Open from this week (20 November) 'London/Pittsburgh' from British artist Mark Neville at Alan Cristea Gallery, London, examines the diverse communities living in the cities of London and Pittsburgh through a series of photographic portraits and studies.

Neville's work has always straddled the boundaries of art and documentary, highlighting conflict, social custom and the sociology of our times. Neville often bases his projects on newly published sociological research and topical issues giving his work an agency beyond their functions as artworks. For the 2011 project Deeds Not Words, for example, Neville focused on a case brought to court in Corby, Northamptonshire, by a group of families affected by toxic waste following land reclamation of an old steel works. Instead of making his resulting images available commercially, Neville instead distributed the images to local authorities and government agencies across the UK to raise awareness of the handling of waste and re-use of contaminated land.

'London/Pittsburgh' is Neville's first exhibition at Alan Cristea and includes thirteen works from two significant projects by the artist in recent years: Here is London (2012) and Braddock/Sewickley (2012). The first time these bodies of work have been shown side-by-side, the pairing highlights the similarities and contrasts between British and American society, social disparity and characteristics.

There is an emphasis on the division of wealth and racial segregation that is present in both locations. Predominantly white, Sewickley in Pittsburgh is a community originally made prosperous by the steel industry. In Neville's images we see the community socialising. The older generation hang out in exclusive country clubs decorated with very British scenes of hunting and shooting, propped up like pearly-queens in decrepid high-society. The young party at high-school proms, debutant-like balls with satin dresses and corsages. These is scenes are not so prim and proper, however, and we see a fair amount of sexual provocation going down on the dance-floor. Twerking and porn-faces galore.

In contrast, the neighbouring town of Braddock is a mostly black community going through some tough economic times. The failure of the steel-industry has not been so kind and the fall-out from an early eighties crack cocaine epidemic is still being felt. Yet there are similarities; the old ladies hats are just as big, the teens are grinding at their parties just the same.

In contrast to the clear divide in Pittsburgh, Here is London examines how the effects of class and wealth have changed little over the last 40 years. Originally commissioned as a photo essay for The New York Times, the twenty images show the diverse sprawl of the city and its messy contradictions. Grubby and thin children are shown in slightly Dickensian fashion at Somerford Grove Adventure Playground in Tottenham while hipsters dance at the Dalston Superstore and bankers party at Boujis. Clearly, it is class not race which is the decisive factor in these images but the space inhabited by both is more claustrophobic. Instead of different communities in London, it might be more illuminating to describe it as one locational community with multiple tiers.

Neville has been involved in several projects as of late; his recent body of work, made during his time as official war artist with the 16 Air Assault Brigade in Afghanistan closed in September at London's Imperial War Museum and, coming up, from the 2nd to 19th December, Neville's exhibition Art as Social Document will be on display at the London School of Economics. The latter will be followed by a Panel Discussion at LSE, which will use the themes explored in London/ Pittsburgh as a platform for a wider discussion about inequality within society.

London/Pittsburgh will be on show at Alan Cristea Gallery from 20 November to 24 January.

Alan Cristea Gallery, 31 Cork Street, London, W1

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AuthorSacha Waldron

On November 13th the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Award, staged annually at The National Portrait Gallery, will open its doors to the public. The Prize, with a top award of £12,000, showcases sixty new portraits ranging from editorial to creative projects by photographers worldwide. The prize is significant in the photography world’s calendar and, this year, attracted more than 4,000 submissions completing for four cash prizes or a ‘New Work Award’ (given to a photographer under 30).

As 2014’s prize opens, last year’s prize is, curiously, still making the rounds and can currently be found on display at The Beaney, Canterbury. The reason for this is likely to be 2013’s top prize winner Spencer Murphy’s connection to Kent, having grown up in the region and studied for his BA at Kent Institute of Art and Design. Kent have reason to be proud of Murphy as his portrait of Katie Walsh marked the seventh time Murphy has exhibited in the Taylor Wessing Prize. In 2012 he also won second prize for his portrait of actor Mark Rylance. His winning 2013 portrait of female jockey Walsh was taken at Kempton Park racecourse whilst shooting a series of jockey portraits for Channel Four’s The Original Extreme Sports Campaign and was an attempt, says Murphy, “to show both her femininity and the toughness of spirit she requires”. The result is haunting. Walsh stares directly at the camera, her expression is both shy, slightly resentful but completely timeless. Shot directly after the race she is also exhausted, covered in mud and dishevelled. It is easy to forget her jockey outfit, its colour and shape have a Victorian crinoline feel – Walsh is rendered as Tess of the d’Urbervilles fresh from the Moor.

