Taylor Wessing Portrait Award 2009

Yesterday I went along to the National Portrait Gallery to see the Taylor Wessing 2009 Exhibition. It was a rainy day in London and a perfect afternoon for a gallery visit. It wasn’t too crowded and I was able to move around quite freely. There are some great portraits on show. Female Boxer No.3 by Inzajeano Latif is an image that I was already aware of from the exhibition poster. It’s a stark, cold image of a woman wearing an orange hat and orange bandages wrapped around her hands. The orange works exceptionally well with the blue hues of the background. The woman looks straight at the camera whilst performing a half-hearted boxer’s pose. It’s a striking image and one of many that hit you straight between the eyes.

Group of Friends at Barceloneta Beach by Lluís Artús made me laugh aloud. It’s not advisable to laugh audibly when you are alone but sometimes, it just can’t be helped. The image is of 5 older men, standing together in skimpy swim wear, skin like well-cooked Cumberland sausages. The men’s eyes, all but the mysterious one in shades, are fixed firmly on the viewer poised to make he or she an offer they can’t refuse. Hard to take a threat like that seriously from men in skimpy trunks though, I’d imagine.

Mom Channeling the Queen by Summer Mccorkle has an amusing charm to it. The photographer’s own Mother, I think, is pictured in an ill-fitting wig, wearing pearls and a broach that the Queen herself would, possibly, be seen alive in. There must be hundreds of look-a-likes out there that look less like the Queen than this ‘Mom’ and a mom that doesn’t take herself too seriously is always good to see. God save Mom.

Girl by Mirjana Vrbaski is a beautifully haunting image. A girl, dressed in a green coat buttoned up to the neck, against a blue background. The simplicity and beauty of the image arrests your eyes instantly. Mind you, the girl may one day wish she’d worn something that doesn’t look like she’d borrowed it from an Uncle who enjoys hunting, shooting ‘n’ fishing.

Another haunting image is that of Huong, In Hanoi by Adam Nadel. A portrait that stops you in your tracks, as you look twice at what seems at first, to be an image that has been heavily manipulated on Photoshop. If only it had. When you look at Huong’s face he has no eyes. A defect from birth caused by the Vietnam War. It’s a difficult image to look at but a very powerful reminder of the horrors of war, even after wars have ended.

The Taylor Wessing exhibition runs until 14th February 2010. It’s definitely worth a visit. Pop in whatever the weather. Admission is free.




Tails of the Unexpected

This morning I woke up at 05.40am. I was wide awake and I'm not sure why, but I decided to get up and go for a walk around my local area. I took a couple of cameras with me and headed out into the dark morning. Early morning is a wonderful time to walk around. There were quite a lot of people around at what was now 06.00am. Joggers, cyclists and motorists. I walked down to Canary Wharf and when I arrived there it was very quiet. Some pavements were being cleaned in preparation for the working day and there were some people arriving early forthe office but I felt that I was almost alone. I'm sure I was being closely monitored by a myriad of CCTV cameras but there was a peaceful calm about the place. I must get there in the early hours more often.

I walked around the Canary Wharf area and to the footbridge that crosses one of the basins. The sun was rising in the east and the darkness of the sky was now being replaced by the orange and yellow of the sun. I took some pictures of the footbridge and people passing over it and as I was doing so, I looked into the water and there looking up at me was a seal. It was a sight I have never before seen in London waters and really was quite wonderful. The seal didn't stick around long. Just long enough for me to take a quick picture of it before it went under the water. I waited for it to come back to the surface but the glimpse I had had was all I was going to get on this occasion.

When I arrived home I Googled 'seals in Canary Wharf' and it seems that seals have been spotted in the area before by workers in the Barclays building. Quite a wonderful start to the day.


Smoking & Conkers 

I live approximately 15 mins walk from Canary Wharf. A very busy business area of London and a place that I pass through almost on a daily basis. I tend to prefer it at the weekend, as that’s a time when it becomes a lot quieter, with few people rushing around suited-and-booted with money on their minds. I often wander past the glass-towered buildings and see art works hanging up on walls or placed in the foyer of banks and businesses. One thing I realised recently though, is that I never actually wander inside for a closer look.

