Focus Space 4 (2 stars)

  • 11 August 2006

This article is from 2006.

In an art season packed with ‘razzmatazz’ photography, ranging from Mapplethorpe’s sensational phalluses to Watson’s buxom beauties, anything meek and modest is going to be in for a hard time. Yet, keen to champion the underdogs, Stills Gallery has taken its four best resource photographers for a small exhibition in the Traverse Theatre.

Admittedly, Emma Hamilton is far from timid with her still life photographs of flower bouquets sculpted from flesh. Both seductive and grotesque, the dark glossy works emerge as arch jibes as they hang ominously above the heads of the Traverse restaurant-goers. Carrie Goldsmith’s smoggy bleached portraits, however, appear flimsy and dated, while Mairi Taylor’s understated cityscapes fare less well in a theatre space where being contemplative is equal to invisibility. At best, the exhibition resembles in-house images used for the Traverse brochure. At worst they look like ill-conceived wallpaper art.

The biggest casualty of this environment is the arresting work of Clare Samuel. Challenging the stereotypical ‘Peeping Tom’ hostility and voyeurism of the portrait photographer, Samuel includes herself, albeit in an abstract manner. The triptych shows the back of the photographer embracing her sitters, who stare into the lens with facial expressions varying from the inscrutable to the merely disgusted. Samuel’s sly engagement with the ethics of depiction is impressive for such a young artist, but is easily overlooked in a festival where only a guttural scream will get you noticed. Shame then that these artworks are destined for the distracted glances of a carnival crowd occupied with the directness of theatre, and not the passivity of a photograph. (Isla Leaver-Yap)

Traverse Theatre, until 9 Sep

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