When we take photographs so much of what actually is produced is out of our control. Photography is nearing a utopia where cameras literally think for themselves, producing seemingly perfect images. In the click of a faux shutter sound, millions of computations occur combining exposures, reframing and replacing elements. We have lived through a time where PhotoShop has become a verb and are now entering an entirely new realm where machine learning outputs an idealised, constructed simulacrum of a photograph. In the age of computational photography it’s difficult to understand the complexity of images taken flippantly on our phones. It is remarkable that contemporary society’s experience of photography is so distant from the medium’s messy chemical origins. The exhibition NOT PHOTOGRAPHY presents work by nine artists whose practice lives in the grey areas created by the ongoing evolution of the techniques, materials and contexts in which photography is used. The fascinating premise of this exhibition – exploring just what makes a photograph – is fully explored by the works selected. Once you remove the constraints of something photographic not necessarily using a camera or using the real world as subject what are the possibilities? What areas can photography inhabit?
Anna Barriball’s ‘Vent I (small)’ (2016) uses her familiar technique of rubbing paper to make an impression of a real object. The resulting work is less a picture of the object more a ghostly shell; shimmering chrome paint backed with an eerie neon glow. Like many of the works in the exhibition Barriball’s intervention demonstrates how elements of the everyday can be reimagined or modified in unexpected ways, creating an object that records the original but is totally transformed.
Paul Deslandes & Tine Bek’s two included works are excepts from the larger installation ‘As we fall we walk’ (2018). Both pieces operate at contrasting ends of the spectrum of photography. Their mesmerising video presents a viscus gold substance flowing over a stick. The perpetual motion of this looping video presented on an iPad is totally engrossing and completely computer generated. The jewel-like quality of the high resolution screen enables the viewer to see the deliberately rendered imperfections endlessly scrolling by. The dichotomy between perfection of digital imagery and the uncanny simulation looping makes this work particularly powerful. The video contrasts with the only traditionally produced photograph in the show, which also doubles as the only representation of a human. Caught in the process of removing their jumper the figure is masked, distant, trapped in the moment.
Hannah Leighton-Boyce’s sculpture ‘All Below the Work’ (2019) has the appearance of a sleek Art Deco decorative screen. On closer inspection the initial black appearance of the glass object reveals delicate marks made with soot, the hand applied marks contrasting with the precisely shaped glass. The delicate colouring on the surface created by the soot on the glass plays against the fallacy of permanence in photographic images. The fragility of this work complements Tom Lovelace’s ‘Purple Drape, Aarhus’ (2017). This found photogram, made from notice board backing covered with sun bleached rectangles is being destroyed by the very light that created it. No artwork can ever hope for permanence but photography, either through fading, manipulation or some other corruption is maybe more fugitive than most mediums.
David Penny and Sylvia Waltering have curated an excellent exhibition that is an appropriate marker for the current dialogue between our perception of photography within the world and as an art medium. The complementary conversation that the works are engrossed in is genuinely fascinating. By embracing a broadened definition of photography to encompass performance, CGI, found objects and sculpture the exhibition makes us question our assumptions about photography. Just as modern cameras can do billions of calculations a second to produce the perfect image, these artists create new possibilities by scrutinising the medium and shifting its boundaries.
Andee Collard is an artist, educator and co-founder of Bolton Contemporary, a non-profit organisation dedicated to providing inclusive contemporary visual art to the people of Bolton.
NOT PHOTOGRAPHY, Bankley Studios and Gallery, Manchester.
14 – 29 September 2019.