On the whole, this year’s’ Royal College of Art Photography graduates display a pleasing return to medium specific work and a move away from the installation based interrogations previous years. There is a faith in the image restored, it seems, and although there are works that engage with current photographic trends, one senses the emergence of genuine photographic voices in some of the stronger graduates, rather than the conceptual pyrotechnics hailed in years past.
Not exactly novel, the minimalist abstract work of Yu-Chien Chien is nevertheless well honed and reflective of a controlled and assured aesthetic. There is little contextual information available but the project is titled ‘Love letters/A Study of Cinders’ and consists of a triptych minimal white on black streaks, brush like in their application, printed analogue as silver prints on fibre based paper. There are several graduates who have printed their black and white work in the darkroom. I would wager that these abstractions are the result of some kind of experimental process, in line with the work of Daisuke Yokota for example, but I can’t be sure. I imagine these are the ‘Love Letters’, so the steel framed grey wax must be the other work, also admirable in its focus.
A recurring theme amongst the ‘straight’ photographers on show seems to be an investigation of architectural structure, both literally and metaphorically, perhaps as response to the rapid banalisation of the London landscape via ‘New Build’. Although not necessarily of London, Hanqing Ma’s work investigates the non-spaces of the urban environment by focussing on what the calls ‘a sense suspended construction’ in temporary or unfinished buildings. Classic monochrome images printed on silver and framed and matted, these photos do have the poetic charge the artist claims to have sought.
They connect with the silence, the stillness of these pregnant spaces, and in so doing encourage meditative contemplation. ‘Liminal’ spaces have been looked at by many, and remain a fertile area, but Ma’s graceful images touch less upon the ‘non’ and more on the ‘unfinished’ by approaching them the way she does. Something seems to be about to happen, balanced as these scenes are between the documentary-like and the evocative.. There is space to these spaces and ‘classic’ though these photos may be, they have something to say about the loss of space in the contemporary urban landscape.
Matan Ashkenazy seems equally preoccupied with the potency of buildings and structures through the a focus on subtle details. There is, again, no contextual information on what the project ‘Possibilities’ (from which Ashkenazy’s quiet, muted images stem) is about. Predominantly small scale, these flatly printed black and white architectural details, engage primarily with stone buildings, perhaps calling up notions of age and memory.
The building material of the ‘classic’ and the ‘old’ here reveals its nuances, through wear and decay on the one hand, and the evidence subtle maintenance on the other. Askenazy thus calls into question notions of timelessness in the face of rapid change. An image of neo-classical columns, weathered and beaten, seems to reinforce this point. An interesting if quiet body of work.
Alexander Christie’s approach to structure is more direct and documentary-like. From what I can gather from his website, the images on display are part of a documentation of the Nine Elms estate in Battersea, but I can’t be sure.
The photos examine the netherspace on the outside of the hoardings to this Re/Developing estate; the infant tree as token nature, sales pitch keywords in bold white designed to trigger interest and envy, the images of aspirational ‘lifestyle’ interiors set against the very fact of the surrounding landscape.
Carlos Jimenez’s cinematic images engaging with notions of masculinity and the male gaze are enigmatic and rich, though there is not enough to see here to get a thorough sense of the project.
I also really enjoyed Tanya Moulson’s installation, featuring photography and the moving image, mixing scale and motion to emotive effect. I cannot find out what the project is about but it has definitely something to do with symbolic power of the sea at night. An immersive experience.
Part of the new ‘Moving Image’ pathway of the Photography M.A, and for me one of the best in show, is Kristen Abdai’s wonderful installation room, ‘Don’t look at Me’. I feel it would ruin the experience to reveal what lies behind Abdai’s (the Show is on until July 5th; run to see this) but I will tell you that it is marvellously astute and novel engagement with the notion of the ‘gaze’ that is both humorous and thought-provoking. It is a confrontational piece that is the only work on show this year with the power to make the spectator uncomfortable. It felt wrong to take a picture in there, so below is a photo of Abdai’s postcard. (see top photo)
Erin Solomons, Sara Hibbert, Alis Oldfield, Louise Fitzgerald, Philomene Hoel, Tanya Moulson, Ellie Kyungran Heo, Kristen Abdai, Liam Tickner, Alexander Christie, Feiyi Wen, Heather McCalden, Blaithin Mac Donnell, Jin Li, Maja A Ngom, Jia Cai, JiangYin Qu, Ruidi Mu, Hanqing Ma
Words/Photos Kerim Aytac © artlyst 2015