Saturday, 22 August 2009

The Big Show

Long-standing readers of this blog may recall that back in November I was approached, completely out of the blue and much to my surprise (and, I admit, not a little suspicion), by a publicly-funded photographic gallery in Innsbruck, Austria about a possible exhibition of my work. Things went quiet shortly thereafter, and I began to speculate whether this might be some elaborate but oddly ineffective scam.

Well, it has come to pass. If all goes to plan, there will be a show of 80 or so of my photographs (selected from the sequences Pentagonal Pool, The Revenants, Brilliant Corners, and The Mysterious Barricades) at the Galerie Fotoforum West in Innsbruck, from 11th September to 10th October, provisionally called "Der Widergänger" (The Revenant). Eighty images is a big show, and it's all a little bewildering.

There is, of course, the ongoing feeling that they must have got me mixed up with someone else. I am no stranger to "self esteem issues," it's true, but I am also not deluded and although I do not suffer unduly from false modesty I do know the contemporary art photography scene very well, and I thought I knew my place in it. I even took a certain pride in being an "outsider". It's all a little confusing. But my German is reasonably good and the gallery director, Rupert Larl, has unambiguously identified me as that English guy who spends his lunch hours endlessly photographing the same puddles of water. The Revenant, c'est moi.

If anything, this is an illustration of the power of the internet, and the new paradigms it has brought in. By putting it "out there" the work of a completely unknown artist will be seen by considerably more people than ever wander into most art galleries. Like many unknowns, in the past I have spent hundreds of pounds printing, framing, and putting up modest exhibitions in modest public spaces, and been glad of the opportunity. Sometimes I recovered my costs in sales, usually not. In the end, as I mentioned back in November, I had decided that hanging my work onto a wall was an outmoded rite of passage which I could easily do without. Ironically, the Web then brought me this extraordinary opportunity to do precisely that, on a scale and in a manner and in a place I would never have dreamed of. It's hard to take seriously.

Unfortunately, I will almost certainly not see the show myself. It would be difficult to pick a worse time for me to travel abroad than September shading into October. I have a responsible job in a university library which pays the bills, and my busiest time is looming -- a computer system upgrade, the usual preparations for the start of a new academic session, with the added complication of planning for a possible Swine Flu outbreak when the students return and start breathing all over each other and our staff. Too bad. But, should you happen to be passing through Innsbruck in September, why not drop by, and let me know how it looks?

But Rupert, who is self-evidently a very cool guy, has a plan. In my absence, he has arranged for a Canadian opera singer, Jennifer Chamandy of the Tiroler Landestheater, to read extracts from this very blog. No, really. It's going to be just like the Oscars: "Mike can't be with us this evening, so Jennifer will read out some thoughts on swearing and umbrellas..." I have suggested that, in the interests of verisimilitude, she probably ought to be made to wear a false red beard.

The gratifying thing is to look back on this "old" work with new eyes (in this case, Pentagonal Pool) and think: "Yes, that's not bad: I can see why someone would want to look at it."


Jack Nelson said...

Well congratulations. I too can see why someone would want to look at it. Nice work; good luck

Mauro Thon Giudici said...

Nice, Mike. I confess that the idea of a singer yodeling your blog is quite tempting (i know I know its a Canadian Singer but who knows). Anyway if you decide to get there at the last minute let me know, in such a case four hours of car could be passable even if there is no doubt that the singer may have it's own.

Bronislaus Janulis said...


The opera singer, singing the blog; the mind reels.


Struan said...

They say you can fit any text to the Anglican psalm-singing style, especially as mumbled and droned by he average congregation. Can't see it boosting sales though.

Plainchant might work though.....

Congrats on the show: a well-deserved airing.

Gavin McL said...


Well I would love to visit the show but Austria is a little too far.

How big are the prints going to be?

How are you choosing the photographs to hang?


Mike C. said...

Gavin asked: "How big are the prints going to be?" and "How are you choosing the photographs to hang?"

My initial idea was to take a recent, digitally-originated series (e.g. the "campus windows") and build something substantial and coherent around that -- say, 40-50 images, all similarly sized (say, 28 cm wide). However, Rupert Larl (gallery director) wanted around 80 images -- that's two rooms full -- selected from four earlier sequences. These sequences were originated quite differently -- either on a 5 Mpixel digital Olympus, only capable of quite small but high-quality prints, or from 120 colour negatives scanned on an Epson flatbed, quite large but of poor quality when printed large.

Given the very short timescale, I was quite happy to send Rupert my files for printing at the gallery, at specified sizes (e.g. 20 cm x 20 cm for the scanned 120, and 17.5cm x 13cm for the 5 Mp images). This is small, but I like small, and I know there won't be quality issues at those sizes. The gallery uses 40x50 frames as standard, so I'm confident they won't look "lost".

As to the selection, I made a personal choice of images that I thought would work together and represent the overall feel and intentions of each sequence, but I have sent Rupert all the files for each sequence so that he can add his judgement to what will work in his space. I'm not a control freak, and I get the feeling I can trust his judgement: he likes my work, after all, and is therefore clearly a man of taste!