Eyewitness at Daniel Blau

Daniel Blau GalleryWords by Billie Jenkins

Eyewitness:  Pulitzer Prize Winning Photography, at The Daniel Blau Gallery until 29h March 2014

This exhibition is full of images you’ve seen before, or probably should have seen before because they are ‘classics’ of modern photography history but you were too busy looking at serious art like a man dressed as a bear in an empty room or a large crack in a foyer. The collection is comprised of Pulitzer Prize winning documentary photography that, according to the website ‘shaped our history’. The selling point making this better than every other archive image collection ever is that they are all the original negatives from the artists. An exciting insight into the selective process of the greatest snappers you might think. You would think wrong. The historical significance of the physical prints themselves are absent from the exhibition. There is very restricted demonstrations of tampering, highlighting or comparison. You’d be much better trawling the archive of the Time’s Saturday supplement for much less lacklustre stories about famous photographs. In fact I would save the bus fare and spend the quid on a days subscription to their website, spending a day on the sofa indulging if historic photography is you cup of tea. It’s also a little bit to American centric, exactly how many of the images affected British hearts and minds is unclear? But hey, so is the world.

What I have taken from this exhibition however is further suspicion that too many galleries are presenting us with underwhelming, poorly curated collections of photography which belong together only under the heading ‘pretty good pictures’ or ‘nearly finished project’. I guess partly the problem is the sheer volume of pretty good photography we have amassed at this point in history. In the world of literature Harold Bloom asks the question if we cannot hope to read all the greatest works how shall we begin to decide what works we do consume. Photography offers more instant gratification than a novel or a play, yet it doesn’t mean we should be any less scrutinising in the face of the history of the practice. The solution to this is challenging lazy curation. ‘Good photography’, more often than not, is insufficient reason to bring together a collection of works. Don’ get me wrong, ”A history of the Pulitzer Prize’ would make an interesting premise for a show, however an unrelated cross-section of these, brought together only on the premise they are the first prints is a wishy washy compromise on the original strength of the images included. Go bold or go home.


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