Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Collective Observations (art)

I visited the new Collective Observations exhibition at the Towner Gallery on Saturday, pretty much as soon as it opened so I got the rooms almost to myself. The varied photographs on show date from the very late 1890s up to some taken earlier this year, and all are themed around British folk rites and rituals. The exhibition has been curated by the Museum of British Folklore with the Towner.

The first room contains the earliest images which were taken by Benjamin Stone, who established the National Photographic Record Association in 1897. As well as physical photographs behind glass, there is also a screen showing selected images on a loop. Two images of the Corby Pole Fair are from 1902 and there is also one of Swan Upping on the Thames from 1900.
Photo by Sara Hannant
Several photographers have images on show in the main room. Doc Rowe's colour photographs were taken from the 1980s to 2000 and include religious and secular customs. He is preceded by Homer Sykes whose work is from the 1970s. These images, in black and white, include sword dancing, mummers and May Day festivities. I particularly liked the display of Faye Claridge's lamda prints. All posed head portraits, they show details of the extravagant black face paint used as disguise for many traditional rituals. By contrast, Brian Shuel's work is a series of as-it-happened photographs with munimum staging. Photographed during the 1980s, several are very evocative of this era and are in black and white. Sara Hannant images were all produced in the 2000s and are the most dynamic images in the exhibition. In colour, they include blurring and light trails.
  The final small area has a series of short films on a loop. Taken by Matthew Cowan and Tom Chick, they include footage of a sword dance in an impossibly small bar and also from the Hasting Jack In The Green festival. The room is curtained off, but the slightly claustrophobic (like me) will be pleased to know that it isn't too dark. The folk music from these films can be heard throughout the rest of the exhibition which I thought was a nice touch.

Towner Gallery, Sat 13th Oct to 13th Jan.
Tue - Sun, 10:00 - 18:00.
Free admission.

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