With only four photographers on the bill at this month's Le Pub photo event, and many of the regulars in The Netherlands for Network Week, the night could have been a bit quiet... But actually, packed out by enthusiastic Newport students from all three year groups, it was really rather lovely.
First up was Photo Art's Harry Rose. Moving from experimental work made during his foundation studies through to images from the first brief at Newport, Rose clearly showed that he has an eye for the beautiful. Bodies become sculptural studies of shape and form and for me, the most successful images are those shaped by Rose's intuition, rather than deliberately staged and constructed. (My favourite was the intimate portrait of braces against naked flesh. My absolute LEAST FAVOURITE pic of the whole night was the 'bum shot' - an example of over working an idea...)
At present, Rose works predominantly with (strikingly handsome) gay models and admits that he finds straight men too 'stiff' and 'awkward' to photograph successfully. I guess there is a choice to be made here: does he want to be defined by his own sexuality and that of his models, or does he want to explore the human body in all its forms? Does he want to be an artist, or a gay artist? To align himself so closely to one community could either increase his power as he develops, or limit his progression. It will be interesting to see what happens.
On stage next was Doc Phot's Johan Peter Jønsson with his rather brilliant and accomplished photo book, 'Don't Spoil Pleasure'. Made during the periods when he 'didn't know what to photograph', the work is comprised of portraits and studies of his friends. Shot with harsh flash and captured in a grainy black and white (surprising to find they are digital images) the work caused a real buzz of excitement around the room.
Images capture the hedonism of youth, the unselfconscious joy that is possible before responsibility and the pressures of adulthood really kick in. It's easy for Jønsson to get up close to his subjects and the intimacy of the relationships vibrates from every page. He is not afraid to experiment with his strategy, shooting from above or in confined spaces, or into the sunlight. He is inches away, or at a distance. He plays with composition and framing: at times filling every inch of the frame with action and at others leaving space to imagine the breath of the wind, the feel of the sun on the skin of the subjects. The variety works: it reflects a pace and an explosive energy in the lives of this group of friends.
The big question for me, apart from – How can I get a copy of the book – was, “If this is the work he makes when he doesn't know what to shoot, what is his work like when he is inspired?” Methinks it will be extraordinary!
The final photographer of the night was Thijs Jagers and if Harry Rose was celebrating gay culture and Johan Peter Jønsson was celebrating friendship and youth, Jagers was celebrating life itself.
Found images were manipulated for strange and comic effect in his early work and I particularly liked his photograph of the young girl in knee high socks and dinky shoes, accompanied by a woman wearing a basque and a cardboard box on her head. (It's driving me crazy trying to work out what this image reminds me of. The box has something of the Arbus about it – the slightly surreal and eccentric; but that isn't it! Answers on a postcard please...) Other work re-interprets the ordinary object and makes beautiful (the egg shell becomes a delicate fabergé type flower.)
Jagers clearly has an open mind when it comes to making images and is ready to play with and explore the different conventions required to fulfil the Fashion and Advertising course briefs. He is confident and creative enough to make even semi-disasters work in his favour – the accidental distressing of negatives (through carrying them around in his bag for a couple of weeks) turned his 'ordinary' fashion shots into something much more enigmatic and intriguing. Less impressive though was his more 'political' work: personally, I would like to see him bringing some of his own energy to these images. I'm sure that in time, he will.
At the beginning of this 'review', I mentioned four photographers. The one missing from this piece is Denise Fotheringham (aka yours truly: the writer of this piece.) I figure that I will leave any review of my work and presentation to someone else... If anyone wants to check out what I have been up to, then have a look at my other blog.