I went on my first study visit with OCA on the 15th December 2011 at the new Open Eye gallery at Mann Island in Liverpool. The exhibitions I saw were ‘American Power’ by Mitch Epstein, and ‘The Pleasure Principle’ by Chris Steele-Perkins.
This was my first study visit so when the details came through and it suggested some prior reading and listening, I was keen to be as prepared as possible. As I hadn’t has any experience of either photographer I was interested in knowing more to me to get the best of the visit.
Mitch Epstein- American Power
When I looked at the American Power website, it encourages the viewer to look at their daily relationship with energy or ‘power’. With the purpose of heightening the awareness of the toll of using and producing the vast quantities of energy needed to keep modern society going.
The images in the exhibition were:-
– POCA high school and Amos Coal Powerplant
– BP Carson refinery
– Hoover Dam and Lake Mead
– Las Vegas
– Martha Murphy and Charlie Biggs
– Century Wind Project
– IOWA 80 truckstop
The large format of the images and the smaller than usual number of images in the exhibition really added to the subject. I felt that the viewer took longer to look at and appreciate the images. For the POCA high school image, I felt that I needed to stand back from the image to take it all in. My eyes at first were drawn to the red of the American footballers tops, its only then that you notice the power plant in the background towering over the town.
As a contrast, the BP Carson refinery has so much detail in it, that as well as looking at it from afar, you also need to go closer to look at the detail. The trees at the top corners act as a frame, and the contrast of nature v man made can be drawn. The US flag really grabs my eye and reminds me that oil is such a big part of American life and history, Only when you step back from the image can you get a sense of the scale, and that’s where the large format of the prints adds a scale that isn’t available when viewing images over the modern techniques such as websites, slideshows etc.
I found the contrast between the fantasy side of the holiday resorts, the pyramid and the castle, compared with the left of the image where it was all flat car parks with a huge number of cars showing the level of support needed for the entertainment and leisure industry that is so predominant within the city. In the background there is ‘Trump’ tower standing head and shoulders over the city, and further back the desert and hills that have not yet been taken over by commercialisation.
Century Wind Project
This is a contrast between two differing sides, the town and on the edge, a wind farm. It focuses, I think, on how nature can be harnessed to provide energy.
IOWA 80 truckstop
In contrast to the other images, this focuses on what springs up from the power industry, with businesses around the haulage firms providing a living for families, opposite to the view that power/energy is a destructive and negative entity at times.
Martha Murphy and Charlie Briggs
I couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing in this image, it provoked more questions than answers at the time. What had happened, what was the relationship here, what did the objects and symbolism mean, if anything? It also didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the series. However when I got back home, I went onto the American Power website again and looked once more at the image and the back story. It wasn’t;t what I imagined, they weren’t a couple, they were employer and employee looking at the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The American power here is about the natural elements and the sheer power of human spirit.
This image was one I’ve seen on the publicity for the series of the images, and when I was first viewing it on a PC screen, I couldn’t grasp what I was looking at. Only when I stood in front of the huge image, did I realise that I was looking at upturned cars, mattresses and bedding pinned onto the trees after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Its the large scale that added so much to the content, allowing you as the viewer to get a better perspective and the small number of images encourages the viewer to take their time to take all the detail in.
Chris Steele- Perkins- The Pleasure Principle
I found this to be quite a contrast compared to the Mitch Epstein exhibition. It didn’t have the same impact. I found that there didn’t seem to be any obvious correlation between the subjects, it doesn’t flow as a series. It could also have benefited from being more selective in the number of images it included. Also the images were quite small,so for some of them such as the cricket match needed to be viewed on a larger scale.
The title of the series was ‘The Pleasure Principle’, yet to me while it had some images of the 1980’s balls and parties, that could be under ‘pleasure’ it didn’t seem an accurate title, it seemed to me that some fell under excess and with this the images of the elephant and cricketers didn’t seem to fit in.
Images on display were:-
– Prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s admirers at the Conservative party conference
– Blackpool beach
– Golden mile, Blackpool
– Prince Edward at Berkeley Square ball
– Juliana’s summer party x 2
– Hypnosis demonstration at Cambridge university ball
– Berkeley Square ball
– Nightclub London x2
– British Movement demo, London
– Ballroom dancing, Blackpool
– Territorial army practice repelling a Soviet invasion
– Circus elephant, Crystal Palace
– Photo opportunity during a territorial army exercise
– Cricket match, Hampshire
– The photographer has managed to become invisible and get the images with the subjects not being aware, and continuing as if they were alone
– Choice of images, not enough similarity between them to be a linked series
I really enjoyed my first study visit, I got a lot of benefit from sharing the experience with other students and discussing and debating, the contrast and message of the images. For a good few hours, this was well worthwhile and its good to meet fellow students, so I’d definitely go on more future visits and I’ll certainly keep an eye on events at the Open Eye gallery.
The Open Eye Gallery
Parts of the gallery are excellent for display, high ceilings, spotlights, and clean neutral colours, however some of the space has bright natural light that reflects on the glass framed images so you need to move about the gallery for the best positioning.