The venerable photography programme at the RCA is often a suitable gauge by which to judge current trends in the medium. Even though the degree does not set trends to the extent of some its American cousins, it consistently produces well produced, highly polished and often thoughtful work. Judging from this year’s graduates, Photography is at a crossroads, struggling to define itself within the Fine Art world or context it for so long courted for acceptance. There is some excellent work this year but one feels a pressure on the students to have the photographs be part of an overall installation, as if in so doing the images would become either more relevant or ‘Art Photographic’. Photography has become insufficient in itself, or unsure of itself, and in having to jump through mundane ‘Conceptual’ hoops, it does itself no favours.
I enjoyed images from Clare Abraham’s ‘ ‘To await what the stars will bring’. A pleasing mix of scale and subject matter, the interplay between the differing subject matter is pleasing and well judged. Lucky to get her room, Abraham has produced a subtle meditation here, suffused with a poetic sensibility.
I’m not sure what Yullia Markman’s slideshow ‘My Stranger Face’ is about exactly but it really was comforting to be sat in a room with two analogue slide projectors click-clacking alternately. Set to a diaristic, cryptic voice-over, images of mainly urban scenes and details are interspersed with intimate portraits of men, actors within this narrative. It is a work that engages the viewer and presents a sensitive understanding of the world and people with which it is engaged.
Dominic Hawgood’s ‘Under the Influence’ is an interesting exploration of the intersections between advertising and certain strands of evangelical Christianity. Highly saturated backlit images of microphones and other objects held grail-like, referencing numerous religious iconographies, are juxtaposed with black and white photographs of a woman experiencing some kind of physical catharsis. Hawgood hints at the commodification of desire, of need, that the commercialised church seems to feed on.
Peter Watkins’ the ‘Unforgetting’ is the strongest work on show. The images shown are from a larger project about, according to Watkins, ‘ memory as viewed through smoked glass’. I’m not sure what that means exactly but it’s a testament to the strength of this work that I’m sure Watkins does. His is the truly singular vision on show here, informed by a highly sophisticated engagement with the photographic medium’s formal qualities. The ties that bind these images are both clear and opaque, and that’s a hard trick to pull off. The image ‘From the land’ is small marvel.
The work of the image makers mentioned here is proof that photography can be meaningful in itself. It need be hamstrung by the fact that it is a medium first and an object second.
Words/Photos: Kerim Aytac © Artlyst 2014