Taylor Wessing’s 2014 shortlisted photographers, Jessica Fulford-Dobson, Birgit Püve, Blerim Racaj and David Titlow have, interestingly as the prize does not normally focus on one specific theme, all been selected based on their images depicting aspects of childhood. Skate-girls in Kabul sit alongside twin boys at their home in Estonia, Kosovian teens and a new baby son being introduced to a dog.

I think it’s an easy one to call this year. A strong contender is Fulford-Dobson’s Skate-Girl from the series ‘The Skate-Girls of Kabul’ documenting young Afghan girls that attend the unique NGO Skateistan which started life as a small skateboarding school in 2007. The image certainly has the story and the political weight which could give it the edge but my bets are going on Titlow’s Konrad Lars Hastings Titlow. The photographer has captured the moment when, the night after a midsummer party in Sweden, his baby son meets a dog, the little child’s fingers touching the dogs black wet nose with delight. “everyone was a bit hazy from the previous day′s excess” says Titlow  “my girlfriend passed our son to the subdued revellers on the sofa – the composition and back light was so perfect that I had to capture the moment”. It is not just the slight oddity of the situation, the momentary recognition and understanding between baby and animal, but the atmosphere of the image that, in my mind, put this photograph in the lead. The composition, with its multiple players and narratives form a dramatic tableau that is both contemporary and historic. Timeless images often win out in this photographic prize; last year’s Katie Walsh, 2012’s portrait of Margarita Teichroeb by Jordi Ruiz Cirera or 2010’s Huntress with Buck by David Chancellor to name just a few.

Anyway, we’ll see what happens.

You have until Sunday 2nd November to catch Taylor Wessing13 at The Beaney, Canterbury.

AuthorSacha Waldron

Grapes, oiled green and black nipples arranged in soft-focus and Snow-White porno-apples. This fruit would surely have made some headway in convincing the Soviet public that food was lush and plentiful in 1940’s Russia. In fact, when this 1949 image by photographer Ivan Shagin was taken, the country was just emerging from famine in the wake of drought and aftermath of war. This, of course, did not sit very well within a Stalinist vision for Russia and the politician understood the importance and power of image making within his regime, “Print is the sharpest and the strongest weapon we have” he is quoted as saying. Shagin’s food images are the ‘skatert-samobranka’ (Magic Tablecloth) of Russian folklore. Simply spread the cloth on the ground, say the magic words and a plethora of salty butter, bread and vodka will appear, real or not.

Shagin’s collection of images, currently on display at the Photographers Gallery, London, as part of the exhibition ‘Primrose: Russia Colour Photography’, demonstrate the moment at which colour negative film was still a luxurious commodity almost exclusively used by official or state photographers for ideological purposes. Things were about to change. By the end of the 1970’s colour negative film would be almost completely overtaken by cheaper colour transparency or slide film and photography would be prised out of the political clutches of the Soviet Union and start to be re-embraced by the public.  

Arranged in chronological order, ‘Primrose’ charts the appearance of Russian colour photography from the 1860’s to this 1970’s moment, with over 140 works over two floors. Opening with a selection of early tinted and hand painted portraits of individuals, family life and the developing city-scapes of old Russia the exhibition moves through the turning point of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, the emerging utopian photo-montages of famous modernists such as Rodchenko, Stepanova and Lissitky and the humanist photography of Social realism. Although Russia’s relationship with colour photography at some stages mirrors the rest of the world, the trajectory it has followed and its relationship to politics, social control and ideology has been very different. ‘Primrose’ charts this with incredible depth and complexity, bringing the viewer right up to the very early 1980’s when individual and artistic use of colour photography emerged slowly from the underground and began to take its place in modern Russia.

There is much to say about this exhibition but also some great reviews and resources available online already, a couple of which are listed below. You have, however, a couple of weeks to catch the exhibition in London and we recommend you do that, this is really not one to miss.

'Primrose' runs until 19 October 2014. Free entry.

Further info...

Curator Olga Sviblova introduces the exhibition in a short video on TPG's website -

'Primrose' travelled from FOAM, Amsterdam. have reproduced a large amount of the gallery and catalogue text and also  many of the exhibitions photographs in what makes for a comprehensive resource.

AuthorSacha Waldron