By Isabelle Bryony
London Gallery Weekend brings together over 150 contemporary art galleries in a free three-day event designed to encourage visitors to explore the city’s rich art scene. In this second iteration, coinciding with Photo London, we visit five must-see photography exhibitions – taking in offerings from top-notch galleries as well as emerging spaces and non-profit initiatives.
Gareth McConnell at Seen Fifteen
A sinister psychedelia of flower shapes is splashed across the walls of Peckham’s Seen Fifteen gallery. Blossom is covered in Gardenia in a technicolor burst that feels both violent and seductive – like a head-ache scent. Gareth Mconnell’s “The Brighter the Flowers, the Fiercer the Town” is more than a sweet devotion to flowers; the first floral image was developed a year after the Good Friday Agreement, in an Irish loyalist pub in 1999. McConnell, whose work until then had been overtly political, took this subject to depict the conflicts of the Troubles as well as the escapist- and ecstasy-fueled rave and acid house movement that became a dominant subculture in 90s Ireland. These works speak of closeness and universal unity and in doing so embody longing and youth resilience. It’s a dizzying rush: something I only realize after going next door and calming down at the Peckham 24 festival in Copeland Park which, along with Seen Fifteen, showcases the work of experimental artists working in the field of contemporary photography. Dynamic and fantastical, this iteration is an exploration of photography’s relationship to truth.
Jeff Wall at White Cube Mason’s Yard
Dressed in black tuxedos, two bearded young men argue outside the door of a hotel. Captured by artist Jeff Wall, this work is one of fourteen large format backlit photographs on display in White Cube’s cavernous Mason’s Yard space. A green glow emanates from the lobby behind the arguing men, sparking associations – is this a jealous confrontation? Is it a money dispute? I start imagining the before and after, wondering about their individual characters, and even go back to the wall text for answers, but there aren’t any, for any of the works. Wall is a master at portraying mundane moments as grand drama, creating cinematic scenes he calls “prose poems.” By carefully witnessing and reconstructing glimpses of the lives of others, Wall creates images with a strange sense of alienation. Both intimate and disconnected, the work has a dissonance that arouses a voyeuristic interest in the viewer. Relieving us of the need to know is the magic of Wall, creating unrestricted space for imagination. After repeatedly searching for context without finding any, I realize that this denial is refreshing.
Hans Hartung at Waddington Custot
Few people know that the famous abstract painter, Hans Hartung, was also an obsessive photographer, making a habit of photographing “everything in the world that interested me”. Some of the 30,000 negatives obtained finally spend their day in the sun – and their first exhibition in London – at Waddington Custot, displayed alongside some of the artist’s abstract paintings. Dark, textured and littered with chiaroscuro, Hartung’s photographs provide insight into what grounded his instinctive, gestural artistic practice.
Trevor Stuurman in Doyle Wham
An Olympus Trip 35 is at the center of the series of self-portraits exhibited in the new gallery of contemporary African photography Doyle Wham. This is artist, photographer, publisher and stylist Trevor Stuurman’s first solo exhibition outside of South Africa and the works on display are rich in narrative detail. Each portrait tells of a milestone in the 29-year-old’s brilliant career, with the camera foreground – against a backdrop of beautifully printed textiles and led by hands adorned with gold insignia – suggesting fusion of artist, art form and muse in proud tribute. to self-esteem. Accompanying the self-portraits are striking new achromic works from the “Hair Majesty” series – conceptual shots of models in silhouette, hair braided into sculptural shapes and dripping with shimmering jewellery, luxury designer logos and costume beads. Stuurman’s distinctive visual style is inseparable from his storytelling, and his work is a testament to black excellence.
Lee Miller at Fitzrovia Chapel
Lee Miller’s most iconic wartime image is of the artist herself submerged in a bathtub – Hitler’s bathtub, the day of his suicide – with her boots discarded, covered in concentration camp dirt from Dachau, dirtying the bathroom floor. “From role model to muse” is a phrase often attributed to the surrealist icon but, after the artist’s deployment in World War II, Miller lived through and documented experiences that couldn’t have been further from the style. of glamorous bohemian life attributed to it. As one of the few female photographers sent to document the front lines, Miller was interested in the experiences of women at war, and the works displayed at Fitzrovia Chapel examine and honor the lives of nurses. Beautifully composed and with skillful manipulation of the qualities of light, the works depict these women – in classic white uniforms and curly hair – both as a powerful professional force and as individuals with idiosyncratic experiences. Miller was 32 when she was deployed and spent years afterward battling alcoholism and depression. Stepping out of the shimmering baroque interior of the chapel and into the streets of Fitzrovia, warm in the late afternoon sun, dream and reality seem to merge. I walk away marveling at Miller and devoured by the image of a nurse surrounded by fluttering latex gloves…