This year’s Photo50 at the London Art Fair provided, yet again, a diverting and fascinating escape from the throngs browsing the fair below. In the past, this curated exhibit has been assembled by a panel of selectors, but this year free reign was given to Nick Hackworth, owner of Paradise Row gallery. Allowing for one curator has resulted in a more consistent and directed group exhibit.
Titled ‘A Cyclical Poem’, Hackworth describes the selection as ‘a partial and elliptical look at the relationship between photography and a cluster of themes: time, memory and repetition.’ This is certainly the case for the strongest of the work here, which combines a sense of the nostalgic with a celebration of photography’s power to both act as memory and ensure its very existence as document.
As one travels through the exhibit, the first encounter is with Dorothy Bohm’s now seminal ‘Torn Poster’ series. Recently on show in a retrospective solo show at Margaret Street Gallery, these images remain elegant testaments to the process of contemporary aging; layers of experience peel and fall away to reveal a confused, corrupted core of tangled relationships and incongruous connections, but one that is nonetheless capable of being beautiful, and modern.
Marketa Luskacova’s images from the series ‘On Death and Horse and Other People’ are a result of the photographer’s annual documentation of a carnival held in Roztoky in the Czech Republic. Shot in muted colours and presented in elegant wooden frames, these are small-scale, intimate images of a carnival in the snow, in the cold and in the dark; a carnival of families and child-play and not of sex and sweat. For Luskacova, photography ‘is a weapon against forgetting’, and here she has immortalised a community interaction that defies nature to rejoice in the warmth of a defiant stand against mortality, and, in fact, time. What, after all, is a Carnival if not the proclamation of the present in the face of time passing?
Another meditation on time and age comes in the work of Paul Hill. In the series on display, Hill has inserted collaged contemporary Polaroids, annotated in black marker pen, onto prints of images he made in the 1970’s in his series ‘The Corridor of Uncertainty’. These Polaroids, which Hill calls ‘Prenotations’, are biographical snapshots that relate to the photographer’s current state as widower and pensioner, a place he had never thought he’d be when conducting the original project, itself a beautiful biographical meditation. In one instance, a Polaroid of a garden centre, annotated ‘Too much time to think’ is pasted onto a deeply poignant image of young love in black and white. The technologies clash, the colours clash, but most importantly the memory distilled form the past in an image is made to confront the painful fact of the present in an uncomfortable dialogue. If anything, this work absolves photography role in nostalgic distortion, as Hill seems to be implying that tough images play a significant role in the process, our minds are as much to blame. A painful and moving set of images.
Homer Sykes’s selection from ‘Once a Year’, a project in which the photographer documented traditional British folk customs throughout the country in the early to mid-seventies, treads some of the same ground as Luskacova’s work. Whereas Luskacova’s are defiant, however, Sykes’s folk heroes, warmly portrayed but comical nonetheless, seem aware of fighting a losing battle. Theirs is way of life in its death throes Sykes seems to be suggesting, and the admirable (and very British) cheer with which these keepers of the tradition conduct their business is tacit acceptance of the inevitability of change.
Other photographers on show are Chris Steels-Perkins, Sirkka Liisa Kontinnen, Brian Griffin and Ian Beesly .
This year’s Photo50 was a thoughtful and enjoyable place of pause amidst crowded surroundings, and should encourage the organisers to appoint a sole curator again next year.
Words and Images by Kerim Aytac