1 October 2011

Three things of note..

1) W.G. Sebald in the London Review of Books

I started reading this excellent article in the LRB because I happen to like Sebald's books, especially Rings of Saturn, and wanted to see what was new in the world of German history, cultural memory and esoteric allusion.. Quite a bit, as it turns out. There is a new edition of Sebald's novel Austerlitz due for release, and James Wood, who has contributed a new introduction to the book, has written a thoughtful summary and study of it for the magazine. This, dear reader, is where I get to the point of this post.  It's frustrating that the article doesn't appear in full on the LRB website, because Wood, after providing a basic introduction to the (convoluted) structure and character of the novel, goes on to focus on Sebald's use of photographs in his books, and it's a really fascinating, original read.

For those who haven't read any Sebald, I should point out that one of their many unusual features is the use of fairly poorly-reproduced, black-and-white, anonymous and unexplained photographs scattered throughout the text. These usually allude to particular characters or locations in the novel, but the reader is left to surmise how they were sourced, who took them and whether indeed they show the real (or imagined) people and places described. Wood reminds us that Sebald was a collector of second-hand 'junk' photos and postcards and that, according to the author himself, over 30% of the photos in, for example, The Emigrants, 'had an entirely fictitious relationship to their supposed subjects'. Wood weaves this fact into a broader argument about Sebald's use of photography, which, he argues, is in constant dialogue with Barthes' Camera Lucida and the notion that 'photographs shock us because they so finally represent what has been'. Essentially, photographs are an evidence and embodiment of mortality and, for an author who deals with historical trauma, a way of challenging the reader to remember all those who have passed on before us and been made anonymous by time and forgetting. Cheery, no? Anyway, I strongly recommend the article and Austerlitz itself, if you've never picked it up. Onwards to...

2) Jonny Lee!

These beautiful, luminous shots were taken by my friend Jonny, who has a fancy website and 'photography' in his e-mail address and can therefore be said to be doing this stuff FOR REAL. I noticed the pictures on Facebook and asked to post these for your viewing pleasure, as I really think they're lovely - unpretentious, atmospheric and with a real voice of their own. Here's to more photos from this man and his camera..

And last but not least...

3) Photography, Postmodernism and the V&A

I recently visited Signs of a Struggle: Photography in the Wake of Postmodernism at the V&A and have been meaning to recommend it via PLATE ever since. This small display is dwarfed by the main exhibition in the museum's Autumn programme – Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990 – but is well worth a visit in its own right and, from what I've heard, might even be the superior show.

On display in the ever-excellent V&A photography rooms, Signs of a Struggle is a relatively small exhibition, and does not pretend to be a comprehensive survey of 'Postmodern' photographic practices - instead, the curators have given themselves the humble task of exploring photographs that 'make reference to themselves, other media and texts'. The exhibition is coherent and thought-provoking, with so many great individual works on show that you could easily spend the best part of an hour touring one room -  big hitters include Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince, Anne Hardy and Clare Strand. Clare Strand, in particular, is given a whole three walls for the work that gives this exhibition it's title - this series of prints is one of the more challenging works on display, but it is engaging and mysterious, making reference to forensic and domestic photography, as well as the less-commonly mined sources of instructional and functional imagery.

Admission is free and it's well worth a look!