Cindy Sherman Untitled Film Still #48, 1979

gelatin silver print 18.9cm x 24cm

This is a photograph by Cindy Sherman, part of a series called Untitled Film Stills. In these, Sherman role-plays as stereotypical female characters to recreate “iconic snapshots” which aim to show that show that “self identity is often an unstable compromise between social dictates and personal intention”.

The photograph is shot from behind Sherman’s character by the side of a stretch of road which disappears left, around a bend. There are no vehicles to be seen. To the left of the image, the road is bordered by a steep hill with trees. On the horizon we see yet more hills, trees and what appears to be a river which parallels the road almost back to the solitary figure. Apart from the road, the landscape is entirely natural and free from manufactured items. Everything works to evoke a powerful sense of, somewhat eerie, isolation.

Sherman’s character looks like a stereotypical housewife of the 1950s. She is well-dressed with a relaxed and casual air, but this is contrasted with the feelings of isolation and dependency that this image offers. She is dependent on someone with a car to pick her up and must wait for this person entirely alone. I feel this image represents the negative aspects of being female in a patriarchal society. There is a need, often felt by women, to have a beautiful and manicured image while being totally dependent on men. Many people will see a woman who appears to be fine on the outside, and yet they don’t see the internal pressures that she has to deal with.

While my reading of this image is through a feminist lens, I believe that it could also be interpreted in the broader sense that most people only ever see others as they are on the outside while never seeing the occulted issues that they may have.

The author Brad Meltzer once said, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” Linking this back to Sherman’s words, our appearance to others is a compromise between the things that society expects from us, what we are, and what we wish to accomplish in our lives.

Inventing Father

Diana Markosian Untitled from the series Inventing My Father 2013 Inkjet Print 20 x 24″.

You are seven. You move to a new country and your Father is left behind. No warnings, no goodbyes, no way to contact him. All reminders of him are removed out of your life. He is cut out of every photo you own. Those around you don’t admit his existence. All questions are met with silence.

How long could you hold onto his image in your head? How long can you keep the memories of him alive? What would you do? Do you do as your mother says and pretend he’s dead or do you start inventing a father?

New realities form, sprouting from a need to be wanted, to be a daughter, his Daughter. Your childish mind explains away his absence. His image becomes heroic, he’s a spy, an astronaut. He’s saving the world! He becomes bigger and stronger in your mind’s eye. Imperfections are smoothed away or forgotten. Idealised dreams now become memories, memories squirreled away and gorged on in moments of loneliness. They keep you going, but only just.

What would happen if fifteen years later you meet him again. Who will he be? Your father? Can he even be your Father if your father has been someone else all this time. Granted, this father had been created and built in your mind, but he had still been serving the purpose of a father for so many years. Could you even be his daughter? He must have, consciously or not, created an image his mind of who his daughter is.

It might not be you

Sarah Joy Hay

Claudio Parmiggiani – Senza Titolo

Senza Titolo 2016
Smoke and soot on nine Panels 94.5 x 425.25 x 1.125″ (overall)

In the nineteen seventies, whilst clearing a dusty space given to him to exhibit his work, Claudio Parmiggiani was struck by the clear definition, preserved in dust, holding a memory of time, of an image outline where a removed object had previously stood.

Inspired, he began to develop his Delocazioni – his fire and smoke pieces.

He creates clearly defined images in sooty tones by making arrangements of objects against white paper or board in a sealed space and then burning tyres. The ritual quality of burning adds another layer of drama to the final visual creation. In this nine panel ‘library’ installation, the untouchable book outlines suggest the fragility of existence and the light and shadows left by the soot deposits are familiar and yet mystifying.
Those soft elegant outlines gently evoke memories of a ‘time lost’ leaving the viewer to write the tale. The library’s subtle tones are very beautiful as are the shapes themselves; some books upright, some half fallen, some with pages splayed open, all these images somehow suggesting the knowledge and culture that was held within. The fragility of the artwork itself only deepens our sense of mystery and wonder. The ‘once books’ whose pages were thumbed through to reveal their riches now are simply ghosts of the past.

Nicola English

Sophie Calle – End

Sophie Calle from ‘My mother, my cat, my father, in that order’ 2017

Sophie Calle’s exhibition* in the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2017 is a selection of works entitled My mother, my cat, my father, in that order. It comprises a series of photographs and short passages of text, all mounted in sleek white frames and either hung on, or propped against, the wall of the gallery. Calle recalls the everyday minutiae surrounding the death of each of those named in the title, in a way that is businesslike and yet poignant.

