Theatres of the Real presents recent work by eight photographers working in Britain who can be seen as extending and redefining a tradition of British documentary photography. Whilst they clearly belong to that tradition by engaging with a range of social issues or by simply recording aspects of our contemporary world, the work that they make does not conform to the conventional methods and style of documentary photography. In this sense we might think about the work in the exhibition as belonging to the category of ‘post documentary'.
Many of the works in the exhibition involve situations that have been staged for the camera: sets have been constructed, actors have been dressed in costumes, and narrative scenarios invented. Other works, however, conform to the conventions of ‘straight' photography: they record pre-existing scenes without any kind of direct intervention by the photographer. However, what unites all of these photographs is a sense of theatricality. Ranging from melodramatic reconstructions to the small tales of everyday domestic life, these images - in their different ways - portray our contemporary world as a kind of stage set in which we as actors play out our individual and collective stories.
Straddling the boundaries between fact and fiction, these images create a hallucinatory vision of contemporary Britain. This is a Britain that is framed by the gleaming architectures of global corporate business, on one side, and by the neglected streets and hinterlands of its towns and cities, on the other. These are also places that are peopled by social types that we recognize: alienated adolescents, working men, secretaries, city bankers, the down and out. But these photographers have recognized the imaginary power of such scenarios and characters and reconstructed them for us with an irony that is acute and subtle. Through a blurring the real and the imaginary they offer us a vision of contemporary Britain that is both profound and comical; a black comedy in which bankers throw themselves to their solitary deaths off city buildings, where the police prepare for social insurgency in artificial urban environments, and where mundane kitchen sink scenarios compete the strange plasticized interiors of offices and shopping malls.
To coincide with the exhibition a book is published by Photoworks, UK in association with FotoMuseum Provincie Antwerpen, for sale in the Museumshop for 25 euros.