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“Salt and Silver” – Exhibition Review

29 Apr

I remember my dad carrying an analog SLR camera around on our holidays when I grew up. He would use it to take pictures of us, at restaurants in front of massive dinners, at the beach for an evening swim at twilight or placed next to interesting beedles or animals that we had found. When I think of my dad from that time, I see him with that camera; as a part of him.

The first camera I owned myself was the disposible cameras that I was usually given by my parents before going to the yearly summer camp around the age of 7 and 8. Later on when I was old enough to save up for it, I bought a “cheap” digital point-and-shoot camera that wasn’t very good and sadly didn’t last very long. I used it mostly to take pictures of the cat or the things in my room, like my books. But my first  proper camera is the camera I am still using now. On a whim almost from one day to the next I realised I wanted a DSLR camera and fell in love with the Canon 1000D, which I bought only a few days after with what was a very large and significant portion of my savings. I was 18 at the time.

I remember always liking photographing, either with my cheap disposable cameras or whenever a school project involved us borrowing a digital one. It was always there in the background as a “could-be” interest but it wasn’t until my first trip to London and I got my Canon camera that it really became an important part of my life.

So, photography and I have a long connection, one that must have started around that time when I was old enough to notice my dad walking around using his camera. It was only fitting then that I asked my dad if he wanted to go see the “Salt and Silver: Early Photography 1840 – 1860” at Tate Britain with me a couple of weeks ago.

The exhibition is displaying a collection of original salt and silver prints, some of the earliest forms of photographs. In 1839 English William Henry Fox Talbot invented this method of catching exposures of light onto a paper that had been treated with a light sensitive salt solution that was able to capture detailed images onto paper; much more detailed than the drawings he had tried to draw on holidays. He realised the potential of the photographs and wrote one of the first photobooks in the world, The Pencil of Nature, where he explained the different techniques used in the photographic process and the technological and artistic potential that the photographs could have. It was a manifest that made it possible to consider it as a new art form to be taken seriously in the 19th Century. What it argued was that it had the potential to be an art form as important, if not more so than the traditional fine arts.

The original photographs displayed in the exhibition are very fragile, especially to the exposure of light, which means they are not often shown to the public. So I knew it was a very rare, maybe once in a life time opportunity for me to see them.

I recently got interested in the work of Talbot, when we had a lecture about his photobook and have also both seen some of his photographs and researched how he revolutionised photography for my tours at the V&A museum, so I was especially interested in seeing his photographs. It was a pretty special experience to see the originals, with their physical, material presence, the quality of the paper and delicate, brown-ish hued images. Their presence is so much stronger that way and I got completely lost in some of the photographs and had to go back to look at them a second time.

I thought the exhibition had been curated really well to explain how Talbot’s invention of salt prints have revolutionised the aesthetics of still lifes, landscapes, portraits and scenes of daily life. Something that has also had a  significant impact on the aesthetics of painting. But to me what was the most enlightening experinece of the exhibition was to realise that the materiality of photographs really matter on how we look at them. It just isn’t the same to look at a pixel image on a flat screen, as it is to see the actual print of a photograph. We need the presence of their materiality to really “see them”.

So, as much as I love my DSLR, I can’t wait to get back home, dig out my dad’s old analog SLR, get my hands on a few rolls of physical film and start shooting.

 

The exhibition is still open and runs until 4 June 2015, so if you get the chance you should really go see it! It is not free but personally I thought it was well worth the money for such a rare chance to see some of the most iconic early photographs. *

 

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10 Reasons Why I Love the V&A

9 Dec

From the moment I first stepped foot in London I began a long list of favourite places that I come back to again and again but for reasons unknown I never really took the time on my holidays here as a tourist to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum. Then last year my mum suggested that we went because both of us would be able to find something of interest there. For me the photography collection, for my mum the galleries of glass design and for both of us the amazing jewellery room. Later I came back for lectures with my History of Art class and so slowly, the museum grew on me.

I think it is like that for many of the people who love the V&A and come back again and again. Like the city itself, the museum has so many things to see and discover that you are never really finished with it. I think I might have seen about 10 % of the collections, if even that! My love for the museum has only grown since I recently got involved with CreateVoice! the museums Young People’s Collective, as I now also see it as a place to meet other like minded people and a place that belongs to me, in the same way I feel about St. Georges Garden or Gordon Square in Bloomsbury.

So when I was offered the opportunity to volunteer at the Making It Festival this Saturday, I dragged my parents down to South Kensington, told them to have fun (especially my dad, who had never seen the place before!) and went upstairs to the Learning Centre to do some volunteering. Spending a few hours working there, meeting other young people interested in art and design only made me love the museum even more.

