rearranged into over 5,000 new possibilities; a more succinct version is currently on display but still manages to achieve its’ goal of revealing that a persons’ name is just a fragment of their identity and the multiple variations of it highlight the subjectivity of women and how they are portrayed and indeed interpreted. Feminism is certainly having a moment in London galleries, and I’d advise a visit before it closes on 14th January.
C/O Berlin’s current exhibition ‘Eyes Wide Open! 100 Years of Leica Photography’ uses Oskar Barnack’s Lilliputan camera (later the Leica) as a focal point to tease out changes, revolutions and innovations in photography from its invention in 1914 onwards. In our current selfie-obsessed digital age, it is amazing to think that there was once a time when cameras were static and producing images was slow, expensive and inaccessible to most people. However the Leica changed that, and this exhibition uses over 300 photographs, photobooks, magazines, original Leica cameras and film rolls to explore its impact. Taking a loosely chronological approach, the exhibition discuses Leica’s effect on reporting, ideology, propaganda, social and humanist issues, street photography, fashion and celebrity amongst other topics. The earlier black and white images are very evocative of their era and capture either the buzz surrounding new inventions such as airships, planes and cars or the horror of war, famine and civil unrest very powerfully. Moving into colour photography, there are stunning images on display, however I was struck by how little it added to its mono counterparts. This is not to say that things have become stagnant, and the exhibition excited me about what Leica and other photographic technology will develop next and the reverberations it will undoubtedly have. Countless iconic images are on display (including ones by Cartier-Bresson, Capa and Eisenstaedt to name a few), but a standout photograph for me was Alberto Korda’s portrait of Che Guevara which has been reproduced countless times across the globe – becoming such a familiar image, but one that up until this show I would not have been able to name the photographer responsible. This portrait is also displayed alongside negatives of the rest of the photographers’ film roll from that day, beautifully placing the moment this image was taken into greater context.