"I Exist (In Some Way),"is an exhibition of work from a variety of photographers from the perspective of the contemporary Arab world. The work of George Awde really caught my attention. "Shifting Grounds" deals with masculinity and what it is to be a Middle-Eastern male. His images have, at times, an engaging snapshot aesthetic that really humanises his subjects and firmly places them in their world. The image of two young boys passing the time as they lean over a car bonnet in the street has a softness to it that can be seen in the other works too. The composition is unconventional. The figure's torsos are bisected by the bottom edge of the frame and the figures take up only a small portion of the image. One of the boys gazes directly at the camera while the others face is obscured by a tree branch. The leaves of the tree frame the image adding to the overall effect of softness.
A second image that impressed me was a portrait of a man in a darkened room - his head and contours framed by shadow. His naked torso is lit by sunlight and I think it is because he has quite dark hair and beard that creates an interesting contrast between the sunlight and shadows. Again, the subject gazes directly back at the viewer, slightly deadpan in expression, but there is also a quizzical look behind the eyes. It is refreshing to see an image from the Middle East like this after we are fed so many others of pain and aggression. He is resting back on one arm in a relaxed position. The other arm is raised up to grasp his shoulder and in doing so displays a tattoo. It appears to be a heart with a message. I can't read it but on first glance it looked like, "hug me." It isn't, but it did make me smile.
A third image shows a man standing with his back to the camera as he leans over a balcony. He appears to be preoccupied with something taking place in the street. He is blurred, the main focus of the composition being a tied knot in a piece of fabric that hangs down from the top of the frame. There is something very poignant about this image.
Look/13 events map
Upstairs in the Bluecoat Gallery were a selection of images by August Sander and Weegee from the collection at Newcastle's Side Gallery.
It's the first time I've seen Weegee's photographs on a gallery wall and was interested to see if they worked. After all as a chaser of sensationalist imagery for the tabloid press Weegee's images were never intended to be displayed in this way. The same could be said for Klein's work - although now, when it is blown up to huge proportions and hung at places like the Tate Moderns recent retrospective, it is easy to forget this fact. Unlike Klein, Weegee's images were small and neatly framed in a more traditional style. They worked for me. I think it is hard to look back with hindsight and try to unpick a previous generations sensibilities regarding art. We are so used to seeing different forms of work displayed in galleries these days that the original intention or source hardly seems to matter.
A juxtaposition of two images caught my attention. One was of a figure stepping out from the back of a police van. The figure lifts up their skirt to display a leg for the camera - all the while smiling broadly in a bold show of defiance for whatever crime they have been arrested. I was careful in my description to not state a gender for the figure as there seems to be some dispute - for me anyway. When I first saw the image at the gallery I was convinced that it was a man that had been caught in a situation dressed as a woman. I've read other readings that seem to take the gender at face value - maybe I'm reading too much into the image. Anyway, with either interpretation the interesting juxtaposition still stands with the image below it. The other image shows two men in the back of a similar police van. This time the contrast in their behaviour is markedly different. They are both wearing dark suits and use their hats to shield their faces from Weegee's flash and the harsh glare of publicity that is to follow.
I found a link to the two images on someones blog here.
The August Sander portraits always seem to me to put a lot of other portrait photographers work in the shade. They look masterful in their style and technique. The subjects almost jump out at the viewer. One of my favourites is the father and his two sons standing in a middle class and well furnished room at their home. The sons curiously appear to have their heads shaved and look incredibly thin. Have they been ill? Is the way they look perfectly normal for the fashions of the day? The father is a large and powerful looking figure. One hand rests on his son's shoulder in what seems to be a controlling grip. Both boys posture is slumped and they look downtrodden.
The other image that I like is of the worker in his hat and overcoat standing in a street. His shape creates such an arresting image and his expression is one of conviction. Has Sander asked the man to pose in this manner? It is a very strong and surreal composition.
I found an interesting article from Tate.Org about Sander here.
The worker in his hat and coat is in fact the painter Anton Raderscheidt. He was a friend of Sanders and the portrait is based on a number of Randerscheidt own self portrait paintings that Sander admired.