Friday, July 04, 2008


I made good use of my Tate membership today (though I did miss my members' bar crew). Not knowing what was on I found not one, but two exhibitions to get excited about. First up, Cy Twombly - and forgive me for being a total cliche and saying that his Quattro Stagioni paintings are my favourite series of paintings ever to grace a wall.
I can see how some might look at his series of squiggles and pencil scrawls and wonder why they're so lauded. All I can say is that for me, the exact placement, colour and texture of those scrawls, daubs and squiggles sort of get me somewhere visceral with the rightness of those choices. Ferragosto, for instance, just looks like being in the fucking unbearable slowly rotting heat of Rome in August. To me it does anyway.

My petit quibble is that the Quattro Stagioni room in particular, where two versions (Otto Stagioni?) were, had really bad unnatural lighting. I did see a man carrying a reel of cables though, so maybe it was just broken. Room 9, containing the watery paintings from the early '80s in Gaeta also made me swoon.

I was hyper excited about the Street & Studio (An Urban History of Photography) exhibition. What was amazing was to see the very earliest ways that photographers documented life on the street. (You can't exactly take a snapshot of a passerby when you have a two minute exposure time or longer.) Listen to this, from Jacques Henri-Lartigue, about photographing ladies in the Bois de Boulogne when he was a teenager (around 1910):

"She approaches...I'm shy, trembling a little. Twenty meters...ten meters...eight...six...and click! The shutter of my big camera makes so much noise that the lady jumps almost as much as I do. It doesn't matter a bit......all that counts is the pleasure of having a new photo."

Anyone who has ever photographed a stranger in the street will know exactly what poor Jacques was going through - and he did all right in the end didn't he?!

When I got to Contemporary Street and Studio I and II I was perplexed not to see a single representation of street style photography or any mention of that new fangled Internet thing. Let's go with the most obvious suspect: Scott Schuman (who has a gallerist and has been included in other exhibitions). Not one photo. I really, really think that if Juergen Teller's Go-Sees are considered worthy, then at least one of the Sartorialist's shots could have been in. Jeff Wall, Martin Parr - we all know those names and we've all seen that work.

After you exit the exhibition, there on the wall it tells you about the competition for Street or Studio in collaboration with flickr and blurb books. It felt to me as if someone had pointed out the oversight at the last minute and they rectified it by getting them involved as an afterthought. I don't know, I may be completely wrong but it seems the curators really missed a trick there - I only hope that when the blurb book is done, they're planning a massive exhibition and that's why it was left out of this one.

I've entered a couple of photos to the competition - you can read about it here and enter here by adding your submission(s) to the flickr group. Hence the above photo taken by me in June 2006 in the days of my extremely regular (ahem) and prolific (ahem) series This Week In London We Are Mostly Wearing. I stopped taking photos of people in the street because, honestly, when I started doing it people would be really flattered and go, "Who me?" After the whole street style photography thing blew up (oh yes it did Tate Modern, where were you?) people I approached would work out fairly quickly that I was neither an American bloke called Scott nor a Swiss bloke called Yvan (being a British female holding a little point and shoot camera) and would sniffily demand, "Er, like, what's it for?" Ah, the terror. You have to be brave to photograph people.

Which leads me to one more thing in the exhibition! (If anyone's still with me.) I loved the photographs taken by Laurie Anderson in 1973, entitled Fully Automated Nikon. She decided to take photos of men who made sleazy comments to her in the street - almost as a way of exacting revenge on them. The photos are printed with captions underneath telling what they said and how they reacted when she asked to take their photo. She says something like, "I realised that taking someone's picture is a little like attacking them."

{photo taken by me June 2006}


Anonymous said...

Quattro Stagioni is my fav as well. i could name my child cy (or jackson). no shame there.
but how come you never post a photo of you??? you have great style i am sure!

Lola Is Beauty said...

Because I hate having my photo taken! I'd always rather be on the other side...and I feel really uncomfortable with the thought of pics of me being easily found on the internet - not doing so keeps a little anonymity/privacy...

Erica said...

Great post (yes, I was still with you to the end!).

Bombay Beauty said...

Interesting that you mention this! The 4 seasons by Twombly at the Tate is the first set of paintings by him that I finally said to myself, ah yes, now I get it, or at least glimpse it. Much lauded, but to me most of the time the gestures are empty. But this cycle opened my eyes at least once. And that is what makes life worth living.


P.S. That and good ice cream.

Le Club du Style said...

Love the picture! It's true, you have to be brave to photograph people on the street. But then I went to Stockholm where people obliged with a big smile and a total lack of snobbery... Best LCDS