London Gallery Weekend: Photo Exhibition Highlights

Isabelle Blaney

London Gallery Weekend brings together more than 150 contemporary art galleries in a three-day free event designed to encourage visitors to explore the city’s rich art scene. In the second iteration, coinciding with Photo London, we visited five can’t-miss photography exhibitions – taking products from blue chip galleries as well as emerging spaces and non-profit initiatives.

fifteen-year-old Gareth McConnell

The walls of Peckham’s Seen Fifteen gallery are sprinkled with a ghastly psychedelic flower shape. Covered in gardenias, Blossom takes on an intense and seductive color, like a headache-inducing fragrance. Gareth MConnell’s ‘The Brighter the Flower, the Stronger the Town’ is more than a saccharine love of flowers; the first floral image was developed in 1999 at an Irish loyal pub, a year after the Good Friday Agreement . McConnell’s previous work had been overtly political, using the theme to represent troublesome conflict and escapism – and the ecstasy-fueled rave and acid house movements became mainstream Irish subcultures in the 1990s. The works speak of intimacy and universal solidarity, and in doing so embody youthful yearning and resilience. It’s an exhilarating urge: I only realised it after heading next door and chilling out at Copeland Park’s Peckham 24 festival, which, alongside Seen Fifteen, showcases the work of experimental artists working in contemporary photography. work. Vivid and fantastical, this iteration is an exploration of the relationship between photography and reality.

Jeff Wall at White Cube Mason Yard

Two young bearded men in black tuxedos are arguing in front of the hotel. Photographed by artist Jeff Wall, this work is one of 14 large-format backlit photographs on display at White Cube’s vast Mason’s Yard space. The hall behind the quarrelling men glowed green, triggering associations—is this a jealous confrontation? Is it a conflict of money? I started imagining before and after, wondering about their respective roles, and even going back to the writing on the wall for answers, but for any of the works, none. Wall excels at portraying mundane moments into dramatic scenes, creating what he calls “prose poems” for film scenes. By witnessing and carefully re-examining glimpses into the lives of others, Wall creates images with an uncanny sense of alienation. Intimate and disjointed, the work has a sense of dissonance that sparks prying interest from viewers. Wall’s magic makes us no longer need to know, creating an infinite space for imagination. After repeatedly searching for context but not finding anything, I suddenly realize that this denial is refreshing.

Hans Hartung at Waddington Custot

Few people know that the famous abstract painter Hans Hartung was also an obsessive photographer, so used to photographing “everything in the world that interests me”. A small number of the resulting 30,000 negatives are finally shown at Waddington Custot alongside some of the artist’s abstract paintings of a day in the sun – and their first exhibition in London. Hartung’s photographs are imbued with deep atmosphere, texture, and chiaroscuro, providing insight into the foundations of his instinctual and gestural artistic practice.

Trevor Stuurman of Doyle Wham

Journey to Olympus 35 is center stage in a series of self-portraits on display at the new contemporary African photography gallery Doyle Wham. This is the artist, photographer, editor and stylist Trevor Stuhlman’s first solo exhibition outside of South Africa, and the work on display is rich in narrative detail. Each portrait recounts the milestones achieved in the 29-year-old’s illustrious career, and the foreground of the camera – set against a backdrop of ornate printed textiles and guided by hands adorned with gold badges – hints at the artist, the art form, and the muse. A fusion of s, to love yourself with a proud tribute. Accompanying the self-portrait is a striking new achromatic piece from the ‘Hair Majesty’ collection – a concept photo of a model silhouette with hair braided into sculptural forms dripping with sparkling jewels, lavish designer logos and costume pearls. Stuurman’s distinctive visual style is inseparable from his storytelling, and his work is a testament to black excellence.

Lee Miller of Fitzrovia Church

The most iconic image of Lee Miller’s war is the artist herself immersed in a bathtub – the one on the day of Hitler’s suicide – with her boots thrown away, covered in Dachau concentration camp mud, and the bathroom floor covered in mud. Got a mess. “From model to muse” was an often-quoted phrase from the surreal icon, but as the artist deployed during World War II, Miller experienced and documented the glamorous bohemian lifestyle she possessed. A far cry from experience. As one of the very few female photographers sent to document the front, Miller was intrigued by the experiences of women in war and the work exhibited at Fitzrovia Church, which examines and commemorates the lives of nurses. Beautifully composed and subtly manipulating the quality of light, the pieces portray these women – in their classic white uniforms and with curly hair – as both a powerful professional force and individuals living through special experiences. Miller, who was 32 when he was deployed, has struggled with alcoholism and depression for several years. Step out of the church’s gleaming baroque interior and out onto the streets of Fitzrovia, where the afternoon sun warms and dreams and reality seem to merge. I walked away marveling at Miller and being drawn to the image of a nurse surrounded by floating latex gloves…

Isabelle Blaney

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