Following the lead of the much debated and acclaimed 2001 I am Camera exhibition, dedicated entirely to photography, where traditional boundaries were blurred as photographs influenced paintings, and paintings influenced photographs, the 2012 exhibition Out of Focus: Photography presented yet another glimpse at Charles Saatchi’s contemporary photography collection.
The exhibition put together the work of close to 40 international artists, forming what William Ewing named in the catalogue as the “dis-United Nations of the World of Photography”. This being said, the title is some what of an inside joke, suggesting from the start the huge variety of uses to which the medium of photography is being put and how technology and the vast presence of photography online has blurred the lines between different photography genres and between the professional and the amateur.
In contrast to the 2001 photography dedicated exhibition, Saatchi has now chosen to put together established names such as Ryan McGinley, John Stezaker and Mitch Epstein alongside relative newcomers, including Noemie Goudal, Michele Ables and Yumiko Utsu. Their work covers a wide range of concerns and genres, disgarding the boundaries between categories such as documentary, fashion, advertising and art. As I read on, with each review it became more clear: Out of Focus: Photography is not seen as an overview of contemporary photography, rather, it demonstrates Saatchi’s eclectic taste and has been mostly interpreted as a mirror of the fractured and confusing world of contemporary practice.
From the ground floor to the top, the exhibition presented a wide range of approaches, from landscape, portraiture, the human body, collage, digital manipulation, photo-installation and many more. Apparently, although the exhibition showcased over 30 artists only a hand full was really mentioned in the aftermath. It is the case of the already popular John Stezaker and his photographic collages from publicity shots of classic film stars that create a surrealist kind of mutated hybrids.
Shot in the California sun, against white walls, Katy Grannan’s street people refers to the work of Diane Arbus in the original documentary tradition of street photography. Grannan’s portraits seem to contain the positive and the negative, the good times and the bad, the joy and the despair, all in the same portrait.
Tokyo-born Yumiko Utsu produces the so called “Dalí-esque” Octopus Portrait (2009), an old painted portrait of a woman who’s head has been replaced by the pearl-colored sea-creature.
Out of Focus: Photography most likely did not pass the highly acclaimed 2001 exhibition, but as a conclusion this incredibly varied selection of work seems to at least offer an inside view of the chaotic world of photography today, that many might agree is spreading in all possible directions and areas of contemporary society. As William Ewing also states in the catalogue, “photography is a very strange place to be right now, either inside looking out (the producer) or outside looking in (the public).”
Out of Focus featured works by Michele Abeles, Leonce Raphael Agbodjélou, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, Olaf Breuning, Jonny Briggs, Elina Brotherus, Anders Clausen, Mat Collishaw, JH Engström, Mitch Epstein, Andreas Gefeller, Daniel Gordon, Noemie Goudal, Katy Grannan, Luis Guispert, Matthew Day Jackson, Chris Levine, Matt Lipps, Ryan McGinley, Mohau Modisakeng, Laurel Nakadate, Sohei Nishino, David Noonan, Marlo Pascual, Mariah Robertson, Hannah Sawtell, David Benjamin Sherry, Meredyth Sparks, Hannah Starkey, John Stezaker, A L Steiner, Mikhael Subotzky, Yumiko Utsu, Sara VanDerBeek, Nicole Wermers, Jennifer West and Pinar Yolaçan.
A catalogue to accompany the exhibition was published by Booth-Clibborn Editions with an essay by William E Ewing, former director of the Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne.
By Alexandra Mateescu
Alexandra Mateescu is a photo-video junkie who left her imaginary super successful forensics career in favor of the University of Arts. She frequently gets mistaken with a 16 year old high school girl so you’ll never catch her without her ID, she has a strong passion for the 80’s, and her kind of art must be funny and a little bit ironic.
image source: http://www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk/artists/photography/