Riding a miniature locomotive train through an exhibition is an unlikely way to experience a series of photographs. The train provides a view of the photographs from a low angle, making them seem to rush past the viewer. It is such mediations of photographic experiences that Josephine Pryde’s exhibition at Arnolfini grapples with, asking questions about how one sees as much as what.
Two sets of photographs taken with a macro lens are presented. The first depict the amorphous viscosity of bubbling liquid captured in detail that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Taken at intervals of a tenth of a second, these liquids become landscapes to be delved into. Within the photographs Inspiration Emerges and Inspiration Being Itself scale is deftly converted from the miniature into the endless, the epic. It is the opposite of the train’s transformation of scale that makes giants of the exhibition visitor.
Other of Pryde’s photographs, shown in the second and third galleries, primarily feature female hands. All have perfectly painted nails and are arranged in a series of self-identifying gestures. A hand pressed to a woman’s own chest signals this is me. Yet the identity of this ‘me’ is withheld. Are these self-portraits? Do these hands belong to the same woman? The openness of the exhibition’s title These Are Just Things I Say, They Are Not My Opinions does little to illuminate these questions, instead opening up ideas of identity as relational, subjective and shifting.
Some of Pryde’s photographs show hands engaged with iPads and iPhones, close-ups that reveal the intimate relationship one’s fingertips hold with technology. Identity is at play here too. Many of the gadgets are personalised with decorative cases of sorts (one shows a Rottweiler), revealing how the ownership of objects is crucial to the presentation of the self. A cold view of the mediating capacities of technology, though, this is not. Pryde’s photographs are a more sensual exploration of the ways that technology, photographic technology particularly, mediates and determines experience, and how there is a pleasure to be taken in such encounters between body and machine. This is emphasised by textural contrasts of skin, soft grey wool and glossy bright nail varnish set against hard black plastic and shiny glass screens.
Pryde’s photographs have a distinct aesthetic. They are slick and tightly composed, with a suggestion of narrative that enables further exploration of the image. In many ways they are reminiscent of the vocabulary of advertising and commercial image-making. They could almost be posters for mobile phones or cosmetics, but in this grouping and in this environment, however, the photographs are much more subtle, strange and compelling.
Returning to the train, this is itself a piece of work titled The New Media Express. It is difficult to precisely define its relationship to Pryde’s photographs. The way in which it slices through the gallery is almost aggressive, but it is playful too. The re-contextualisation of this novelty-turned sculpture destabilises the photographic works, making new connections between objects and images, and interrogating the ways in which one describes and views them.
Josephine Pryde: These are just things I say, they are not my opinions
21 November 2014 – 22 February 2015
Commissioned and published by Photomonitor, 27 January 2015