Last week I picked up a leaflet published by Arts & Events and thought it about time I investigated the Canary Wharf art scene. So, Yesterday I needed to be in Canary Wharf in the early morning and after my appointment, with leaflet in hand, I went in search of art. The Getty Images Gallery is currently showing photographic work by Terry O’Neill. The gallery is on the ground floor of One Canada Square; Canary Wharf’s tallest building. I walked up to the gallery  door but unfortunately, it was locked. There was no sign on the door informing me that I had called at the wrong time of day and to advise me to please call back when the gallery was open. I double-checked my leaflet but no opening times were listed.

Unable to get into the Getty Images Gallery I decided to wander around the side and have a peek through the glass. I could see images of Frank Sinatra, Paul Newman, Lee Marvin and a picture of Robert Mitchum, which was very close to where I was standing. It’s a large B&W portrait of Robert Mitchum dragging on a cigarette. Underneath the image was a quote from O’Neill ‘He was one of the best smoker’s I ever knew’. It’s a very powerful portrait. You can even read the Winston brand name on the side of the cigarette and Mitchum’s face shows interesting lines, that for so many Hollywood stars, used to come with age.

Just a short walk from the Getty Images Gallery, in the same building, is one of the entrances to One Canada Square. In the foyer there is an exhibition of the work of Wendy Taylor. She is exhibiting her ‘Seed Series’. There isn’t a huge amount of work on display but what is there is certainly worth a look. A rather large handful of the seeds of nature have been beautifully reproduced in bronze. My favourite piece was ‘Conqueror’ a large-scale reproduction of a horse chestnut (conker) positioned inside its spiky green pod. One thing I hadn’t realised about Wendy Taylor is that I have wandered past quite a lot of her work already, on numerous occasions. Wendy Taylor’s works are dotted around various parts of London’s East End. ‘Timepiece’ at Tower Bridge, and two works ‘Rope Circle’ and ‘The Memorial to the Civilians In East London’ can be seen in Wapping. The Seed Series runs until 27th November 2009. Do check opening times before you go.


A Lunar Thursday 

It was an extremely mild day in London today for this time of year. It doesn’t seem like we are in October at all, at the moment. That, of course, could change in an instant. For now though, it’s even warm enough during the day to sit outside. I remember being able to sit outside in the beer garden of the City Pride some years ago in November. Londoners and indeed British people in general, need the weather as a good conversation starter.

Some years ago. Well, many years ago back in the 1980s when I lived in Oxford and I was waiting for a bus outside the Cowley Shopping Centre. An extremely unappealing part of the city at the time. No dreaming spires there. Just a brutalist multi-story car park towering above some shops. At the bus stop was an elderly man and a couple of young black women. It was a very warm Autumn day and the man started up a conversation with the two women. ‘It’s really hot today isn’t it girls? But I suppose it’s hot where you come from? One of the girls replied ‘What, in Blackbird Leys you mean?’ Blackbird Leys is just across the bypass from Cowley. The girls laughed and I smiled to myself too. The elderly man had made an assumption about strangers and I wonder if he ever thought twice before making such assumptions again.

I wandered around this afternoon and took some photographs whilst the sun was going down. I have added them to the gallery. The moon was very visible in the afternoon sky and there is something quite special about seeing the sun and the moon in the sky at the same time.




Thinking Inside The Box

I wandered into the Turbine Hall, very excited at the prospect of stepping inside Miroslaw Balka’s new installation How It Is. I’d already read mixed reports of what I may find. From the outside, it’s a very large box, not unlike the shipping containers that can be glimpsed from the A13 when passing Dagenham. I wandered around to the entrance, up a ramp and into the darkness. Initially, it was dark and hard to make out what was in front of me but once my eyes adjusted properly, I soon realised that it wasn’t completely dark. The darkness was also interrupted by flashes of light from tourist’s cameras as they digitally savoured the moment for posterity. Had it been totally dark, then I may have been forced to wonder about my own purpose on Earth, or indeed, my purpose inside this darkened box with a myriad of tourists. I suppose from a Health & Safety perspective, complete darkness, may have proved too problematic and could have resulted in a very full accident book.

After walking along for a while I finally reached the end. The back wall. A man beside me pretended to bump his face on the wall. Here I was in darkened box with tourists and a clown for company. I’m sure the man has a photograph of himself at home appearing to hold up the leaning Tower of Pisa. Had he been dressed as a clown, then it’s quite possible that the darkened box would have seemed something more sinister and positively more scary that it did. I think I may have had a more interesting experience had I walked, accidentally, into the back of a Morrisson’s lorry and woke up in Keele Services. How It Is will be in place at the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall until January 10th 2010. Do go along and have a look but do remember to take some dark Jackie O style glasses with you for added darkness.



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