Wednesday, 30 May 2012

OCA Study Visit – 26/05/12 Burtynsky’s “Oil” at The Photographers Gallery

This was an exhibition ambitious in its scale and the size of its subject. It was set over two floors of the gallery and the images were printed and mounted in large frames. The contrast between seeing the images at this size and looking at them in a book or on a monitor made all the difference to the way I perceived them. At such a large scale I was able to look very closely at the detail of each of the images.
From We Are OCA:
“How is it that these two extreme poles of function can coexist in a single image?” … thought provoking question.
Posted to "We Are OCA" forum in reply to Dewald's post on Jose’s question:
A reproduction of the print at the start of this article was on sale in the gallery bookshop for £2500. I assume Jose was alluding to this when posing his question. Perhaps the question should be "These extreme poles of function do exist within these documentary images and is it right that they should be traded as art?"
From a wider perspective, is this a reflection of the change from a market economy to a market society where everything has a price tag and very little has value?
Jose replied to my post:
Good question too Richard. £2,500…in my opinion as soon as a photograph operates at that level of perceived value it starts to function like a fetish object. It becomes desirable because the prospective buyer feels that by possessing the object they may acquire some of the symbolic qualities of the object – e.g. environmental credentials. And a process of positive feedback begins. Paradoxically, I think that this process also enhances the documentary value of the photograph.
But the problem of ambiguity of meaning remains, which I what I implied in my question.
My reply
Another facet of the argument I hadn’t considered Jose, thanks for making the point. If it is the purpose of Art to promote discussion, Burtynsky certainly succeeds.
I also posted this summary to "We Are OCA" forum:
I think the exhibition posed more questions than it answered. Ultimately it comes down to individual perception. I was impressed more by the technical quality and impact of individual images than by the collection's documentary qualities. It is such a vast subject with so many overlaying and interlinked causes and effects that each could furnish a documentary project on its own.
This exhibition certainly provoked a lot of discussion, both on the forum, at the gallery and after the visit on the day. My personal view of the exhibition is summarised above. This is only my second study visit so I still learning about critique and how people perceive and express their ideas. I am hoping that future visits will give me the experience to express my ideas more freely and confidently.

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