It’s strange, but perfectly possible, to be overwhelmed in a good way. The Out of Focus photography exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery is an overwhelming one, but in a very vibrant and appealing way – like a marriage proposal or discovering a chocolate bar you forgot you had – and just as heart wrenching and delicious. Here, 38 artists from around our colourful globe have come together to create a body of work that illustrates the trends and challenges of photography today.
As you wander through the countless spaces within the Saatchi Gallery you will discover, to name a few, straightforward portraiture beautifully captured by LA-based Katy Grannan (whose images caused me to reanalyse my perception of beauty – a mix of smooth skin, eyelashes and a lickable jawline), to pieces in which the highly-focused so-called flaws depicted in each portrait are suddenly as fascinating and glorious as a well-toned back, the curve of a pert breast, or the complexity of the spiralling Andromeda.
Laurel Nakadate takes up a small part of a room with a series of postcard sized images depicting scantily-clad young women sitting astride vehicles and other objects. Nakadate then nearly defaces the images with greasy smeared fingerprints that leave unsavoury suggestions of having been handled. Nakadate tricks the viewer into allowing the snapshots to become as crude and unsightly as a Victorian lady might find them in the nineteenth century.
Twisting the human image in a more palpable way is John Strezaker’s series Marriage I, in which famous faces are cut unceremoniously down the middle and displayed as a collage of wit and intrigue. Similar wit translates in his Visitation series, which cleverly requires the brain to do that marvellous thing in which it tries to make sense of a mess of things. For example, instead of seeing a picture of Mary, Mother of Jesus, on top of a simple image of a gentleman taking his supper, you see Mary herself taking a look at the Daily news. This is a mind-trick that continues throughout his work, and made Strezaker's a highlight of the exhibition.
The human form and its depiction is challenged many times throughout the exhibition. Ryan McGinley takes us back to our pre-civilisation days, with ironically idyllic images of humans living a carefree life among trees, captured like deer in headlights by intrusive and voyeuristic photographers. Marlo Pascual destroys past images of beauty until they are almost grotesque: he displays feet that are otherwise normal, but blown up so large that they appear deformed. In another photograph, he recreates the typical graduation portrait into a mysterious image of insecurity and pointlessness – one that rang too true for myself and my fellow exhibition-goer.
Feminism, nudity, suffering, and sculpture glitter in the lengthy galleries as Sara VanDerBeek, Elina Brotherus and A. L. Steiner made their bohemian mark. Some of the more stunning images, however, are those of our natural world: of hills, caves, trees and rock. David Bejamin Sherry takes a breathtaking image and plays with colour filters in such ways that almost seem natural. Matthew Day Jackson is teasing with camera angles and surprising focuses that reveal faces in mountains, fields and leaves.
Surrealism creeps in time and again – which I adore – through Yumiko Utsu’s startling Octopus Portrait, which brought Dali, among other surrealists, to mind. Similarly, in Nicole Wermer’s photographs of ancient sculpture, early Renaissance decoration and reflection brought to my mind Doctor Who villains and inanimate objects with minds of their own –which is this reviewer's own unexplainable fear, along with Furbies.
This exhibition is free for its whole run, which just goes to show that there is some good in this world, and that these artists are not merely entrepreneurs: a thought as grotesque as some of the photographs. Enjoy a wander and a ponder, and you may find those spare hours easily spent here.