Over half-term I was fortunate enough to take a short trip to The Netherlands. I was staying about half an hour train ride away from the centre of Amsterdam, where I headed to visit the FOAM photography museum.
The first work I saw was by Daisuke Yokota. At first glance they appeared to be a selection of abstract landscapes on the wall. Upon closer inspection the eye picked out layers of textures, snatches of windows, clouds, mountains and landscapes. The muted grey tones made it as though peering into a murky, frozen puddle. The description that Yokota works with both film and digital photography processes, scanning, re-photographing and manipulating through Photoshop and photocopy processes. The multiple layers are an attempt to evoke the passing of time that is often lacking from photographs. These fantasy landscapes are evocative of a dream or memory, barely recalled. This work also sparks questions about “What is photography?” and the possibilities of it as a medium. I loved this work for it’s appreciation of texture. The technique of being totally experimental with photography and building layers and texture is something I intend to attempt in my current project.
The next exhibit was an extensive collection of work from the French photographer Jacues Henri Lartigue. It was easy to see why the title was “A Life In Colour”; such pure, joyful celebration of the world was present in every image. He believed that photography was the ideal tool to capture the astounding beauty present in each and every day of life, no matter where in the world or what the season, he was eager to record it. Despite having hundreds of images of sunrises he would still venture out to photograph them well into his old age. This is a quality of photography that I have always appreciated personally. I am often observing tiny wonders around me each day; the shapes sunlight makes as it comes through the window; the patterns of frost on a car windscreen; the textures in a dried up paint palette. It was exciting to see someone else recording their own exultant vision of the world. Unfortunately it would seem that Lartigue did not achieve much appreciation from the art world until close to the end of his life. Most of his career was based upon coming from a wealthy family and photographing his high society peers.
The last collection we saw, and my favourite, was a display of work by Francesca Woodman. Her photographs, deeply expressive and earnest, with only herself as subject, experimented with themes of nudity, sexuality, mental health, body image and femininity. I was enthused as I felt this had strong links with the topics of gender and identity I intend to explore in my current project. Although as a model she is almost always naked in her images, in many she appears to be attempting to hide or harm her body; standing wrapped in wallpaper, or plastic film; sitting with pegs, or tape attached to her bare flesh. Her surroundings generally appear to be the sparse, decaying interiors of abandoned homes. This choice of location could have as much symbolic meaning as the subject of the photo, offering insight into the artists opinion of herself or sensation of the world around her. The work is incredibly raw and personal and gives us, as viewers, a window into the mind of a brilliant but troubled soul.
Only when I was halfway through the exhibition did I discover that Francesca Woodman killed herself when she was 22 – the same age as me. This made the work all the more poignant.
From seeing these works I intend to take forward the techniques of layering and combined process from Yokota. Woodman’s work has influenced me with its raw energy, symbolism and experimentation with the body as subject. Both have encouraged me to return to photography, with a more experimental stance.
Lartigue images: http://uk.phaidon.com/agenda/photography/articles/2016/january/18/jacques-henri-lartigues-rarely-seen-colour-archive/
Woodman (featured image)