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Get the picture

John Davies‘s landscape photography has been collected by the V and A and New York's Museum of Modern Art. Miranda France talked to him about an exhibition of his work which is coming to Edinburgh.

Perhaps more than any other artistic medium. photography is expected to make statements. Documentary photographers pack a punch to communicate their message quickly and simply. Similarly portraitists are apt to choose bold. symbolic poses which provide a key to the identity of the subject (see below for an exception).

You have to see Joint l)avie.s‘s series of liuropean urban landscapes. (‘ross ('urrr'ms to appreciate the extent to which we demand black-and-white immediacy. These are meticulous. detailed images and you have to look long and hard to see what Davies is getting at. liven then it is a subtle message: after years spent capturing the spiritual atmosphere of rural spots in Britain and lrelartd. Davies has found that he has faith in the modern urban landscape. '1 wasn‘t completely disillusioned with natural landscapch he say s. ‘but 1 thought that. since I lived


i ,

m m meadow «Vwmf”’%"’

in cities. i should explore the

why I chose to escape nature. understand how urban development


('mss ('urn'nlx is a collection of

images taken by Davies over

eight years in lit‘ countries. Some of these are striking enough to invite a l straightforward interpretation. ()ne picture shows goats and sheep being herded through the scrub land in front of some Barcelona high rises.

represents wealth. and which

Another simply depicts a crucifix in a

French lield.

Others are squarely mundane: there's a petrol station in lirancc. bowling

greens in Stockport and a trai

through (‘atalonia past billboard

advertisements for (‘lictsteriie Kodacolor. ‘A lot of my work

detail and putting things in gr

context'. says Davies. So the

hoeing his vegetable lield bec tiny. but essential part of the ('atalonia

image. A photojournalist would hav

:,'. e r:’ I

i ,, j ~ . I" / ~ 1”! 1

'e cttt out all the background and focused on the

Apartments, Vigo, 1992 iabourer's wizened. work-wont face. but Davies is neither a voyeur nor an . axe-grinder. lie just wants to show the i big picture. ‘1 do look at urban landscape in political terms in that social economics. landscaping arid planning have to do with politics and are the main components that make up a city but I try to be as objective as I can.‘

And essentially be is an optimist ‘I prefer photographing in sunshine‘. liven the belching smoke stacks in Bcuu/icu Nllt‘lr‘tll' Power Station look beautiful. rellected in clear waters, with two tiny figures on a boat just discernible to their left. Rotterdam's liuroport. described by writer lan Walker as ‘a non-place. a brutally I functional place’ achieves a kind of elegance. set against a billowing sky Turner would be proud of. it's peculiarly satisfying to know that most of liurope's oil and orange juice passes through its portals.

reasons I and try to

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Which pt )verty‘.’

n tearing

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(rosy ( 'urn'ms is (1! Portfolio Gal/er): i Edinburgh. 6 Mar-3 Apr

Women’s , work

Glasgow’s Street Level Gallery celebrates International Women’s Day this year with a show of work by three

.; female photographers and filmmakers well established in their native

Germany. Dorte Eissfeldt, Silke Grossmann and Dore 0 also choose

. women as their subjects, but that is

not to say that these are feminist, or

{ politically loaded images.

A first impression is that they are

remarkany assured. Overwhelmed by the constant portrayal of their sex on

the covers of magazines, on television, beer cans and cornflakes packets, female photographers have tended to respond with intense, sometimes rather painful portraits, showing women ‘as they really are’. These three are refreshingly free of

§ the urge to strive for integrity.

For instance, Silke Grossmann is not interested in her subjects’ personalities, but in the way their ; bodies fill the frame, or fit into various landscapes. Their sex is irrelevant, although they are usually women. She wants to capture on film ‘the

Silke Grossmann: not so much personality as physiognomy

environment of the persons’ bodies, material, a cavity, the volume of a

movement’. Dore 0 is better known as a

filmmaker than as a photographer. She uses polaroid images of women, which she scratches, overpaints and then blows up to monumental proportions. The result is a series of colourful,

bizarre creatures.

