THE PHOTOGRAPHERS’ GALLERY, LONDON, 18TH APRIL-30TH JUNE 2013
The first thing I noticed, and the reason I went back to The Photographers’ Gallery after boycotting it in disgust last year, is that they seem to have quietly reverted to not charging entry fees for their exhibitions. Victory is mine. When they’re publicly funded and sponsored for exhibitions by the Deutsche Börse and The Telegraph, then it bloody well should be free. They knew I was right, obviously. It’s good to be the king. I wonder what Mr and Mrs Telegraph (retired) think of Mishka Henner scouring Google Street View for itinerant rural prostitutes, though? I suspect they would take a dim view of the whole venture, even if the prostitutes are primly referred to as “sex workers” at the gallery, and described in an even more absurdly PC and “let’s not judge, mmkay?” manner on the web site as “isolated women occupying the margins of southern European environments.” Or maybe Mr Telegraph would be well into it and he might even like to get URLs and grid refs so the dirty Tory pig can check out some of the “isolated women” first hand.
It’s not nice to think that women have to sit in plastic garden chairs by a motorway so some nasty scumbag can come along and buy blow jobs, but get real… it isn’t in any way inaccurate or out of line to call them prostitutes.
Mishka Henner, SS98, Cerignola Foggia, Italy, 2012.
I’d seen Henner’s work before, and I really like the eerie, desolate, and profoundly un-erotic world he’s created with this series of pictures. It reminded me somewhat of David Lynch’s mild obsession with uncanny hookers in odd places, as seen in Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet, Lost Highway and Inland Empire, etc.
It’s also very interesting that half the nominees (Henner and Christina De Middel) are showing work that’s completely outside the tiny comfort zone of anybody who still worries that photography is not quite art. Henner’s obviously working with a database of found material in a way that definitely stands on its own feet as art, and De Middel’s work is from a self-published book. It’s a huge step forward to see self-publishing and digital practice acknowledged in this way, even though I also love veteran old school photographer Chris Killip’s monochrome, classically photographer-y, authoritative and didactic pictures of decaying communities in the north of England in the 70s and 80s, as Thatcherism set about destroying what was left of them.
Although– or possibly because– they’re beautifully staged, shot and finished, I have some reservations about De Middel’s work. I doubt she’s being deliberately colonial, but her African astronauts (or “Afronauts“: see what she did there?) look a bit too much like they could be some kind of wilfully quirky and borderline racist fashion shoot for a stupid magazine like Wallpaper*. Quirky and racist. “Quiracist”. To get a bit pompous and sociologist-like in the mode that I mocked in the first paragraph, there’s something a bit othering and hegemonic about the way this body of work seems to be suggesting that the idea of Africans in space is inherently odd, funny or inconceivable, even if The Afronauts is partially based on Zambia’s real and fairly inept attempts at space flight.
In the real world I passed on quickly from Broomberg and Chanarin’s War Primer 2, and I’ll do the same here. Brecht, war is hell, pasting over somebody else’s work, incredibly ugly artist’s book, Google, something, something. Basic art school stuff: very dated, very dull (or “dullted”). What’s it doing here?