London, Apr 2012

© Dan Holdsworth
© Birdhead
© Thomas Ruff
© Boris Mikhailov

Compiled from trillions of bits of data, Transmission: New Remote Earth Views by Brit Dan Holdsworth, at the Brancolini Grimaldi gallery, consists of fully synthetic images of the American West. Like satellite imagery or pallid frames extracted from low-res video gaming set on a lifeless planet the geological aspects are all that remain when organic matter - and incidentally all colour - have been discarded. The lineage of this depersonalised landscape aesthetic with its post-painting exploration of technological descriptive power, extends back to Carleton E Watkins in the early 19th Century, and includes, more recently, Lewis Baltz, the best of the New Topographics photographers from the 1970's. (Baltz cited his work as being environmentalist in motive, despite its strikingly impersonal tone.) Holdsworth seems more engaged with the discourse of how we come to visualise - and in the process clearly establishes landscape as strangely 'other'.

This is an immaculately presented show, combining very sale-able large milky prints of the planet as seen from space, along with smaller, similarly lifeless curiosities from the more traditional viewpoint of the ground.

 

(Until 19th May 2012)

 

The walls of the Paradise Row gallery are decked out in a multitude of prints by duo Ji Weiyu and Song Tao - aka Birdhead - their record of daily life in Shanghai (in B&W to indicate extra sincerity). It's good to see that it is still acceptable to show photographs on a scale smaller than paintings but while China might be where it's at for the future of art photography (as everything else) this work falls well short of anything half decent. It looks particularly dated rather than retro and lacks even a smattering of fresh vision. It's hard not to think of Wolfgang Tillmans and his seminal If One Thing Matters Everything Matters period which showed what is possible in personal documentary. Not only is the necessary ingredient of colour missing from Birdhead's approach but so are any worthwhile recurring motifs. The banality never comes close to transcending itself, remaining relentlessly un-engaging. When they try to do 'cool' things it really falls apart, looking strained and phony. All in all a major fail.

(Until 7th Apr 2012)

 

The Gagosian is running two Thomas Ruff shows - one off-site 'Nudes' consisting of several internet porn images which have been interpolated up from just a few hundreds of pixels in size to become classily-framed museum prints six feet high. Despite the slight fuzziness this has been faultlessly done - one is tempted to say 'lovingly done' - for instance the colour balance is astonishing. The amount of care lavished on those files may perhaps be enough to save them from ridicule - but then again, perhaps not. Are they a clever 21st century photographer's jibe against the entire history of the nude in painting? The space is a tiny closed-down, shop front (3 metre deep by 5 metre wide) with frosted out glass windows (to protect the passing public) and with a security guard permitting entrance and exit, in sole attendance. In such a confined space any possibility to consider/react/destroy or lick the imposing images is impossible and never anything more than a confined experience - yet I somehow don't think this is what Ruff intended.

Consideration of his 'Mars' show was even more perplexing as it turned out that the main Gagosian gallery holding it was shut on Good Friday. It would have been interesting to see how different the works were to the 1999 Hayward show, Full Moon, by Michael Light, premised on similar lines, both being a delve into the NASA archive.

(Until 21st April 2012)

 

The Sprovieri gallery is a terrific regular-sized space for showing photographs - maybe one of the best in London. Currently they have Triptychs, 50 years of works by Russian photographer Boris Mikhailov. The characteristic hideous grimness of his subjects suggests impoverishment in every sense but beneath the surface is an intensity of joyful dark humour - of all concerned. Regularly accused of exploitation - in fact by another visitor to the show who was remonstrating with the gallery staff - there is actually a surge of life affirmation to be found beneath the apparent depravity. Firstly there is eye contact with Boris's lens - he is 'in there', participating, not a sly voyeur - and it is noteworthy that he is happy to photograph himself unflatteringly, ridiculously, naked. Also, his disregard for making technically perfect photographs suggests it is the moment of engagement that is the priority. The camera may even be an excuse. These are his people, fully witnessed. Their ill-fitting clothes, the vulgarity of their inebriated clowning in front of the camera, their child-like faces prematurely aged are facts and perhaps simply too repulsive to some as would those people be if actually encountered in real life. As is often the case when accusations of opportunism are levelled at photographers there is the suspicion that when the lower classes are depicted at all it is somehow reprehensible unless leavened through a filter of humanism. The garish coloured prints of the 'Wedding Series' in particular is deeply profound and affecting - and in a fundamentally original way. It can't be easy to repel the political left and right simultaneously but Boris may just have been the first to successfully manage it.

(Until 5th April 2012)