Recently opened at The Photographers Gallery is the group exhibition, Shoot! Existential Photography. The exhibition explores the post WW1 fairground attraction of the photographic shooting gallery in which participants would attempt to shoot at a target. Winning, if they hit the bullseye, not a teddy bear or a plastic-bagged goldfish but a photograph of themselves. Here, the prize is their own image.

With photographs spanning sixty years, the exhibition features several images of the early artists, writers and philosophers with whom the game was popular – Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Cocteau, Jean-Paul Sartre. One photograph shows Sartre in 1929, suited and pipe-smoking, with a protective and proud hand on Simone de Bauvoir's shoulder as she takes aim, her eyes closed in the seconds after her shot. In another from the late 1980's, artist Jean-François LeCourt's shot hits the camera lens exactly and the resulting image shows LeCourt with an exploded bullet hole at his crotch. It is as if the photograph captures Lecourt at the moment where he is both dead and alive, documentation of an action but also a kind of memorial. A macabre souvenir. 

The images are both snapshots and portraits of humans performing both a leisure activity, a bit of fun and an act of violence (both against the camera and their own image). This is the beauty of the fun fair, often appealing to the disturbing nature of humanity in the name of pleasure. 

Alongside these images, Shoot! contains work by several contemporary artists such as Niki de Sant Phalle and Steven Pippin. Christian Marclay is exhibiting his video-sound installation Crossfire which samples moments of Hollywood films where the characters take aim. Pointed towards the audience with their weapons. This provides an interesting juxtaposition as, of course, in the case of the shooting gallery images, the artist is in fact the mechanised process triggered by the subject. 

Shoot! Existential Photography runs until January 6th. Admission £5/£3 concessions.

AuthorSacha Waldron