The black and white photography of Gerry Johansson has been much exhibited and published over the years. Not surprising as Johansson has been on the scene for some time, beginning his career as a graphic designer in the late 1960’s and founding the publishing company Fyra Förläggare (responsible for magazines like Aktuell Fotografi) before concentrating on his own work. Johansson had his first solo exhibition at Moderna Museet in 1982 and now 31 years later we see his most recent, at Malmö Konsthall.

Johansson’s work is concerned with the city and landscape, more interested in the footprint and detritus of humans rather than the humans themselves. His images convey a sense of place, he photographs as he walks around a landscape noticing everyday quirks in the world, the cartoonish arrangement of tyres on the white lines of a race track, the black witch hat roofs of a squat house or the drunken sag of a down-at-heel trailer. The photographs are often taken at eye level, with a constant focal length with the processing is still completed using analogue methods in the darkroom They have a sharply brutal elegance, part composed artwork, part travelogue or perhaps cinematic still – suggesting obscure narrative.

For this exhibition in Malmö, Johansson is showing three photographic series: Ulan Bator, Pontiac and Småland. Ulan Bator was created in 2009 after Johansson watched the documentary film Letter from Siberia (1957) by Chris Marker and travelled to Mongolia to find a street corner which features in a recurring scene in the film. He never found it but kept up his daily photographic journeys and, through the resulting body of images, found an unexpected way to discover the landscape and film as he had originally intended. Pontiac (2011) examines the effects of the global recession on the small town of Pontiac. Part of the crashed automotive industry along with Michigan and Detroit, Pontiac is depicted in its depressed state – abandoned, empty and lost.

Småland is less of a finished project and more of a work in progress. He has visited and photographed more than 1,000 locations in Sweden since 1990, adding new ones every year. Small places captured in idiosyncratic detail, Johansson is building an archive of the country. An archive that captures a moment in time, the personality of our roads, streets and fields and also wider issues of the built environment and the social history of Sweden.

Gerry Johansson: Photography opens on April 5th and runs until June 15th 2014.

http://www.konsthall.malmo.se/o.o.i.s/5365

Posted
AuthorSacha Waldron

Lithuanian Photography Season comes to an end this month in Scotland with a small foyer exhibition at Glasgow’s 103 Trongate of Romualdas Rakauskas, Romualdas Pozerskis, Gintaras Cesonis, Darius Kuzmickas and Petras Saulenas. The prints on display are a selection taken from 2013’s exhibitions at the Harbour Arts Centre in Irvine, one dealing with the tradition of black and white street photography and the other with pinhole photography. These more comprehensive endeavours were curated by Street Level Photographs who have mounted several other key exhibitions as part of the season and, last year, marked 20 years since their pioneering exhibition of Baltic Photography from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, the first UK exhibition to focus on the region. Although the season was kick-started to coincide with Lithuania’s Presidency of the European Union, its timing is, well, timely. As Lithuania grows into its own relatively recent post-Soviet independent skin (watching the recent events in Ukraine makes you realise the potential precarity of this situation), Scotland also stands on the edge of its own potential independence. All the photographers on display here lived through that moment in their country’s history and it is hard not to see the differing styles of humanist black and white documentary genre against the more experimental pinhole art photography without that historical lens. Nor reductive, I would say, to consider the two exhibitions originally staged at Irvine as the old Lithuanian canon vs. the new. This modest display deals with the complex situation of the student gradually becoming the teacher to the next generation, one that enjoys a greater freedom, especially in the creative act.  

The larger selection at Trongate comes from the Kaunas Street Photography exhibition. All three photographers originally part of the Irvine show are represented; Rakauskas, Pozerskis and Cesonis – each a prominent figure within the Lithuanian humanist tradition. All based in Kaunas, the second largest city in Lithuania, their work focuses on the people in the streets and towns from the early 1960’s to 80’s. Vilnius street scenes are shown in sultry New York style, their dark figured inhabitants in shadow. Men and women are caught in conversation with the background of trolley-buses, others glimpsed lost in their own thoughts as they accidently pass into frame (Rakauskis). Cesonis prefers the lone figure – the old figure waiting at the level-crossing, the young boy peering around the corner of the café gazing at the church - white and lovely in sunlight.

