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Celovečerní fotografie

Časopis Umělec 2000/2


Karel Císař | cena | en cs

When Jeff Wall decided to take a black & white photograph entitled Housekeep-ing in 1996 of a hotel maid leaving a bedroom, he didn’t use an actual employee of a hotel but a hired actress instead, who only played the role of a maid. As Wall stated, he hired her for a longer period of time so she could be more convincing in her role. Wall’s approach represents a certain progressive use of film strategy, a strategy now quite frequently practiced in contemporary photography. It is this strategy, according to Wall, which puts photography of this type into sharp contrast to pictures inspired by documentary photography. Because it is characteristically comprehensiveness, something absolutely alien to fragmentary photography. Photographic images produced in film-like style are put together as involuted micro-worlds that have no other relation to the external world.
The selection of this year’s Citibank Private Bank Photography Prize finalists only confirmed the significance of this film strategy in contemporary photography. The list included names like James Casebere, Anna Gaskel, Jitka Hanzlová, Tim Macmillan, and Tracey Moffat. Their work was on display at the Photographers Gallery in London until the end of March. The choice of previous winners of this prestigious prize also serves as evidence and includes Rineke Dijkstra, Andreas Gursky, and Richard Billingham representing the leaders of this trend.
James Casebere of the US who was nominated last year for his exhibition Asylum in the Oxford Museum of Modern Art has been involved in taking photographs of the large architectural models he has been building for over 20 years. He simply figured at that time that most artworks were experienced through photographs anyway and decided not to exhibit the models themselves but only the pictures, which furthermore allowed him to precisely determine the angle of light. The models he made were constructed according to historical penitentiaries whose claustrophobic atmosphere later led him to the creation of various underground structures, including Berlin bunkers, canals and Roman public baths. The dimly lit arched spaces of these recent images are often flooded with water, conjuring up more the impression of human entrails than the entrails of buildings.
While Casebere was the most experienced of all this year’s finalists, 30-year-old Anna Gaskell of the US represented the upcoming generation after having had three solo shows. Her exhibitions, including the one at White Cube for which she was nominated, attracted a great deal of attention, and Gaskell’s work soon became part of the collections of a number of important museums of modern and contemporary art. In Photographers Gallery, Gaskell showed several large-sized photographic prints from her series by proxy, which was inspired by the life of the child star Genena Jones who was convicted of multiple murders in the 1970s. Gaskell cast Sally Salt in the role of the killer, the popular actress and narrator of The Adventures of Baron Münchausen. Girls of various ages wear a white uniform in the images, a characteristic element of Anna Gaskell’s photography. They also appeared in the Wonder series based on Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland. Gaskell began taking these pictures while working for Child magazine where she used child models. Her photographs based on Alice’s story reference specific popular parts of the book: Alice drowning in her tears, shrinking and growing again. But they also do not shy away from the dubious pictures Carrol took of his role model for the book, 9-year-old Alice Liddel, pictures often considered an pedophiliac in nature. Gaskell, however, is a woman and her images are full of the enlarged details of girls’ bodies staged according to her delicate preparation sketches. The images are often compared to those of Cindy Sherman.
Jitka Hanzlová, a Czech living in Essen, Germany, was another woman among the finalists. Her inclusion was quite unique for she was the only artist who exhibited traditional color prints which were, with the exception of Manifesta I, ranked into the context of so-called artistic photography. It appeared, however, that the context of contemporary photographic images suited her work as well, enabling comparison of the advantages of the individual approaches. Hanzlová presented several dozen photographs from her series bewohner and Rokytník. The latter of which was comprised of photographs Hanzlová had taken during her return to the tiny village she had grown up in. She managed to very simply capture the countryside, architecture and residents of Rokytník, North Bohemia, while rediscovering the landscape of her childhood. She was able to see from a new perspective the most familiar things from the past, things now all but lost. In their composition and vibrant colors, her photographs bear significant painterly qualities, yet they undeniably draw on the tradition of documentary photography. Given their format and number, Jitka Hanzlová’s photographs were more difficult to remember compared to the other finalists’ works. They simply lacked external effectiveness. This was, however, also their strength.
Tim Macmillan, UK, executed his fourth place presentation with extraordinary effectiveness. His projection depicted a man holding the bridle of a levitating horse. The sequence was projected in a loop with each return of the long footage comprising the horse with muscles braced, all four legs up in the air and the figure of a man. In the end, it turned out that the man was holding a gun to the horse’s head, and it was the gunshot that allowed an interpretation of the origin of the film, which at first appeared to be sophisticated computer animation. In reality, however, it came entirely from traditional photographic technique. The picture of the horse was taken at the instant of its death. The bullet that had just penetrated its brain caused spontaneous muscle spasms that shot the horse’s legs in the air. Macmillan captured this moment with hundreds of cameras set up in an arc whose pictures were then composed into one film shot. He developed this technique of animating frozen moments during his painting studies and has been using it in his commercials and music videos. The chosen theme of a resurrected corpse, however, utilized it in an entirely new manner.
Australian photographer and filmmaker Tracey Moffat, perhaps the biggest star among the bunch, presented a no less appealing collection at the Photogra-phers Gallery. She was nominated for her work Laudanum at the Victoria Miro Gallery. While film strategy could be detected in the “staged” work of Cassabere, “head-hunter” Gaskell and “animator” Macmillan, it reached perfection with director Tracey Moffat. She uses real actors, costumes, props and scenes for her photographic series with meticulously prepared scripts. Images from Laudanum were set in the Victorian era. Their hand-colored engraving suggested drawings based on the motifs of early expressionistic films by Murnau, Land and Griffith. They depicted an Anglo-Saxon lady abusing her young Asian maid in various ways. As in her older works, Moffat systematically continued her analyses of the complicated relationships of submission and domination, which are to a certain extent motivated by her own experience growing up in a white working-class family as an adopted child of semi-Aboriginal origin. Her second series exhibited at Photographers Gallery, Scarred for Life 2, dealt with a similar analyses, going back to one of her most famous works of 1994 concerning the relationship of adults and children. She combined photographic images signed with her name with short inserted texts expressing the condition of adolescence: Doll Birth shows a white boy looking reproachful as he was caught by his mother playing “childbirth” with a friend. The baby had dark skin. Job Hunt is about the inner rebellion of a young man whose parents underestimate his working abilities. Useless is an adolescent girl washing her father’s car on her knees as she inquiringly looks up at who we can only guess is her father. (Is this all you demand of me father?) The short texts place the situation into a broader context, and like life, they suggest nothing unambiguously. Although Moffat was definitely this year’s Citibank Private Bank Photography Prize hot shot, the jury surprisingly awarded the new face Ann Gaskell from among the finalists. This can be explained by a legitimate effort to step out of the tradition of awarding proven quality works, but also by the jury which, in contrast to previous years, was not dominated by prominent names in contemporary visual arts, such as Tate and Serpentine Gallery curators, director of Interim Art, but by people involved almost exclusively in photography. The exceptional sensibility for strict adherence to the rules of equal opportunity was clearly visible in the catalogue of the exhibition, which was printed in five variations with covers presenting each of the five nominated finalists.

Translated by Vladan Šír


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