Messums Wiltshire presents Image, our inaugural photography and film season. Image comprises a two-fold exhibition presenting a diverse range of contemporary and historical photographers; who each investigate aspects of identity. Image addresses the ways in which these photographers employ visual manipulation, (using composition, juxtaposition and post-production) to create finished photographs imbued with play, humour and surrealism.
The portraiture in the Long Gallery uses the mechanism of humour to comment on individuals and groups in the same way that stand-up comedy is able to reflect – and often criticise – current figures in the media. This half of the exhibition is largely historical and concerned with celebrity and fashion, hosting the work of international photographers including the most respected names in the industry: Peter Beard, Andy Warhol, Mick Rock, Norman Parkinson, Cecil Beaton and Angela Williams. The human subjects of these images, (as well as their interactions with others) are diverse: ranging from tongue-in-cheek portrayals of celebrity camaraderie and friendship to subversive scenes of quintessential village life.
Celebrity photographer Mick Rock presents limited edition and signed archival prints of some of the most iconic stars of the 1970s. Bowie in a Kansai Jumpsuit (1973) and Truman and Andy Warhol (1979, pictured below) are particular highlights. The concepts of cult celebrity status and stardom (ideas which were made manifest almost solely due to the power of photography) are also explored by Norwegian photographer Nancy Bundt. Bundt was the official photographer for Prince’s Purple Rain tour in the mid 80s. She is exhibiting two monumental photographs of Prince, both printed on 2 x 1.33m aluminium sheets, one blue, the other red. The Long Gallery will also display works depicting the ‘private’ side of celebrity culture. A collaboration between Andy Warhol and Peter Beard is particular endearing. One polaroid, taken by Beard, depicts the famous pop-artist with ‘Friend’ the dog cuddled close. Another polaroid, a side profile, is taken by Warhol of Beard.
We are proud to present images from American Neal Slavin’s book Britons, in particular a photograph taken of an Under 11 Team of boys in cricket gear, at the Dragon School, Oxford in the late eighties. Slavin’s ambitious publication is renowned for its thrilling front cover, featuring lifeguards posing with a rescue boat and a hovering yellow RAF helicopter, complete with an abseiling rescuer. Slavin is famed for his experimental and ambitious use of a polaroid camera, producing a large format image which would be recognisable to many young as a visual precursor of the photo sharing site, Instagram.
Our ability to document, comment and criticise society is surely enabled further by the advance in technology. Phones, tablets and computers enable us to literally and metaphorically ‘see’ our reflected selves – forming a new kind of ‘black’ mirror and offering a different way to encourage outer and introspection.
In Messums Wiltshire’s thirteenth-century tithe barn, set on a backdrop which will redefine our medieval, agricultural space, we are featuring the large-scale work of photographers living and working today, mostly women artists from London. Artists will include: Polly Penrose, Maisie Cousins, Juno Calypso and a collaboration between Anna Fox and Alison Goldfrapp. These women have a strong and powerful presence on Instagram – using their profiles to disseminate their work and message.
According to Instagram’s website, it has a community of more than 600 million users who ‘share the world’s moments on the service’. It is a space anyone can access, a virtual gallery which is completely free and open to anyone who chooses: an archive of the world’s artwork. But it is also a transgressive, liminal, borderline place, a forum for challenging expectations and engendering change or social problems to be explored, probed and eventually, superseded. It is, ostensibly, a female or non-male space, with one recent study finding that nearly 70% of the site’s users were women. Online networking services such as Instagram inspire new ways of making, displaying and selling ‘Fine Art’.
Indeed this side of the exhibition was itself curated by using the search tool of creative social websites. Far from being trivial pursuits, social networks have become an imperative means of showcasing the worthy work of new artists, overriding the nepotism, elitism and institutional problems prevalent in the art world. Women photographers, for example, can literally self-represent work in their own digital galleries, individuals who otherwise may have been bypassed due to factors of sex, race and class, as seen recently with the Nikon D850 campaign controversy in September 2017.
Juno Calypso ‘Massage’
This kind of defiance, intentional or otherwise, is typified by the work of British photographer Juno Calypso. Calypso’s striking self-portraits contradict the historical idea of woman as subject/object and man as artist/creator by taking on both of these roles and coyly metamorphosing herself into and blending in with items of food. Calypso’s Breakfast (2014) resists any sense of objectification with the subversive undercurrent to the image. By being both photographer and photographed – object and subject – Calypso is in complete control of how voyeurs view this image as well as defining exactly what they are allowed to see. Calypso succeeds not only in reclaiming the subject matter of the female body throughout her oeuvre but in the artistic gentrification of the ‘selfie’, transforming this everyday genre into something beautiful, worthy of contemplation and purchase. Calypso’s Breakfast exemplifies the symbiotic relationship between serious, politically-charged images and their fiendish tongue-in-check humour.
Running alongside this pair of shows is a Film Weekend of independent and art-house cinema. For these projects we are working in collaboration with Film London. There will also be a Process Weekend with tips by experts in travel photography, Instagramming, also talks with exciting young photographers who are pushing the boundaries of their art and iconic celebrity photographer Angela Williams who learnt her craft working alongside Norman Parkinson.
Many thanks to: Angela Williams Archive, James Hyman Gallery, Michael Hoppen Gallery and TJ Boulting
Please note: This exhibition contains photographs depicting nudity.