I popped in to the revamped Photographer’s Gallery today. It was boring. There was the ever up-it’s-own-arse Deutsche Bourse
on the 5th floor. There was something or other on the fourth floor – can’t remember. There was a camera obscura on the third (absolutely dire compared to the one in Bristol). The best bit was on two where they had a whole lot (200 apparently) of Japanese Photobooks which you could look through but not before donning prissy white gloves.
And I think it is the image of the ‘white gloves’ which characterises the whole project of the Photographer’s Gallery specifically and photography in the UK as a whole. We can’t engage with photography for its own sake. We have to give contemporary work the full serious context before we can digest it.
We can’t look at contemporary photography before we’ve donned the metaphorical White Gloves. We ‘need’ something to separate our messy, uneducated minds so they don’t infect the work with an honest reaction.
In truth, 90% of photographic work shown today in galleries, books and museums is tedious, self referential and challenging only in the sense that it ‘challenges’ us to keep our eyes open and not nod off or walk out in high dudgeon.
Where is the élan and joie de vivre of the French national collections, galleries and festivals, the New York openness to all things photographic, the San Franciscan belief that photography is a fundamental part of that city’s life? You won’t find any of these qualities in London because, in London, we don’t give a shit about photography but are addicted to its ‘coolness’. It looks pretty hip on the wall and photographers are lifestyle merchants par excellence.
Great photographs are taken for love; love of the medium, love of the subject, love of the look, love of the turn of the page. They are also taken for fear, repulsion and many other very human and visceral emotions. But visit a few London galleries and you’d be forgiven for believing that the primary motivation to click the shutter was ‘the head’. Because you can’t write a bollocks foreword to a catalogue when a picture is taken for the heart but give ‘the head’ it’s head and you can write as much boring drivel and give the pictures the most trite titles you can come up with til you go blue in the face.
I say let the heart rule the head and give us back our galleries and curators and let photography do what it does best and provide a mechanical method of looking into the human heart and not a pictorial device for self justification.
So let’s remove the white gloves and allow the images we love to touch us. We can still fall achingly, head over heels in love with the beauty and the eternal truths told to us by that clever box of tricks that almost everyone of us owns.
Photography and the way it is presented doesn’t have to be bland so let’s not take these boring spaces for granted. If you walk into an exhibition and it bores you, talk about it, blog it, tweet it, sing it from the roof tops, “NO MORE WHITE GLOVES PLEASE. I AM AN INTELLIGENT AND SENTIENT HUMAN BEING!”
I should finish by saying that I am privileged to know many people who care genuinely for photography. If any part of this polemic annoys you or you feel I’ve got it wrong somehow, please, let me know. I would love to hear your views.