The entry in her mother’s diary noting the death of her mother, Calle’s grandmother, is starkly presented before Calle’s own diary entry, twenty years later, recording in turn her own mother’s death. This is followed by the brutal observation that nobody will remember her in that way. It is a beautifully straightforward way of alluding to the sobering suspicion of anyone who isn’t a parent that they will somehow not be remembered; that their life won’t matter to anyone and nor will their death.

Caught up in loss and grief we can lose perspective and focus instead on incongruous details. Calle’s recollection that a friend asked her to pick up some leeks in the same message in which they expressed condolence for her loss of her cat elicits a wry smile.

She describes the time when her father was dying and how she wanted to believe his last words would be meaningful. When he said ‘petrol’ one day, she was convinced he would live through the night because petrol is too ugly a word with which to end one’s life. Two things can be absolutely unconnected but we often create conditional links in our mind to fool ourselves that we have control over an uncontrollable situation. We cannot control the agony and guilt of waiting for a loved one to die and this is perfectly and yet comically summed up in Calle’s fixation upon the last word her father would speak.

The final piece in the series is a photograph of a road sign at a cliff edge. Between cliff edge and horizon stretches a calm, gently rippling sea. Above the horizon is the golden glow of a fading sunset, deepening into a clear azure sky at the top of the photograph. The yellow diamond-shaped sign is rather bent and battered, and its message ‘END’ is pock-marked with what appear to be multiple bullet holes. The sign sits on a short pole and the juncture of sign and pole is perfectly in line with the horizon, which bisects the image.

The juxtaposition of the worn sign and its blunt message with the otherwise calm vista speaks to me of conflicting emotions of grief – the release and freedom of eventual loss combined with the utter wrenching pain of those last moments.

One of my companions told me they did not like Calle’s exhibition. They thought it was too personal and that grieving in this way should be done in private. Whilst many of us would struggle to share the details of such private thoughts and moments, I think she was very brave to do so. C.S. Lewis said, ‘we read to know we are not alone’. I think the same can be said of art. We look at art to know someone else sees the world as we do, that they feel the world as we do, and that they too sometimes suffer as we do.

Sonya Bones

*although she was in fact nominated for a set of postcards in photobook form entitled ‘My all’

A Drawing by Richard Serra

Richard Serra Elevational Weights, Black Matter 2010 paintstick on handmade paper 82 × 68″

On your screen is….
a photograph…
….of a printed image in a book
…which itself is a photograph of the drawing.
The absence of any detail and referential elements leave us looking but not really seeing and actually, the more you look the less you see. You see, what you need to really see is just not there.
It’s the same with the endless reproductions on tea towels, biscuit tins and laptop sleeves of iconic works such as Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. We’ve looked at it of course, in all its guises. It’s instantly recognisable, but probably rarely really seen.
If you get to really see this work by Richard Serra you’ll notice that it’s large, at 82 x 68 inches, and in its own way as monumental as his sculptural works. Standing in front of it, it’s so much more than just a black rectangle and it plays with your perceptions every bit as much as his sculptures.
It’s a drawing on handmade paper so there is the texture of the paper showing in places. It’s made with paintsticks held together to produce a block for covering areas in a sweep. So there are distinct strokes and also a lot of variation in texture and depth. The paintsticks produce a surface which seems to play with the light, both absorbing it and reflecting it. It has a real feeling of depth and volume and earns its title.
I’ve never seen black as a negation of colour, or negative in some way. Because it contains all the colours its feels complete and one can spend time just being with it, understanding it and being excited by its possibilities. Its all there. It always was, maybe we just couldn’t see it.

Keron Beattie

A photo by Michael Wolf

From Tokyo Compression by Michael Wolf (2010)

I have chosen one image from a series of photographs by Michael Wolf.

The first thing that struck me when I first saw this image was the presence of intense pain, struggle and suffering of the subject staring out at us from behind the glass.

We view the portrait through a filter of water droplets which are on the inside of the space which the focus of the image occupies. We do not know the nature of this space but the presence of the moisture is suggestive of a humid, oppressive environment calling our attention to the discomfort of the subject. This then leads us to believe that she is being kept in harsh conditions, perhaps even against her will. The backdrop is dark, implying an unhappy, unsafe location and indeed, the subject looks troubled.

Michael Wolf began his career as a photojournalist and the reason I have revisited this image from his series Tokyo Compression, is because I have been reminded of it in recent years. There have been many ‘similar’ images in the media in the reporting of the desperate plight of the Syrian refugees, all of whom are trying simply to escape danger and keep themselves and their families safe.

