V & A

Pete McGovern
Shadow Catchers Camera-less Photography
Jan 2011


There was no hiding from the physical realities. Tumbling out of the coldest December since records began and with snow on the ground for weeks on end these vast liners of knowledge moored in London SW7 offered little personal comfort. Apart from five minutes settling up against one of the aging half-ton cast iron radiators which were admittedly fierce with heat from the boiler-rooms below but which were proving ineffectual in halls as high as cathedrals. Such was the disparity in natural forces hinting at the cosmic before even stepping inside this exhbition.


Dispensing not only with lenses but camera bodies and instead relying on the raw capture ability of print materials the resulting works are idiosyncratic, often curiously spooky and at times unashamedly full-on hippy in their connection to nature and the metaphysical. It felt a bit like the kind of show you stumble across on a day out to Windermere.


The ambition expressed by Garry Fabian Miller to create work that 'lifts the spirit, gives strength and a moment of clarity' is apt for this great Victorian venue. His enlarger images of leaves echo the process of photosynthesis while the later luminograms resemble the paintings of a cheerful Rothko. It is perhaps indicative of a group where much depends on the devotion of old-school 'artists' whose vision propel narratives that end up spanning life-times that while at times the strategies are engaging it has to be said it can seem a bit anoraky.

First work that impressed me was 'Garden During a Thunderstorm', photo paper etched by lightning by Floris Neususs - while literally unrevealing it was srangely satisfyingly so. In contrast thirty years of messing about with the possibilities of processing led Pierre Cordier from endless 7 x 5 inch chemigrams in the 50's to works with a pop-art feel, complex, labyrinthine works suggestive of shattered glass and analogue static.

Like some spiritualist intermediary, Susan Derges magically harnesses the eddy and flow of energies usually unseen - and without recourse to either charlatan practices of even a Large Hadron Collider. Night-time landscapes lit by the moon or powders vibrating on photo paper the resulting images are challenging, being dark, dirty, minor key colours, precise manifestations of inconsequential moments within the forgotten endless flux. Important works. The River Taw pieces are simply mesmerising, riddled with trivial in detail and and yet resulting in works that verge on the epic in overall effect. Only the frog spawn sequence which - unsurprisingly when suddenly resorting to a camera - is too unambigous seemed an unresolved development.

Other star of the show was Adam Fuss, who exemplified the elegaic reach for the metaphysical (while sometimes settling for the biblical) in the shadowy territory between light and dark. A curious sparkle of life channelled from unpromising void. Years spent recording the distortions of light in the splash of water ('Ark' 1990 being a crucial piece) or exploring the spectral, ghostly luminosity of christening robes, or a butterfly (undeniably the soul) or birds flickering through meaning to become a circle of angels and fixed as some incontrovertible proof.




Shadow Catchers is an off-beat, curious show. While too obscure to have wide ticket sales appeal it is a reminder that there are artists determined to address metaphysical themes and pursue fringe methodologies which were always largely peripheral but are perhaps increasingly so as technology and contemporary practice and materiality has accelerated ever faster onward.




Shadow Catchers ends February 20th 2011.



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