 

So here are the 10 reasons why I love the Victoria and Albert Museum so much and why it’s worth a visit:

  1. It’s free! Being on a student budget it does matter for me whether or not it costs money to enter a museum  & luckily the V&A is free like most of the other big museums in London.
  2. The V&A is not limited to one type of art or design and it doesn’t separate the two in the same way that eg. the National Gallery and the Design Museum does. It’s this interdisciplinary approach which I think makes it a unique museum in both LDN and the rest of the world because it doesn’t distinguish between what has more value.
  3. The museum shop is one of the best in London due to the fact that it sells a lot of screen prints, postcards and jewellery by contemporary illustrators and jewellery designers, which have been inspired by the V&A collections or London.
  4. They have free festivals! Like the London Design Festival that took place in September, which celebrated the heritage of London as a place for contemporary design and established designers, and also the Making It: Careers in Art and Design Festival for young people, with workshops and talks to help the next generation of artists and designers find their way.
  5. The grand Rotunda Chandelier glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly that hangs from the ceiling above the main entrance that combines art & design. How amazing is that?!
  6. Open Fridays! Many London museums are open on Friday evenings but V&A is the only one I have been to so far. The museum feels a lot more quiet at night but at the same time it’s still vibrant with life from all the visitors. It’s a strange but wonderful combination.
  7. Each gallery is so different in style and decoration, so each room is a new world you can enter into. They will never be “just another room”.
  8. Most of us look at the art works but we sometimes forget to look up at the beautifully decorated ceilings or the amazing, different mosaic floors, which the V&A has a lot of!
  9. Discovering hidden gems you didn’t know was there, like when I stumbled upon original posters by Alphonse Mucha and Toulouse-Lautrec on a wall in a corner one day as I walked up to the learning centre for a CreateVoice! meeting. I had never seen an original Mucha before!
  10. The photography Collection – My absolute favourite place in the entire museum! They often change the photographs exhibited so I never get bored of watching the history of photography through the collection and discover new favourites like the photo of a reflection in a puddle of rain in a street. I always come back for Eugene Atget‘s documentary photographs of Paris streets and architecture before they disappeared in modernization.

 

So these are my reasons! Have you ever been to the V&A and what is your favourite collection there? *

 

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Summer reads

30 Jun

To me summer has always meant one thing: spending as many hours as possible reading, in a deck chair in the garden in the sun, in the cooling shade beneath a big tree or in the quietness of my room. The last two years at Uni have kept me busy even in my “summer holidays”, which meant I haven’t been able to pick and read all the books I wanted to. But this year I’m making up for that! I’m pretty sure my dad will frown at me when he sees the pile of books I insist on bringing with me to Sweden but how could I possibly choose between them?!

This is what I have picked out to read this summer:

The Blue Room – Hanne Ørstavik

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I chose this as my first holiday read after going to a Peirene Supper Club, where the meeting with the kind, inspiring author and the talk around the dinner table made me curious to read this novella about a haunting mother-daughter relationship. Although it isn’t your typical light, feel-good summer read, I really liked it, especially for the precise, “simplistic” prose and the (open?) ending that left me wondering about the fate of the daughter Johanne. Did she finally lose herself in the end?

Sanctuary – Brian Dillon

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In spring I went to the “Ruin Lust” exhibition that Dillon curated at Tate Britain, which not only got me into all the various works of art that deal with this subject but also Dillon’s own writing. I’m currently reading this book about a twenty-something woman’s search for her boyfriend at the last place he was seen at the ruin of a seminary and so far, I absolutely adore the eloquent prose and the images of the ruin that he conjures.

Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life – Marta McDowell

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Even though I’m from DK, I grew up with the stories of Peter Rabbit from watching the VHS tapes over and over, and I always loved the little movies at the beginning of each story, where you would see “Beatrix Potter” (or rather an actress who played her) painting watercolours in a meadow. I came across this book, when I went to Kew Gardens and later picked it up at my local bookshop. I plan to read this in Sweden, while sitting beneath the old apple tree in the garden, with the hope of feeling inspired to do a bit of gardening myself. Despite my lack of ability to keep plants alive for more than a month.

The People in the Photo – Hélène Gestern

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I picked this one up after one of my exams to treat myself and was caught by the interesting title. At the time I was in the middle of preparing for an exam about the relationship between photography, history and memory and I thought, what better way to understand this relationship than to read a novel about a woman, who tries to uncover the mystery behind a photo of her late mother, which she never got to know.

 

Kristin Marja Baldursdóttir – Karitas

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It was my mum who recommended and told me about this novel about an Icelandic artist at the beginning of the 20th Century. She was sure I would love it because she knows I like historical fiction and because it doesn’t only describe the life of a female artist but also the beautiful Icelandic landscape. She also claims that it’s beautifully written and being such a lover of language, I can’t wait to read it!

Kristín Marja Baldursdóttir – Fra hus til hus

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This book (which title can be translated as From house to house) is by the same author as ‘Karitas’ but takes place in the present day and is about the young women Kolfinna’s attempt to find herself again after she loses both her job and her boyfriend. I think this book will be my next pick, as it’s supposed to be very funny in places and I need a bit of fun after more heavy reads like ‘The Blue Room’ and ‘Sanctuary’. I sadly haven’t been able to find these two books in English translation but I know Karitas is available in French for those of you who can read it!

What do you plean to read this summer? *