For a “leading contemporary” photographic competition deemed “one of the most prominent exhibitions” at this gallery, the experience is decidedly underwhelming. The nominees may well be worth the £30,000 prize, but the scant offering leaves visitors with little indication why. With photo-documentaries dominating the line-up, originality has taken a back seat.
The series ‘Eleven Blowups’ (‘06) by Sophie Ristelhueber drew interest with its “layers of construction and destruction”, focusing on the scars made by human conflict. Typically impressive images from Reuters news agency are digitally merged with her own photos, rejecting traditional genres of the medium. Fulfilling her belief that “everything is true and everything is fake”, visitors are hard pressed to distinguish between them. However, with only one of the series present visitors are prevented from exploring this interesting concept any further.
At odds with her aim to “tell stories that haven’t been spoken”, Anna Fox’s efforts are disappointingly mediocre. Said to provide a “study of the simultaneously mundane and bizarre”, her efforts seemed to over-represent the former while ignoring the latter. I failed to see any unique depiction of the “everyday” that couldn’t be found in minutes on social networking and photo sharing websites. Matters weren’t helped by the mismatched display of punk styled ‘Pictures of Linda’ (’83-present) and the celebration of strange British festivals in ‘Back to the Village’ (’99-present). Truly a mess of themes, whatever message they possessed cancelled each other out.
“Visually evident of how globalisation changes our culture”, Zoe Leonard’s ‘Portfolio of Analogue’ (’98-‘09) effectively tracks how “small economies” have been “swallowed up and lost”. In a miniature history of the medium, she has captured fast disappearing independent shop fronts from around the world. As chains and brands muscle in on the once unique high streets of the world, all individuality is lost. Leonard successfully displays how the often-overlooked details can contain insight for the social observer on progress, status, and history.
Donovan Wylie’s quiet retrospective of a turbulent period in Northern Ireland’s past is so unassuming and hidden from view you could easily have missed it. A time capsule of tragic times, newspaper cuttings in his co-authored ‘Scrapbook’ provide excellent context to the mute imagery of ‘The Maze’ (’03-‘07). Comprised of grey, lifeless photos of the “functional and brutal” prison are testament to the “psychological battleground” that inmates were subjected.
This exhibition promised much but ultimately failed to deliver, with the photographers’ vision blighted by under-representation. Visitors are left with little more than a fleeting glimpse into the work that earned nomination. Nevertheless, if I were to wage an opinion as to award winner, my money is on Wylie’s sobering snapshot of a decaying symbol of the conflict.