29th June 2007 — 2nd September 2007
am a Real Photographer' plays on the title one of Keith Arnatt's best
known pieces and refers to a predicament he found himself in after he
had claimed to have left behind Conceptual Art and fully embraced
photography. Alan Bowness, the Tate Gallery's Director at the time,
decided to draw a line between 'photography made by photographers' and
'photography made by artists' and to only collect the latter. So the
wry artist woke up one morning to find himself metamorphosed into wry
photographer, with his work summarily crossed off the Gallery's
shopping list. Arnatt's essay, 'Sausages and Food', which gently
trashes the Director's warped logic, is included in the exhibition.
Having been consigned to the artistic wilderness, Arnatt made his living from teaching, not exhibiting much, not selling much, creating photos mostly for his own satisfaction. This is one of the strengths of the work, which has the leisurely quality of someone who has nothing to prove, but plenty to express.
The projects were undertaken within a radius of his home in Tintern, Wales, and his very singular, dispassionate way of observing things, particularly concerning the countryside, what society makes of it, and does to it, and what it leaves in it, are just some of the themes that permeate these photos. For many of the colour images Arnatt has taken advantage of the golden light of the late afternoon. Some of the more unlikely subjects are the most beautiful, such as the painterly study of discarded eggshells on a rubbish dump, with a diaphanous polythene background that just hints at what lies behind. Perhaps my favourites, though, are the tin can sunsets, a colourist's dream, which really show what celluloid can do in the right hands. Another unusual feature of the exhibition is an eclectic archive of images Arnatt used in his teaching. Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of classical still life paintings amongst them.
If you hear titters in the gallery it probably means someone has just spotted the carefully composed close-ups of dog turds he shot in a garden somewhere.
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