I joined a group of 5 or so other students and 2 tutors at the Bradford festival ‘ Ways of Looking’ on Tuesday 4th October at the Impressions Gallery and the British Media Museum, and what a day. The theme for the festival is ‘evidence’ and a very good book has been produced at a remarkably low price to support all the exhibitions.
Hidden – Red Saunders
Our first viewing was of the Red Saunders exhibition ‘Hidden’, short for Hidden History I believe, at the Impressions Gallery. Seven huge canvasses depicting the not-so-well remembered parts of history that the establishment have not lauded or taught accurately to the populace in the past as they cover, what for the establishment, are disturbing movements supported by the working classes and/or individuals who espoused social change threatening the established way-of-life.
Being shown around and advised by the exhibitions curator was a treat that most visitors won’t be able to enjoy and was very inciteful.
Red Saunders has created a series of tableaux vivant on the scale of the earlier masters with casts, if not of thousands, up to 50 in the largest depictions and crews running into possibly many more and with Hollywood blockbuster style results. Quite what the market for these sorts of images is beyond the movies does escape me and makes me wonder where the funding came from. Certainly many of the participants gave their time and support for free and many of them donned several costumes and became many characters. Images were shot in different locations and at different times and then layered and stitched together in Photoshop, a mammoth and impressive task, but even so the outlay must still have been huge. Despite these misgivings, which fortunately don’t affect my pocket, the images certainly are impressive, and some more than others.
Narrative, performance drama, it’s all there in each one of these photographs, which if viewed at a more normal scale would no doubt still be impressive but not so powerful.
Leveller Woman of The English Revolution (1640 – 1660)
A depiction of the almost unheard of Leveller Movement which all the main political parties of Britain today claim as their birthright. The Levellers were so-called by their enemies because of the basic tenet they held of the abolition of property rights and equalisation of wealth. It’s little known that women were big activists in the movement and were particularly strong in the New Model Army.
This dramatisation shows a Leveller woman espousing the views of the movement at a nighttime encampment where it would seem that her supposed audience has heard it all before.
I was immediately reminded of ‘The Night Watch’ painting by Rembrandt, not I might add from the subject, but by the lighting and I was really pleased to find that this was confirmed when I saw the research storyboard for the photograph depicting a postcard size image of ‘The Night Watch’.
Wat Tyler During The Peasants Revolt is the largest, and perhaps dubiously, the most eye-catching. I say dubiously because it strikes me more of a Hollywood advertising shot than a serious attempt at a historical image. It greatly reminds me of some of the pictures used to advertise the Mel Gibson film ‘Braveheart’.
The Swing Riots
So called because those caught were hung (swung).
I found this the most evocative image in the gallery. Although one of the most simple it’s that very fact which makes it stand out. All that’s visible is the eyes of the subjects and creates a very sinister atmosphere.
Red Saunders has created some very evocative images in this series which compare favourably with the kind of pictures he was emulating from the previous centuries. He’s also brought to the fore social issues that shaped the future of this country, but has he created something that will be enduring, I’m not sure?
As someone who has, up until this course, been enamoured of the romantic style of art that has been the standard fare over the centuries I find that they fill that requirement admirably. What I don’t think they’ve achieved, for me anyway, is something that will become part of my favourites.
From a technical standpoint, I think they are truly remarkable pictures and show that tableaux are still very possible for those with sufficient backing and technical staff. The attention to detail that went into ensuring continuity from one shoot to the next is a testament to the crew and their movie background and the Photoshop work is phenomenal. Having listened to the explanation of how they were put together and finally composed, I’m not sure that even the above average photographer could, or should, try to emulate them as the expertise needed covered many fields and disciplines.