Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool
Until 18th December 2016
Reviewed by Ashley McGovern
The winners of the first national Jerwood/Photoworks awards – Matthew Finn, Joanna Piotrowska and Tereza Zelenkova – were first announced last year and their exhibition has been touring ever since, finally arriving at the Open Eye Gallery this autumn. A collaboration between the Jerwood Charitable Foundation and the Photoworks organisation, this biennial prize was founded in 2014 and awards £5000 to dedicated, talented artists who have been practicing photography for over ten years.
All the photographs on display make startling use of the classic black and white aesthetic, however the subject matter ranges from eerie European folklore to the intimate bond between mother and son.
In an interview with Open Eye’s writer-in-residence, Pauline Rowe, Tereza Zelenkova says how she was once browsing through the Wikipedia entry on ‘Romanticism’ and noticed this summary of the nineteenth-century movement: “The [Romantic] movement emphasized such emotions as apprehension, horror and terror, and awe— especially that experienced in confronting the new aesthetic categories of the sublimity and beauty of nature. It considered folk art and ancient custom to be noble statuses, but also valued spontaneity.”
She felt 200 years too late, as her own work is preoccupied with archetypal Romantic fairy-tale scenes like creepy woods and open caves. Zelenkova used her prize money to explore her native Czech Republic and capture lost superstitions and the mystical side of national identity, one slowly fading in a globalised world.
Across her darkly Romantic photographs mouths of caves beckon us in; a sunken face has been carved into a large rock; a tree has fallen. The way the photographs are presented adds to the unnerving scenes. A picture of a crucifix wedged into a tree is placed inside the type of twee wooden frame you would see in an isolated woodland shack. Even stranger is the photograph of four girls with their heads covered in white cloth called The Unseen, which is placed in a dream-catcher style frame. These are the most metaphorical photographs in the show and their folkloric associations remind us of the photographer as an adventurer.
Unlike Zelenkova’s Sisters Grimm, the girls in Joanna Piotrowska’s works are caught in awkward martial arts poses. Her series of portraits presents adolescent girls copying the stylish, combative moves found in self-defense manuals. Piotrowska has said that her silent yet struggling adolescent girls are “strongly engaged in some sort of interaction which we cannot fully understand, yet the discomfort of the position suggests this interaction is overpowering the subject”. Leaning backwards to make an awkward crab, or trapping each other in gentle headlocks, it is as though the girls are playing. Yet in one photograph the close fist of mother presses against the forehead of her daughter, as though teaching her to battle against passive gender stereotyping, thereby rehearsing her for adulthood.
Finally, in the upstairs gallery, Matthew Finn displays a series of portraits taken of his mother over a thirty year period. Beginning this intimate, long-term documentation when she was 50 (almost the age Finn is now), we watch a grinning, warm mother gradually age. By the end of the sequence, she is living in assisted accommodation.
Finn regards these affectionate pictures as ‘collaborations’, and in his artist interview describes the process almost like a ‘dance’ between photographer and subject: especially those moments when his mother would gently direct him during the shoot. The series is a record of shared moments and an example of photography as very personal homage.
These three photographers have been encouraged by the Jerwood Photoworks awards to create thoughtful and ambitious projects. Unfortunately for any aspiring photographers, the entry deadline for the 2017 awards has just closed.
Jerwood/Photoworks Awards 2015 at Open Eye Gallery, 19 Mann Island, Liverpool Waterfront, L3 1BP. The exhibition runs until 18th December. Visit their website @ https://openeye.org.uk/
For more information about the 2015 Jerwood Photoworks awards, the shortlists, the prestigious mentors and the upcoming 2017 Awards visit: https://photoworks.org.uk/project-news/jpa/