On Saturday I headed down to Soho in London for my first visit to the brand spanking new Photographers’ Gallery which has been transformed into a world class facility to exhibit the work of both established and upcoming talent in the photography business.
I was very impressed by the new building. It is light, airy and contemporary – just what, I suspect, most working professional photographers were craving for in London – a facility that makes the business of exhibiting photography it’s first and foremost priority.
I moved to London in 2007 and, down to my own ignorance, I only discovered the Photographers’ Gallery about a fortnight before its closure in 2010. When I visited for the first time I hadn’t realised what I’d been missing as it had the best photography book shop I’d been to in London. Nearly two years later I had my chance to revisit finally and thankfully we are all now able to benefit for its multi-million pound facelift. I imagine it will become a regular hangout for many of us.
The renovation has expanded the floor space now to six levels, three of which are specifically assigned to exhibits, while one floor is intended as a learning zone. A lovely, spacious cafe and reception area greet you at the ground floor entrance on Ramillies Street and by descending the immediate staircase you will soon find yourself in photo book heaven that is the gallery shop, stocking all the latest oversize coffee table books, respected magazines & journals and a beautifully arranged display of antique cameras in glass cabinets. I took particular interest in the multicoloured Olympus Trips on display, though didn’t want to make a fool of myself by asking if they were for sale – I suspected they were decorative. Connected to the shop is yet another gallery space dedicated to print sales of work by both new and established photographers. Hung on the wall is a limited edition print by Jacques Henri Lartigue priced at a cool £9,000 + vat.
The opening headline gallery exhibit features the work of Edward Burtynsy, a name I was not previously familiar with if truth be told. His show focuses on the business of oil and is simply entitled ‘OIL’. Beautiful images capture the complete process of the extraction of crude oil from the ground in America and its subsequent use in society. It doesn’t necessarily glorify it either, more depicting a rather depressing and damaging image of its influence on the landscapes it has touched and also showcasing Mankind’s increasing reliance on it in modern day society. There are images here which contradict in terms of aesthetic appeal to my personal taste; beautifully photographed, but comprising of baron and often ruined landscapes of America and other countries, depicting how the oil industry has hijacked the beauty of rolling hills and tumbleweed, to be replaced by the mechanics of iron machinery in seemingly infinitely staggered formations extending to the horizon, as they greedily gulp more oil from the depths of the Earth.
Burtynsky worked diligently on this project over may years, traveling the globe in his quest to capture beautiful imagery of a subject that would not normally be considered appealing, as an art form, yet he manages to create a stunning body of work that shows the depth to which we as a species are so heavily dependant on this invaluable substance. It is shown in many of its forms from the early process of its extraction in the desolate oil fields of California, to an unfortunate instance of a slick fire from a sea oil rig.
The method of choice to which Burtynsky has presented this exhibition is a curious, but effective one. Often comprising of two-piece images he is keen to show his work on a huge scale, and on canvas, which by default gives it an artistic, almost painted aesthetic. This, I felt, enhanced the work greatly, particularly in view of the vivid colours that are evident in the depiction of the oil installations akin to a painter’s palette. The level of fine detail is immense. One particular image over-looking Los Angeles, California, showcases an amazing level of intricacy that had me transfixed for fifteen minutes or more digesting the scene, picking out individual buildings and streets extending all the way to the far away horizon and cityscape.
Oxford Tire Pile, #4, Westley, California, USA 1999 © Edward Burtynsky
Oil Refineries #22, St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, 1999 © Edward Burtynsky
Recycling #2, Chittagong, Bangladesh 2001 © Edward Burtynsky
Having been on assignments abroad photographing industrial natured topics, such as this, I found this collection very inspiring as a body of work. I highly recommend this show and of course all photographers should make some time to get down to the Photographers’ Gallery as it is well worth seeing. See the below address:
16 – 18 Ramillies Street