 My favourite comes from Pozerskis - an image of a heartbreakingly attractive child couple courting each other by a cottage gate in Klaipeda. They are probably never in their lives so perfect as they are here but it is as much about their situation. The twee coastal prettiness of the spit is both modern Lithuania but somehow remote from it – the natural environment of forests and dunes a million miles away from the scruff and narrow alleyed claustrophobia of the cities. Some of the prints are available to buy from the SLP shop during the exhibition and if I had had a spare £75 I would have bought this Pozerskis in an instant. I too am a sucker for the chocolate box romantic Europe.

LT Pinhole’s selection, which is radically smaller than that afforded to Kaunas Street Photography, explores camera-less photography, a process both ancient and modern and one favoured by artists of a younger generation. Two photographers (of the five from the original Irvine exhibition) have been chosen for this display - Kuzmickas and Saulenas.  The work from both deals with collaged and constructed image making rather than capturing a single moment. Domestic scenes inside houses and apartments often have girls sitting, contemplating the overlaid cityscapes above or sleeping, projecting dreams in the colour prints from Kusmickas. Preferring black and white, Saulenas overlays landscapes and street-scenes fan-like across the photographic plane in a whimsical style, offering the viewer little windows into the worlds shown within. The circular shape of these individual images reveals the pin-hole hole – like anonymous postcards they give no indications of narrative and become fleeting thoughts revealing a fleeting whole.

It would have been good to see more from LT Pinhole, especially if you missed the larger exhibitions in Irvine – the artists works feels like a bit of an afterthought in comparison to that of Kaunas Street Photography. I would also have liked to have seen some female inclusion (there are two short leaflet essays from Agnė Narušytė and Egle Deltuvaite) but I am being unfair and expecting too much from such a small, foyer based display. The exhibition is like a retrospective teaser and hopefully will draw audience back to the previous iterations.

A visit to Street Level Photography's new exhibition of Helga Paris is very much recommended and after looking around both I would recommend going next door to the Russian Cultural Centre for coffee, cake and some hot Riga Balsam to recreate a truly Lithuanian experience. I know Riga is in Latvia but believe me, if you ever find yourself in the middle of a Lithuanian forest near to the border with Russia, snow outside on the lagoon and the elusive moose nearby – it will totally make sense. 

 

http://www.streetlevelphotoworks.org

http://www.pinhole.lt/en

http://www.kaunasgallery.lt/en

Posted
AuthorSacha Waldron

Tom Wood's exhibition Men & Women opened last week at Belfast Exposed, the fourth and final iteration of the exhibition which has been touring and reconfiguring across the UK and Ireland. 

Men & Women is the result of a creative collaboration with artist Padraig Timoney and a journey through Tom Wood's extensive photographic archive. Wood sometimes organises his images into the two headings that make up the title of the exhibition – 'Men' and 'Women' but usually exhibits particular bodies of work or projects that are time and subject specific (football grounds, markets, nightclubs etc.). These archival headings provide an opportunity. Men & Women is the first time a selection of Wood's photography has been shown that encompasses his entire back-catalogue from the early 80's to present.

Up until 2001, the North-West and Merseyside were a consistent focus for Irish born Wood's photography. He lived and taught photography in Liverpool from 1978 until his move to North Wales. The subjects, therefore, are local faces and well known to Wood who would spend two days teaching and five days wandering the streets with his camera. This earned him the nickname 'Photie Man' locally and Wood has said how often he would take a photograph of certain people 'just to shut them up'. The process, for Wood, was very much an exchange and he would make prints and leave them in a box by his door letting the subjects know, as he walked about town, that they were welcome to call in and collect one.

I caught the exhibition just before it closed at The Photography Gallery, Dublin, which presented a slimmed down version of Men & Woman first shown in London in late 2012/early 2013 and organised in collaboration with the National Media Museum, Bradford (who staged a major retrospective of Wood's work Tom Wood: Photographs 1973-2013 in 2013). The exhibition in Dublin was arranged across two floors and made good use of peripheral spaces as well as the main gallery. The exhibition led with a selection of single female portraits. A girl reclining cat-like on a sofa, another examining a Rothko painting – her neck a flash of colour. A larger print, Mother of the Cleverest Boy in England (1995), showed a young fashionable woman with gold earrings and a striking red jacket - a poster of the planets hangs in the room behind her head alongside a certificate, an indication of her son's achievements. The unexplained bandage on the woman's hand and the crutch next to her make this photograph a more complex portrait – of an individual, not only a mother defined by her offspring.