The photograph that I have chosen here is not that of an individual from a war torn community or of a desperately frightened refugee fleeing danger, but an image from a series of portraits of city workers on their daily commute on the subway in Tokyo. The subjects of these photographs, which I find compelling, are certainly likely to be suffering; that is of course by today’s standards of those of us living a relatively mundane, but almost certainly a safe life. The anguish felt is that of the everyday grind of the chore of the monotonous repetitiveness of going to work to pay the bills.

I can’t help but observe how this image presents a somewhat over dramatic alternative to the actual reality, in the same way as what often currently happens on social media. Perhaps, though, this has more to do with the viewer and how we are conditioned by the copious amounts of shocking images we are flooded with in our news feeds and timelines today.

Sam Humphreys

A work by Félix González-Torres

Félix González-Torres “Untitled” (Perfect Lovers) 1991

A white painted wall. Mounted on it, two identical clocks positioned side by side. They are ordinary, ‘every-day’ clocks that could be purchased anywhere. There is nothing ‘pretty’ or special about them, they are just functional. The clocks keep exactly the same time and as we watch, we see time ticking away in front of us. Perhaps, we are watching our lives passing us by, our time here slowly running away and there is nothing that can be done to stop it.
But, there are two clocks and they are positioned closely together, so perhaps this coupling represents a real connection, signifying a relationship between them both. This can all be surmised by just looking at the piece but then we notice the title, “Untitled” (Perfect Lovers). The clocks then, represent two lovers.
Now, the ticking of the clocks feels like the beating of two hearts. Each clock is a very separate entity, but although they are two very separate beings they are completely in ‘sync’ with each other. They are connected so thoroughly that their hearts beat together as if they were just one being, they are in love. The two clocks are placed as closely together as possible whilst still remaining individual objects , but also, they are too close to allow anything to come between them.
The complete functionality and ordinariness of the clocks now begins to appear differently. Love between two people, whether it be a partner, a parent and child or between two friends is available to everybody. Love is special, a gift, but you don’t have to be out of the ordinary or ‘special’ to receive or experience love. Love creates bonds between people that can’t easily be broken. Of course, as we look at the two clocks we must face the knowledge that it is unlikely the clocks will both stop at the same time. One day, one of them will stop completely, leaving the other to go on ticking alone.
Félix González-Torres created this piece after the death of his partner from AIDS in 1991. He wanted to create work that both allowed him to share this very personal experience but keep it from being vilified because of his homosexuality.
He writes,
‘Two clocks side by side are much more threatening to the powers that be than an image of two guys sucking each others dicks, because they cannot use me as a rallying point in their battle to erase meaning.’
With this piece González-Torres shows us a beautiful tribute to the concept of love. He has removed all the unkindness and judgement of human nature, stripping away the pettiness of life, that we are all guilty of, and showing us instead the essence of love in its absolute purity.

Shelly Crowley

John Baldessari – The Pencil Story

John BaldessariThe Pencil Story (1972–3)
[Colour photographs, with coloured pencil, mounted on board]

The work comprises two photographs of what we are told is the same pencil, side by side, before and after being sharpened. Underneath the photos, hand written in white ink directly onto the black paper that they are mounted on, is a short text about Baldessari’s relationship with the pencil.

The work’s composition suggests a ‘scrap book’ style, the photos aren’t uniform, they don’t appear straight, the text is hand written and all in capital letters.

There’s something about the writing, though, that doesn’t feel as authentically scrap book as a first glance suggests. Although the style of the text seems like a quick note it differs from genuine rough note style in that the text is very neat. The lettering is clear, and the letter shapes are rather consistent. Each sentence is roughly the same length, suggesting that the time and planning were involved.

The text reads:


The text records the performance between the taking of the two images.

The pencils in the photos face lead-point down, and although the edges of the photos are not mounted straight, the pencils in each are straight in relation to the black mounting. The point of each pencil is exactly the same length from the bottom border and both in the same placement slightly closer to the left photo.

The photos illustrate the story. The pencil on the left is un-sharpened with a ‘dull and dirty’ point, the image on the right shows the newly sharpened pencil with a clean sharp lead.

There is a balance, careful placement of each component creating a visual that to the eye looks a little like a page from a sketch book but following careful and time tested rules of composition.  Baldessari gives the viewer all the visual clues to read this as a quick sketchbook-style page, creating a very authentic story, the story ending “I’M NOT SURE, BUT I THINK THIS HAS SOMETHING TO DO WITH ART” further suggesting to the viewer that this wasn’t intended as a finished work of art to be viewed in a gallery.

This piece literally questions itself and creates an interesting parallel to the ideas behind the ‘readymade’ and the authority of the ‘artist’ and the gallery.

Here is a piece I recreated as a post to social media site Instagram in response to this work.

Liz Sterry