The concept of this exhibition, showing the East of London and the way it has changed since the Olympic Games have been scheduled to happen there, is obviously timely. It gives a refreshing perspective by linking this huge event with some lasting realities: human beings, the land, abandoned objects.
In the first room, Zed Nelson observes people (he is the only one in this group show) not unlike the Sartorialist.
His characters are standing in the street as if they were alone, and accept to simply show what they look like and how they are dressed, just like small fragments of a whole. It is chronologically the last series, since Zed Nelson documents the consequences of the current gentrification of the area. But it is presented to the visitor first, as if to start from what is closer to us in order to dig more deeply under the surface, as is suggested by Stephen Gill’s book Archeology in Reverse, also featured in this room [and which is not without calling to mind The Photographer’s Gallery’s show of Japanese photobooks taking place at the same time.]
Nonetheless, the contrast between the so-called “Two Cities” (the title of Zed Nelson’s series is Tale of Two Cities) makes more sense when one looks at the opposite wall, which hosts a depiction of the Lea Valley as it was before the transformations. Sophia Evans’ images show raw facts of the land and run down human constructions.
You either sense a sort of violence emanating from them, to the point that you wonder how people fit in this place, or you feel the emotion of a place where human souls live in, far from well thought out city centres.
Her photographs are presented on two long paper ribbons that call to mind giant filmstrips. The images are not singled out like finite artistic objects but grouped together on this supple and matte surface. The curator, Bridget Coaker, explains in this video that this use of proofing paper, and the hang on a washing line, is to recall the original function of this series as a documentary in The Observer.
The second room’s pictures have a more eerie atmosphere. Two different series facing each other are both dedicated to the garden sheds of the Manor Garden Allotments.
Jan Stradtman makes night views of the exterior of the sheds, while Gesche Wurfel enters inside them and observes their deserted arrangements. The first one plays on the monochrome and on light contrasts, while the second focuses on colour, transparency and the feeling of enclosure.
These images are calm, aesthetically very elaborate and therefore very pleasing to watch. The added nostalgia comes after you read that they no longer exist, the land having been requested for the construction of a parking lot.
They are balanced by two large format “tableaux” by Jason Orton, isolated on their own walls, depicting the Channelsea River.
Those two pieces are not original or groundbreaking in their subject matter or composition, but they sure work. People stand in front of them in contemplation, touched by their poetic feel and their ravishing dullness. One tries to decipher what lies beyond the mist. They balance the two other series, and give the overall tone to this documentation of London’s East End.
If you read the accompanying texts, of course, you go further into the understanding of this geographical area and its history. You can both consider the images for their documentary function (and learn a lot), or only for their aesthetics. You can read them through texts (and your brain) or take them in visually. Adding layers of understanding leads you to a better discovery of this part of the London outskirts. It also feeds into the debates around urban regeneration and gentrification, giving some visual food for thought.
Residual Traces | 27 July – 7 September | Photofusion, Brixton | Curated by Bridget Coaker from Troika Editions