Given the profligacy of images that us fashion types wallow in, it figures that we are perhaps more responsible than most for acquainting ourselves with the history and craft of image making. All clichés aside, the photographs we pander to with our relentlessly scrolling thumbs share a common story of creation, one that has been mapped out in an epic, 12-room monster of an exhibition at Tate Modern. Contemporary aesthetics, style and composition can all be traced back to a master somewhere along the line, and their genealogies all carry the marks of the 20th century politics that shaped them. It’s really very exciting stuff.
Take Vorticism for instance – a somewhat hilarious byproduct of an English inferiority complex that originated in the early 20th century. Presumably green with envy over the rampant success of cubism poster boys like Pierre Dubreuil and Georges Braque, us Brits fancied a slice of the ‘ism’ pie and struck upon the mad idea of Vorticism. It burned brightly and briefly from around 1914 to 1917, all jagged lines and bold colours that clamoured at the idea of modernity, but most interestingly, it led to the birth of the vortograph. What looks like a classic case of double exposure was in fact a seminal moment, championed by the likes of Ezra Pound and Alvin Langdon Coburn, in fleshing out what photographs were capable of showing. Like the Rayograph that Man Ray would lay claim to some years later, the vortograph became a form of abstraction – a brilliant example of technological innovation leading to a total rethink of what was considered possible with photography, while propelling the art form on to a more level footing with painting.
Throughout the exhibition, this symbiotic relationship between painting and photography is explored via the works of those who somehow mastered both. Man Ray is the obvious candidate, but the lesser known (to us) Hungarian artist László Moholy-Nagy really caught our attention. The former Bauhaus professor was a well known advocate for the integration of technology in the arts, and his vibrant, geometric works are reason alone to see this show. Elsewhere, present day developments are brought to light through the work of Antony Cairns, Maya Rochat and Daisuke Yokota. Through the application of heat, chemicals and rescanning, their works are testament to the continuous drive towards new means of expression in photography. So get yourself down to SE1 this bank holiday weekend for an exhibition that will no doubt live long in the memory.
Ten’s To Do: Shape of Light, 100 Years of Photography And Abstract Art is on at Tate Modern from May 2nd to October 14th
Images, from top:
Jackson Pollock, Number 23, 1948
Pierre Dubreil, Interpretation Picasso: The Railway, 1911
Datsuke Yokota, Untitled, 2014
Wassily Kandinsky, Swinging, 1925
Many Ray, Unconcerned Photograph, 1959
Alvin Langdon Coburn, Vortograph, 1917