Picked from over one thousand entrants, The Photographers’ Gallery’s New Talent 19 exhibition showcases the work of eight UK-based photographers, selected for the inaugural edition of the gallery’s exhibition and mentoring program. Set up to seek out and support artists in the early stage of their career, recipients were selected by Jim Goldberg—the pioneering photographic veteran known for his idiosyncratic combination of image and text. In his reflection on the applicants, the artist touches on the energy and variety of the artists on view, stating that they give him “hope that artists are certainly not running out of ideas on how to represent the world—and their place in it—any time soon.”
It is upon entering the space of the exhibition room that this statement really takes shape. A neat use of the physical presence of the viewer, the combination of different approaches play with and against each other, appealing to our senses and invigorating the room with a feeling of possibility. Of course, it’s no news that photography is an elastic and somewhat slippery medium, but to experience it with more than just our eyes—to be challenged to read, listen, watch as well as look—is a treat. From found imagery to objects via hanging fabric, right across to moving image and audio, the space is refreshingly animated with sound, text, objects, material and images.
A layered, tangled approach to storytelling is present in the work of Rhiannon Adam, whose smattering of images and notes, accompanied by audio, unfolds an unsettling story across one wall of the space. Focusing on the far-reaches of the South Pacific, the project uncovers a nasty reality lying below the utopian myths of the Pitcairn Island, the last British Overseas Territory. Since 2004, the island has been gripped by the revelation of a series of child sexual abuse allegations where eight men were convicted. Isolating herself there for a period of 3-months, Adam weaves her own experience as an outsider on the remote island into a knotty exploration of the troubled society.
Nothing is Impossible Under the Sun, a project by Alice Myers, also refuses simple narratives. Interested in “complicating” the rigid representations that become attached to certain groups, the project was made with refugees and migrants over a two-year stint in Calais. Conscious of photography’s dual position as a tool to oppress and misrepresent as well as a crucial link for people to communicate with and remember their home countries, Myers patches different recordings, such as moving image and sound, into a reflection on different experiences of the everyday.
Audio creates an intimacy in the work of Adama Jalloh, a Londoner exploring London. Working closely with her own Sierra Leonean community, her project SARA broaches the Islamic custom of Imams praying for a deceased friend or family member. Growing up in a household of mixed religion, Adam was interested by the fact that the ritual was still practiced by many Christian converts. Conversations between family members, flitting between Krio and English languages, add another layer to her evocative black and white prints.
Family memories are explored through a fictional lens in Chiara Avagliano’s Val Paradiso; an imaginary valley made up of fragments of reality from her childhood in Northern Italy. Toying between science and magic, Avagliano plays a kind of grown-up make believe, re-enacting scenes from her memory with her younger sister. A similar haziness can be felt in the hanging drapes of Seungwon Jung’s Memories Full of Forgetting. Physically manipulating the photographic surface of these printed fabrics, she picks apart the information and meaning of the original image, until something vague and undefined is left behind.
While at first the structure of Giovanna Petrocchi’s pseudo-museum display Modular Artefacts, Mammoth Remains and other works may seem at odds with the ambiguous images that melt through Jung’s drapes, its claims to authority are deceptive. Working with a collision of different techniques, from collage to 3D printing, Petrocchi’s ‘museum’ delivers no clear meaning, instead dislocating ancient objects and artefacts from their origins and planting them into an imagined (dis)order. Alberto Feijoo also shares the collector gene. Using the tools of architects and engineers, his diorama of weird objects and images invite the viewer into a personal universe where different kinds of images assemble. Deciphering these odd groupings of images and objects requires an unusual kind of logic, where imagination and rationale must mingle in order to create associations.
In Behind the Hill, Miguel Proença’s exploration of people that interact with the world through nature, superstition and belief rather than through a more empirical framework. Here, overlooked systems of understanding are spotlighted. Moving away from science and technology, his images trace ancient practices in the contemporary landscape. In some way, his eccentric protagonists share something in common with the group of artists on view at the exhibition: using their own languages and methods, they reach for different ways of relating to the world.