British-based artists query doc­u­men­tary art

Shanghai Daily - - ART - Lynn Liu “I know of a Beau­ti­ful Mar­riage She likes his Money. He likes her Beauty and is happy to have a beau­ti­ful item in the house. If I had such a mar­riage I would shoot my­self.”

Aplay with im­ages com­bin­ing re­al­ity with il­lu­sions is on dis­play at an on­go­ing ex­hi­bi­tion at Shang­hai Cen­ter of Pho­tog­ra­phy at the West Bund.

The ex­hibit “An­other Way of Telling” dis­plays around 100 works, by lead­ing UK-based pho­tog­ra­phers Anna Fox and Karen Knorr, chal­leng­ing the au­then­tic­ity of tra­di­tional doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­phy art.

“I would rather call my­self a story-teller, rather than a doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­pher, be­cause I think doc­u­men­tary mod­els up too much,” Fox told Shang­hai Daily, re­fer­ring to the tra­di­tional no­tions of doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­phy be­ing “ob­jec­tive record­ing.”

“It’s never be­ing pos­si­ble,” she added. “The word of ‘doc­u­men­tary’ is in­vented by John Gri­er­son (British doc­u­men­tary maker). It means telling sto­ries on some kind of truth. But it’s about an au­thor telling sto­ries.”

In the 1980s, a new doc­u­men­tary move­ment emerged in the UK, un­der the in­flu­ence of both con­cep­tual art and color pho­tog­ra­phy bud­ding in the United States. It be­came all the more rea­son­able for young pho­tog­ra­phers “to break the bound­aries of tra­di­tional doc­u­men­tary prac­tice ... to look at things more or­di­nary, and more close to them,” Fox said.

“It’s about look­ing at the over­looked.” Se­lected works from both pho­tog­ra­phers’ rep­re­sen­ta­tive se­ries are show­cased this time, giv­ing a diver­si­fied pre­sen­ta­tion on the sub­jects and the au­di­ence a wider pic­ture of British Ex­panded Doc­u­men­tary Pho­tog­ra­phy.

Knorr’s sig­na­ture “Bel­gravia” se­ries shows the pho­tog­ra­pher’s light-hearted irony and satire, with play­ful pair­ings of im­ages and texts.

The se­ries, taken from 1979 to 81, cap­tures the high-class Bel­gravia neigh­bor­hood of well-ed­u­cated peo­ple with in­ter­na­tional back­grounds. Start­ing from the sub­jects and place she was fa­mil­iar with (her neigh­bor­hood, neigh­bors, friends and fam­ily) Knorr staged them with their com­plex­ity. One of the se­ries shows a well-dressed lady sit­ting on sofa, and un­der the por­trait reads the text:

“The first pro­noun ‘I’ here could be me ... but it could also be her,” Knorr said.

All the cap­tions were taken out of myr­iad con­ver­sa­tions Knorr had with the sub­jects when work­ing on the project.

“They are like key­words that bring you back to the im­ages, and wink­ing at you, say­ing that, ‘this is pok­ing gen­tle fun at them as well.’”

Fox, who was study­ing pho­tog­ra­phy at the West Sur­rey Col­lege of Art and De­sign in Farn­ham at that time and a stu­dent of Knorr, was strongly in­flu­enced by Knorr’s dis­tinc­tive play of im­ages and texts, and de­vel­oped her very own ex­plicit ap­proach.

Fox’s two se­ries “Bas­ingstoke” and “Work Sta­tions,” both ex­hib­ited at SCOP, high­light the work­ing class and or­di­nary ev­ery­day life in the UK.

Com­mis­sioned by Cam­er­a­work Stu­dio and the Lon­don Mu­seum, the “Work Sta­tions” se­ries de­picts the of­fice life of the late 1980s Lon­don work­ers.

Un­der the reign of Mar­garet Thatcher’s gov­ern­ment, the Bri­tain at that time saw high un­em­ploy­ment and yet a pur­suit of in­di­vid­ual for­tune. Through Fox’s lens, the fiercely com­pet­i­tive of­fice life un­folds, along with the long-time gen­der stereo­types in that the fe­males are sub­or­di­nated to the po­si­tions like sec­re­taries and other so­cial dis­ci­plines and rit­u­als.

“When I was mak­ing a work, it was in the mid­dle of this time, so you don’t al­ways know the sig­nif­i­cance of it,” Fox noted. “But I was try­ing to make a point about the na­ture of the bloom­ing con­sum­ing so­ci­ety that had con­ser­va­tive val­ues.”

Of­fices, homes and leisure has long been the top­ics she’s in­ter­ested in. In the “Bas­ingstoke” se­ries, she dis­closes how the promis­ing satel­lite town of Lon­don failed to pro­vide the moved-out peo­ple a “so-called bet­ter life.”

One of the five se­lected pho­tos of the se­ries on dis­play fea­tures a Christ­mas la­belled as “gen­uine” in the place where there usu­ally were plas­tic ones. In the cap­tion she uses a quote from the news­pa­per about the town try­ing to sell it­self.

“I was mak­ing an ironic com­ment about the idea of sell­ing your­self on some­thing gen­uine, that this ar­ti­fi­cial gen­uine­ness has be­come a prize,” she ex­plained.

Other works on dis­play in­clude Fox’s “Re­sort” se­ries on the the­atri­cal na­ture of the leisure in­dus­try, es­pe­cially the hol­i­day maker com­pany But­lins.

And Knorr con­tin­ues to con­struct scenes in her re­cent works “Fa­bles” and “In­dia Song,” but this time, blur­ring the re­al­ity with il­lu­sions by bring­ing im­ages of an­i­mals into land­mark ar­chi­tec­tures across France and In­dia.

The ex­hi­bi­tion wraps up on Novem­ber 18 so don’t miss out on be­ing en­light­ened by creative story telling.

1 1. One of Karen Knorr’s “Bel­gravia” se­ries

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