Dorte Eissfeidt’s portraits are the only ones which present women’s faces to be scrutinised, but then she makes the scrutiny hard in apparently poorly developed greyish close-ups. Each subject is photographed first

with her eyes open and then

but in neither case does her totally impassive expression give any clues

to her character.

Street Level’s Martha McCulloch is

concentrate on physiognomy rather than character. She says that German photographers generally are freer in their experimentation than their counterparts here. ‘Britain is a bit constricted in what photographers are allowed to do. There tends to be a distinction between Fine Art and the others, and structures of funding mean that photography can’t be considered with the rest of the visual arts. In Germany there’s more freedom of movement between the different media’.

Dorte Eissfeldt will talk about her work, and show some of her films at the Street Level on Saturday 6 March. (Miranda France)

Women Behind the Camera: Photography and Film is at the Street Level Gallery, Glasgow, 6 Mar-3 Apr.


interested in the way the three women


Andrew iiairne defends the current revival of Conceptual Art

subject, adj. n, v; subiection. subjective (adj, hence n). in E, as for F sujef. the adj precedes the n; both of the F. uses come from F; the F (MF suget. OF saga) comes from ML .rubjc'rtus. pp of .ruhjr'rere. l. subiirere (subrcere). to thr0w..hcnce to bring or place under: sub, under - attire". c f of iacwe, to throw, the active aspect of r'acére. to

lie down: f.a.c.. Jn.~-—‘To suhr'err‘ derives from MF sub/errer. Ml. sub/crime. L subl'eudre. freq of subrrrere; subjection and sub/curve derive from OF-MF subjection (ML subjecllrinem, ace of Sub/euro, l. Subir't‘frti, from the pp subr‘euus) and late MF-F sub/emf. f-ive (ML srlhjeclr‘i-us).

Joseph itosuth: Art as idea as Idea, 1966

Conceptual Art was a huger liberating movement. Up until the mid-60s contemporary art for the most part - despite the energies of Dada and Duchamp much earlier in the century - was still very much considered to be an obiect on the wall or on the floor. Suddenly a whole group of artists from all around the world began thinking about the definition of art, and exploded it.

in conceptual art the obiect disappears. You walk into a gallery and see a text on the wall, or a few sentences which tell you about something else. It might say ‘a cubic foot of air 1000 feet up the Empire State Building, July 2nd, 1969’. The artwork is the idea of this cubic foot. Before people had endlessly discussed the aesthetics of the object in terms of colour and line. With conceptual art the crucial thing was the idea. And the idea was often to explode the notion of the art obiect. Herbert Bead describes conceptual art as ’a term which quickly became equated with impenetrany complicated written material or cryptic messages from the artist to a bemused public’. Of course it’s complicated, people found it difficult at the time too.

There was a feeling in the middle and late 10s that conceptual art had gone too far. it had become very dry, rather baffling and academic. People had ignored painting for too long - and so it came back into focus, with artists like Francis Bacon at the fore. What’s interesting is that the best of some of that painting was conceptual. For instance, Steven Campbell’s painting is all about ideas.

The 60s and 705 are back in a big way in fashion and music, and in the art world too. it’s partly that we’ve just got exhausted with the endless painting revival in the 19803 and partly a feeling that that was a very strong moment in the history of art. One of the exciting things about the new conceptual artists is that they are l marrying their knowledge of the original conceptual period with a new interest in the obiect. Some people are managing to do things that are both exciting to look at and really clever. And that’s one of the most important thing happening in contemporary art at the moment, in my view.

Andrew iiaime is currently ExhibitionsArts Director at the Centre for Contemporary Arts. In April he takes responsibility for visual arts at the Scottish Arts Council. 3

The List 26 February—l 1 March NW 53