Black and white digital silver gelatin prints were displayed alongside analogue c-type prints throughout the exhibition. Last Day at Blacklers (1988) showed a woman examining an item in the Blacklers department store in Liverpool. The store was part of the fabric of Liverpool city life for many years and famous for its impressive Christmas grotto and its popular rocking horse Blackie (now part of the display at the Museum of Liverpool Life). Another image, Mrs Coulson (1973) shows a woman lying on the grass sunbathing, only her arms and legs are uncovered and if her shoes were not neatly arranged by her side, you might suspect that she was dead. This photograph was taken on one of the first rolls of film Wood's ever took and is a funny but intimate portrait of his landlady.

In the central gallery certain photographs were grouped together and spotlit, giving them a backlit appearance. Young and old were juxtaposed in Good Morning Ladies (1988) taken in of two women in a nursing home and the young boys prowling the streets of Untitled. Two girls pose provocatively on the bonnet of a red car at the seaside resort in Not Miss New Brighton (1978) – their expressions say they couldn't care less that they will never be awarded the title.

There is a familiarity between Wood's and his subjects that results in a pally warmth that emanates from some of the shots. The gang of boys in Ellese Line (1999) seem to have half a smile on their faces whilst attempting to look hard for the camera while the women's expression in Ladies' Toilet Attendant (1985) says 'come on then, lets get this over with'. Occasionally the expression of Wood's subjects is a little more fragile and the photograph taken appears a little more intrusive. Seacombe Ferry (1985) shows a young woman holding a small baby at the entrance to a ferry terminal. Waif-thin, her peach flanelette jumpsuit is almost the same colour as her skin and she wears a pair of pink heels which, in a moment, will have to teeter her and the pram down the steep ferry tunnel. She looks at the camera with a guarded expression, holding the baby as a deflection of the lens away from herself.

Seacombe Ferry, however, is one of the exceptions to Wood's cast of strong female characters. They are generally shown, in much greater number than the men, confident and often sexually dominant. When they pose, they generally pose face on, eyes directly to the camera. The men, on the other hand, are seen as youths in groups cock-sure and puppy-faced but when older often alone, age weathered faces looking lonely and perpetually solitary in the pubs and bus shelters. In a way, they are the more revealing photographs, the men stripped back and vulnerable.

The last room of Men & Women contained a case displaying several of Wood's key photographic publications including Looking for Love (1984-7) – capturing the clientèle of The Chelsea Reach Nightclub in New Brighton and Photie Man (2005). Book production has always been important for the artist, creatively as well as financially and part of the Men & Woman project is the publication, again with Padraig Timoney, of two new books. The book is a site where Wood's can be be more playful, pairing and making connections between the images. This way of working, although time-consuming, is also less cumbersome than the production of a physical exhibition.

Despite this, Woods has been exhibiting consistently over the last few years and currently on show is a large exploration and focus on his landscape photography at Mostyn in North Wales. Several more book projects are also in the pipeline.  I would assume that it will be a while again before Woods' photography is given this much attention in the exhibition format and this is good opportunity to acquaint or re-acquaint yourself with his work. Men & Women, children, beaches gardens, shopping centres - in a way, Woods has always been a landscape photographer - an accidental archivist of our environment and of our time.

Men & Women runs until 14 March 2014 at Belfast Exposed and his exhibition, Tom Woods - Landscapes runs until 6 April at Mostyn, Llandudno. A longer consideration of this show will appear on this blog very soon.

More information about Tom Wood's 2013-4 exhibition projects can be found on each venues website

National Media Museum, Bradford 

http://www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/PlanAVisit/Exhibitions/TomWood/Introduction.aspx

The Photographers Gallery, London

http://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/men-women-2

The Gallery of Photography, Dublin

http://www.galleryofphotography.ie

Belfast Exposed, Belfast

http://www.belfastexposed.org

Mostyn, llandudno

http://www.mostyn.org/whats_on/tom_wood_-_landscapes

An excellent interview with Tom Wood's can be found on Paper Journal –

www.paper-journal.com/tom-wood

 


Posted
AuthorSacha Waldron