Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Groundbreaking show at the V&A
The handsomely-installed cameraless show 'Shadow Catchers', at the Victoria & Albert Museum, has opened its doors at last, and all London was on hand to welcome it, with more than 500 revelers, artists, collectors, gallerists, and hangers-on. Only Fox Talbot was missing - well, I didn't see Anna Atkins either, but the spirit of both hovered over the festivities. Parties lasted well into the evening as the lights flickered out over South Kensington.
New Scientist began their lede with curator Martin Barnes' rhetorical question: what trajectory might photography have taken if it hadn't become obsessed with the camera and the lens? That we've had to wait 150 years to ask this, with the world careening madly in another direction, is testimony both to the stubbornness of tradition and the boldness of his courage, but it is implicit in the thoughts of the author of The Pencil of Nature, who sensed photography's dilemma when he wrote, "the phenomenon appears to me to partake of the character of the marvelous." Marvelous indeed: Pierre Cordier, Susan Derges, Adam Fuss, Garry Fabian Miller, and Floris Neusüss all demonstrate the richness of an alternate, hidden tradition of artists whose work is a meditation on photographic materials and process, reclaiming the visionary from the prosaic and documentary.
Let us hope this landmark exhibit, which runs until February 20, 2011, will be followed by others. Meanwhile, in another wing, the museum has mounted a parallel show called 'A History of Cameraless Photography', with a selection of gems from their vast collection: Man Ray, Anna Atkins, Moholy-Nagy and others. You'll be overwhelmed by Shadow Catchers, but don't miss this one on the way out.