The whole truth

Beatrice Colin spoke to the artists involved in Cooperations, an exhibition of diverse, personal photography at Street Level Gallery.

‘I am not whole yet.‘ says Raymond Jacoby quietly when asked what plans he has for future work. His photographs are stark black and white scenes taken in his sleeping room in a psychiatric hospital in Luxembourg. lmages of the floor with a leg of a chair in the top right hand comer, a sink with another room beyond, the simple globe of a light fitting and the institutionalised folds of his bed, hang in a row to create a powerful evocation of his environment.

A participant in Cooperations, a collaborative project between Street Level Gallery in Glasgow and an organisation in Wiltz, Luxembourg, Jacoby has captured images which have a seldom-seen simplicity and honesty.

Led by artists Brian Jenkins and Anne Elliot, the six-week session was held in Luxembourg, involved six participants, two of whom were Scottish, and a great deal of one-to-one interaction.

‘We tried to develop their ideas from the start,‘ points out Anne Elliot. ‘We talked, got to know them and discovered their family circumstances. We found out what they were interested in and the resulting work is very personal.‘

‘They all stay in the same kind of place,‘ adds Brian Jenkins, ‘and as an environment it is very regimented. Some people used that as a starting point and some delved into other areas. Claude, for instance, was very self-conscious about his physical self so we got him to explore that. He was always saying that these photographs weren‘t beautiful and we had to tell him that it didn‘t matter. It‘s not about beauty, it‘s about excepting yourself for what you are and not what you look like.‘

Using a range of techniques from straightforward photography to cyanotypes - a process which prints a negative of a positive image on to any surface each participant worked with the medium they were happiest with. Yves Zouval‘s huge canvas drapes are printed with pairs of his shoes and drawings of objects and Robie Kops‘s photographic self-portraits hang below his huge child-like drawing of himself.

‘Photography isn‘t an instant thing,‘ pointed out Anne Elliot. ‘lt has a long and involved process. Because it’s fairly technical, some learnt a lot and could grasp it fast, whereas others felt more comfortable with the simpler forms.’

What makes this exhibition so profound and so interesting is the approach that the participants have taken. Guided by the inspired hands of Elliot and Jenkins, they have been liberated from using

photography in the conventional way. Each has

found a way of communicating something they could I

not communicate before.

Stephen Campbell's self portraits are without artifice. ‘l‘m not a very photogenic person he says, so I‘ve got my eyes closed.‘ Sam Johnstone’s photographs of a toy lizard are a personal statement of catharsis. ‘It belongs to my son,‘ he says, ‘and it was the one thing which helped me when I felt bad.‘ The lizard is pictured in a range ofdifferent habitats as ifgoing for a walk in the countryside.

The project has obviously significantly helped the participants. Claude from Luxembourg has since left the psychiatric hospital in Wiltz and the others have received a huge boost in their confidence and improvement of their social skills.


The List 24 September—7 October I993 55'

Raymond Jacoby's photography

Yet should an as therapy be seen in a professional gallery? Some could be put off by the idea or come with pre-conceived notions about the exhibition.

‘lt‘s valid work,‘ points out Anne Elliot. 'And whether someone‘s been doing work for six years or six weeks, if their ideas are fresh and interesting, then it's worth seeing.‘

She has a point. The most powerful element of this show is the unselfconscious nature of the images. Without the weight of theory, the works are simple statements of existence. Raymond's work may help him to be whole again and function in society but what it highlights is a truth. What is art in essence if not the portrayal of the incomplete?

Cooperations is at Street Level Gallery until 16 Oct.