Philip Braham: Falling Shadows In Arcadia
Insensitively curated exhibition pits the fragility of human life against the enduring landscape
This article is from 2010.
This exhibition of photographic prints by the Royal Scottish Academy’s Morton Award winner 2009 comprises two rather different series’. The most prominent pictures are of black and white scenes – forests, bodies of water, vacant bridges – that have been noted as sites of suicide. In contrast to this is Braham’s colour series ‘Falling Shadows in Arcadia’, a collection of eight staged images documenting sites around Scotland used for illicit outdoor sexual practices. Although one can sense the sort of Eros and Thanitos parallels that Braham was intending to draw, and his interest in the fragility of being versus the endurance of nature (a thematic further endorsed by the artist’s explicit reference to Poussin’s painting ‘Et in Arcadia Ego’), this pairing is strained.
Driven by the fact that Scotland has a suicide rate equivalent to twice that of the UK as a whole, and intrigued by the codified language used to discuss it, Braham has turned a cold documenting lens to a collection of reported sites. Hugely emotive, these empty landscapes are pinpointed by Braham’s titles – ‘Copse on Gallows Hill, Tealing’, ‘St Michael’s Crossroads, Fife’ – and one can only imagine the pain that viewing such works may bring to someone personally affected.
In contrast to this simple, memorialising approach, Braham’s ‘Arcadia’ works make use of a long exposure to introduce naked, ghost-like figures in the autumnal woodlands. To almost theatrical effect, each image includes a metaphorical prop – a shoe, watch or condom wrapper – and dark narratives are introduced. Although Braham’s ‘Suicide Notes’ are powerful, this strangely insensitive pairing negates the individual strengths of each.
Royal Scottish Academy, 225 6671, until 3 Sep, free.