Monday, 28 March 2011

Big is beautiful ; collage and diorama in contemporary photography. get out your glue stick!

Cherry Blossom by Hiroshigo
 Two exhibitions in one morning. A rare treat.  To see the works of Emily Allchurch and Sohei Nishino at Diemar-Noble and Michael Hoppen galleries respectively. The main purpose of the trip being to explore photomontage or collage as a medium in contemporary photography. Having seen images in newspaper magazines of both these artists work, I wanted to see them for real.

There is a Japanese connection here. Sohei is a young Japanese photographer who creates dioramas of cities using a painstaking methodology. Emily Allchurch's exhibition 'Tokyo Story' consists of digital photomontages that re-create the works from Utagawa Hiroshigo's  'One Hundred Famous Views of Edo' (1856-58); Edo being the former name of Tokyo.

I was drawn to Allchurch's work by the cherry blossom, as it is currently flowering in the streets around my home.

Cherry Blossom by Emily Allchurch
It made me think of my trip to Japan, and the current devastation that the Japanese are experiencing . I understand  that Hiroshigo's famous work 'the wave' is actually of a tsunami wave, which makes it all the more poignant.Her images are  in stark contrast to the views that we have been witnessing in the news. Allchurch's images are composites, created digitally from a numerous photographs to produce a recreation of the original, but set in a contemporary idiom. The images are large and striking, some as prints and some as transparencies on lightboxes, which I felt worked less well, as they didn't have the same feel as the originals. Much of her work is inspired by paintings, and she comes from a background in fine art. A previous series 'Urban Chiaroscuro' was based on the work of Piranesi , and re-created his views of prisons in a similar way. She works with a small digital camera collecting hundreds of images that contain the elements that she needs for her re-creation of the original, together with modern motifs and signage to emphasise her modern vision of the original.

Lotus Garden by Emily Allchurch

detail from 'Lotus Garden' 

I was interested to learn that nearly all of her work is based on the work of other artists, and this fits with my finding that inspiration comes from many sources, both visual and written. When I attended a course on 'How to be a successful artist', the importance of finding time for visual research was strongly made. Creativity comes from hearing and seeing new things, and we were encouraged to timetable a regular slot for this into the working week. Having seen how attending a performance poetry evening enabled me to write a poem this week, I am convinced that this is true. One of the issues that her work raises is 'what software does she use'? I watched a video of her at work from a BBC programme 'A digital picture of Britain' 2005, and can see that she cuts out small parts of many images and joins them together, layering them over the source image to match the original. I certainly don't have the skills to do this at present, but would like to explore the possibilities further.

The second exhibition, of Sohei Nishino's dioramas at Michael Hoppen was more exciting visually; the enormous dioramas of London and Japanese cities in black and white are well worth seeing, being 230x120cm composites created by glueing hundreds of black and white analgoue photos that are all developed by the artist and then glued onto a large white board. The final image is re-photographed using a Hasselblad with digital back, to create large prints that are selling like hot cakes for thousands of pounds.

detail from Nishino's work

The London diorama in editions of 5 large and 15 smaller prints were sold out before the current show had opened. I enquired how much they are and was informed that the price increases as the edition gets nearer to being sold out, and that prices of up to $60,000 were  paid for his New York diorama. It seems that he now has the potential to get rich, as there are plenty more cities in the world. Each one takes several months to make. First he walks the city for about 6 weeks, taking 300 rolls of film. 10,000 pictures are narrowed down to around 4000 to be used for the diorama. The images are all 3;2 and left in this format. He builds the images up from the bottom, and appears to use a glue stick . They all have sky at the top, but also some around the key structures such as the gherkin and the London Eye, which helps them to stand out. The London diorama was the only one on show in which the images appear to have been tinted, giving the feel of an old London Map. The entire London map can be seen at Nishino's website

detail from an old map of London

He has also made two colour dioramas of imagined cities entitled 'Night' and 'i-land', which contain amusing details such as fish in aquariums, and which have a dystopian feel to them.

'i-land' by Nishino at Michael Hoppen Gallery

I showed postcards of the works to my family at lunch and they much preferred the dioramas; I have now been commissioned by my daughter to create one of Brixton Town Hall. I can think of worse places to start.

I have already tried creating digital montages. The challenge now is to do something as exciting as the works I have seen today. My rhubarb certainly doesn't have the same appeal, except perhaps to my other half.

'Rhubarb' by Caroline Fraser

The overiding impression was that 'big is beautiful', and that I need to 'think big'. It is possible to create big images by combining many smaller ones without the need to go large format. I was suprised to find out that Allchurch uses a small digital camera for much of her work. There is a lot of pressure to move up formats on the course, and I don't feel I could justify spending £10,000 + for a digital Hasselblad until I can recoup some of the costs ( I learnt today that Hoppen has helped Nishino with equipment costs, and I imagine that they feel the investment paid off).

Diemar Noble Gallery

Michael Hoppen Gallery

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