‘Cathedral of the Pines’ conjures thoughts of religious buildings carved from pine trees, but instead is name of a forest trail in the American rural town of Beckett, Massachusetts and the inspiration behind Gregory Crewdson’s latest body of work currently on display at The Photographers’ Gallery. It is the first time the Gallery has dedicated all three floors to one artist and contains all 31 large-scale images from this series, allowing visitors to view the entire body of work rather than just selected pieces. At first glance the exhibition as a whole can feel a little repetitive; with many images featuring bleak landscape scenes or simple domestic settings, however on closer inspection you begin to appreciate the detail and atmosphere created within each one. These details are often a little sinister; footsteps in the ground, an unexpected reflection in a mirror or window pane, or items that seem out of place in their environment. The people and settings in each frame also contradict each other, with figures standing still but naked in the snow, or on a riverbank, or as a couple in the back of a truck within a dense forest, making you question the narrative that has led up to each scene or ‘moment’ captured – and indeed what might come next. Credwson’s photography is famously likened to film as he creates cinematic-style sets and hires actors or models to pose within these sets, however this series recalls film in a more climatic capacity creating visual suspense in much the same way as directors Alfred Hitchcock or David Lynch. Unusually this series includes natives to Beckett as well as some of Crwedsons friends and family rather than actors or models, and he describes it as his most personal project to date. On display until 8th October it’s certainly worth escaping the crowds of Oxford Street and spending some time exploring the oddly calm dystopia of this exhibition!
You don’t expect to see a restored vintage car on the 5th floor of a Soho gallery… but that’s exactly what greets you as the lift doors open on the top floor of The Photographers Gallery. Dutch artist Erik Kessels’ Fiat 500 displayed alongside polaroid and larger scale photographic images on both the floor (those taken from above) and hanging on walls form his ‘Unfinished Father’ body of work, which is just one of four finalists in this year’s Deutsche Borse Photography Foundation Prize. Behind Kessels’ work, the space darkens and a huge projection of yellow, orange and red broken by a black silhouette introduce Laura El-Tantawy’s entry ‘In The Shadow of the Pyramids’. This image has a painterly quality to it and does not immediately suggest riots (more specifically the Egyptian revolution of 2011) however as you move around this image, additional beautiful but harrowing portraits and sounds of the crowd intermingled with the artists voice annotate the socio-political conditions leading to the overthrow of Mubarak. The floor below displays the two other finalists work; German artist Tobias Zielony and American artist Trevor Paglen. Zielony’s ‘The Citizen’ documents African migrants who arrived in Germany and protested about restrictions placed on them, alongside related newspaper articles. Similarly ‘The Octopus’ shows Paglen tackling a political theme, this time mass surveillance and data collection through his photographs of federal and military outposts, underwater fibre-optic cables and passing drones which expose these clandestine practices and raise questions about contemporary cultural politics. An annex on the 4th floor contains a plasma screen and headphones with artist interviews, as well as blue polling cards where visitors can pick their winner and offer an explanation behind their choice. Whilst Laura is undoubtedly my favourite, having seen the finalists’ work and read other visitors’ comments, it will be interesting to hear who is chosen at this years’ prize-winner in June.
Five clusters of vintage projectors are littered across the 4th floor of the The Photographers Gallery, initially looking more like an art installation than a photography exhibition. Once inside the space you quickly realise that they are projecting images directly onto the gallery walls; moreover as a visitor you are encouraged to activate the projectors yourself and control how the various images appear and disappear, and are layered over one another. The images were all taken between the late 1950’s and early 1970’s by the Uruguayan photojournalist Aurelio Gonzalez, who hid 48,626 negatives from the press archive of the country’s Communist newspaper El Popular ahead of the dictatorships’ censorship in 1973. Gonzalez ensconced the slides in a wall cavity in his office building in Montevideo for decades, only recovering them in 2006! The Centre de Fotografia de Montevideo subsequently restored, classified and digitised the archive, and in 2011 the Brazilian artist Rosangela Renno created this exhibition in response to the images. Obviously some heavy editing needed to be done with an archive approaching 50,000 photos, so Renno chose a small selection of images which best depicted the economic decline, protest and civil unrest that preceded the coup, and manipulated the archival black and white slides into digital images we see in this show. Little of this uprising survives in historical or photographic records, and Renno endured similar conditions herself during the military repression of Brazil during her lifetime – making her an apt artist to tell this story. Small red plastic tags attached to the projectors list search terms from the archive’s cataloguing system, offering insights into how the archive has been organised and increase your level of engagement with the photos. Likewise the constant clunking mechanisms of the old projectors intermingles with the Communist Internationale music playing in the background, making the images appear even more powerful.