Landmark: The fields of photography until April 28th at Somerset House, East Wing galleries. – Review Kerim Aytac
In the second major photography show in which Somerset House has partnered up with The Positive View Foundation, curator extraordinaire William A. Ewing, presents us with of an exhaustive survey of approaches to Landscape in (mostly) contemporary photography. Taking almost the entire east wing of this venerable space, this sprawling group show features the work of 49 artists, broken up into 10 different sections loosely based on different approaches to the idea of Landscape. It’s a wonder that such a huge selection of work be put on display to the public for free, and that it is done with such class, but as great as the show is, there are times when too much work can be a bad thing.
The Positive View Foundation seems intent on bringing high-end, blue-chip photography to the public and, in so doing, consolidate both current and classic trends within the form. This was largely successful in their first show ‘Cartier-Bresson After Colour’. Here they seek to repeat the trick with a logistical marvel of a show. Many of the names one might associate with Landscape photography are not only present, but are represented by some of their key images. Rather than that a group show, this has the feeling of walking through the collection of an established museum, which may account for the Ewing’s role as curator, having been the former director of Musée de l’Elysée, the renowned Swiss museum of photography.
The curatorial intent seems not to be contribute anything new to the history of the genre on which this show is based ,therefore, nor reclaim any photographers or sub-movements within Landscape, as might have been the case with a major institutional venue, but rather present the public with the fact that these approaches exist and have existed. The different rooms with their loose definitions and titles (Scar, Datum etc…) are merely the sub-headings of what could feel like the chapter in a text-book. Emerging and established artists co-mingle amiably in such an airy, loose space, yet one does hark for a little more focus, maybe even a little more guidance and failing that, a tighter edit. Selection is so comprehensive here, that the lack of a firm commitment to a definition or idea permeates the entire survey. Having said that, there is truly great work to admire, and I can think of no better way to while away a couple of hours of your free time; and for free too!
Amongst the established work here are some of the wonderful images from Nadev Kander’s documentation of the Yangtze River. Other British masters include Mark Power and John Davies’s large format urban landscapes of the North of England. A couple of images form Friedlander’s idiosyncratic ‘America by Car’ here, a David Maisel aerial there. Sugimoto’s seascapes are included of course, as are the obligatory Burtynsky and Epstein images. Robert Adams, Olaf Otto Becker, Ray Metzker, Susan Derges. Robert Polidori and Thomas Struth are all represented. More tenuous is the inclusion of John Stezaker who surely, by now, has been included in enough survey shows, and the one glaring omission I could spot was the lack of any Ristelheuber work in the ‘Scar’ room. No Gursky thankfully.
There are more surprises amongst the work from more emerging artists. Chris Mccaw’s achingly beautiful ‘Sunburn series for example, in which he manages to scar hi prints with light, or the awesome landscapes of Mitch Dobrowner, winner of last year’s World Photography Organisation awards. Janey Stillings, who spent several years documenting the construction of a bridge at Hoover Dam in the states, has some wondrous images on display, as does Walter Niedermayr with is bleached snow-scapes. Young British talent Simon Roberts and Dan Holsworth are included, as are some important (perhaps not so emerging) Japanese artists, namely Naoya Hatakeyama and Toshio Shibata. Pieter Hugo is there alongside the excellent ‘Topographies’ imagery by Edgar Martins.
The photographers mentioned thus far are but a fraction of what can be seen. There is too much work to make this a tightly honed experience, but too much a of a good thing doesn’t have to be bad; it can be just good enough.
Words: Kerim Aytac © 2013 Artlyst **** Stars