Dorothea Lange: The Politics of Seeing

Lange: Unemployed lumber worker

(Barbican Art Gallery, London, closed on 2 September 2018)

Dorothea Lange was no stranger to adversity: at the age of seven, she survived an attack of polio which left her with a limp for the rest of her life. After studying photography in New York, she moved to San Francisco in 1919, opening a portrait photography studio in the city centre. She became the favourite photographer of the city’s elite, gifted with a shrewd insight into the personalities of her sitters. But in the early 1930s something changed. Lange began to see impoverished men, women and children flooding into the city from the ‘Dust Bowl’ states out east. Droughts and over-farming, coupled with the economic crash of 1928, had ushered in the Great Depression. Their plight electrified her: in 1934 she closed her studio and devoted her life to cataloguing the world around her. The Barbican’s stunning retrospective was a worthy celebration of this remarkable woman: a visionary artist with a social conscience, capturing images which, even a century later, evoke the brutal realities faced by many thousands of her countrymen.

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Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography

Cameron: Sadness (Ellen Terry)

(until 20 May 2018 at the National Portrait Gallery, London)

Shouldering up against the wall, the girl turns her face away from the light. We catch her in an unguarded moment, her blouse slipping off her shoulder and her hair mussed, her fingers tangling in her necklace. This is the celebrated actress Ellen Terry at the age of seventeen, photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron during her brief, ill-suited marriage to the much older painter George Frederick Watts. It isn’t a portrait but an allegory, titled Sadness, and Cameron gives us the impression of trespassing on something deeply personal. It’s one of the most arresting images from a clutch of wonderful mid-Victorian photographs currently on view at the National Portrait Gallery, tracing the early days of this art form through the works of four pioneers: Cameron herself; her teacher Oscar Rejlander; Lewis Carroll; and the ‘amateur’ artist Lady Clementine Hawarden.

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Mozart Reimagined: Tyson Vick

Mozart Reimagined: Don Giovanni

★★★★

Some weeks ago I was searching for photos of the Royal Opera House’s classic production of Mitridate designed by Graham Vick, but when I Googled ‘Mitridate‘ and ‘Vick’, I didn’t get quite the results I was expecting. Instead I found the most incredible series of pictures taken by Tyson Vick, an American photographer, who has spent ten years working on an ambitious project to take at least one representative photograph for every Mozart opera. And I mean every. This remarkable book is the result, and it truly is Mozart as you’ve never seen him before.

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Another London

Davidson: Girl with Kitten

International Photographers Capture City Life 1930-1980

(Tate Britain, until 16 September 2012)

The haunting image stares out from posters all over London at the moment. Even though she isn’t looking at the camera, but somewhere off over the viewer’s right shoulder, there’s something captivating about her eyes. Large, wary and so, so vulnerable. Standing alone by the side of a road, with a rolled sleeping bag on her shoulder, she cradles a tiny kitten in skinny hands. It has a collar made from a rough piece of twine. Two strays, you might say, bound together by a little piece of string.

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Real Venice

Watanabe: Marco Andreatta as Pulcinella

(Embankment Galleries, Somerset House, until 11 December)

I’ve already mentioned this exhibition in the context of the wonderful portraits of Pierre Gonnord, who is one of the photographers who’s donated his work to be sold in aid of Venice in Peril.  When I wrote about Pierre Gonnord, I hadn’t actually been to see the show and had fallen in love with his photographs via the rather less imposing medium of the internet.  However, last Saturday, after visiting the Leonardo exhibition and then managing to get caught up in the Lord Mayor’s Show (which was great!), I finally made it to Somerset House.

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Artists in Focus: Pierre Gonnord

Pierre Gonnord

I’ve just discovered the most wonderful photographer. It was one of those wonderful moments in which, browsing on the internet, you stumble across something and follow a thread which leads you to an entirely new talent. This photographer’s name is Pierre Gonnord: born in France, he now lives and works in Spain.  Choosing people with striking or interesting faces, he takes portrait photographs which, from a distance, could easily be paintings by Caravaggesque old masters. It’s no wonder they captivate me.

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Glamour of the Gods

Marlon Brando

(National Portrait Gallery, London, 7 July – 23 October 2011)

There’s something about the golden age of Hollywood that still captures the attention today: an era when men were men, women were women and everything was screened by a veil of cigarette smoke. This wonderful exhibition brings together a selection of photographs of the biggest film stars from the 1920s to the 1950s.  Most are silvery black-and-white prints, luminous visions of another age, with the odd colour interloper feeling oddly out of place.

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