The ‘Welsh Photography Open’ is an open submission exhibition that had no restrictions other then that the work presented must be recent and that the artist either lives, works or was born in Wales. This exhibition opened on the 14th of November and remains open till the 10th of December, at the ‘Howard Gardens Gallery’.
As would be expected from an open submission exhibition there is no intended thematic or aesthetic thread running through this show and binding it together. This is however certainly not a problem as each artist shows a series of works, usually containing around three, four or more prints, and thus the viewer is not simply left to wonder aimlessly from one distinctly different work to another: an experience I found when travelling through many of the rooms at the Tate modern recently.
However, as with any exhibition, after spending such a discernable length of time in the space I could not help but begin generating some of my own deductions as to a thematic thread that could be applied to make some semblance of the kaleidoscopic array of different approaches to photography.
Eventually I came to rest on a theme some what over used in artistic criticism and a little clichéd but still non-the-less the first one that came to the for-front of my mind when surveying the show as a whole. It was the theme of ‘Presence and Absence’ which came quickly to mind because the majority of the works focused either on a single or small group of people or on a landscape were people were particularly conspicuous through their absence.
The two stand-out sets of work that would come under the ‘Presence’ category were that of Sara Jackson and Betina Skovbro. Jackson captures a number of prison staffers in there place of work, each wearing a different cheap and battered plastic mask that are, in equal parts, daft and sinister. My favourite of the series being the single image placed on its own at the galleries rear entrance. It is of a big built prison warden, pointing ominously at the viewer entering the space, his fairground mask should be making him look ridicules but instead it dehumanises him by hiding his face and perpetuates his ability to appear authoritarian and threatening.
Betina Skovbro work, on the other hand, is far lighter hearted. In it the photographer shows a series of photographs taken of dogs and their walkers, each pair sitting on the same bench in Roath Park, Cardiff. Skovbro selected the final ten prints from a total of 108 portraits, each of a different pair, taken through-out a single day. Now the artists does not give a reason why these particular ten were chosen but it could well be because in each one there is an intriguing level of coincidental mimicry between the animal and person. In one shot both dog and owner bare there teeth in a half smile/ half growl expression, in another both recline in a relaxed fashion while in another both sit bolt upright, and so on.
Then there is ‘Absence’ with another two stand-out sets of work, this time by Sarah Goodie and Peter Bobby. Goodie exhibits four large photographs taken of wide open grey landscapes that form part of a now defunct coal and iron quarry. These bleak grey man-made landscapes that in real life must be quite drab are photographed with only a slim section of the middle distance in sharp focus while the foreground and background remain heavily blurred. This technique not only draws the viewers attention in to a small slither of textured ground within a massive print but also creates a distorted sense of both perspective and the scale of the subject.
Then there is the work of Peter Bobby which documents a number deserted upmarket contemporary Art galleries. These spaces, well lit and immaculately clean seem to echo the sort of serenity that you would associate with a place of reverence, just that instead of crosses and candles being the objects of worship, minimalist blocks, projections and wood sculptures are.
However, these four very different groups of work are only a small part of a diverse show that demonstrates a wide variety of photographic styles and subject matter.
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Images credits: all Neil Jefferies , Welsh Photography Open installation images