Shape of Light

From the 2nd May to the 14th October 2018 at the Tate Modern.

Tickets £18 at time of visit.

Introduction

“The world we see is made of light reflected by the things we look at: Photography records this light, holding and shaping these fleeting images. Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art explores the history of artists who have worked with light to create abstract work. These photographers prioritise shape, form and expression over recognisable subject matter. Some use the camera lens to transform reality. Others work with photographic materials to create images with little obvious reference to the real world.

Shape of Light reveals photography’s role in a wider history of abstraction. The photographic artists in the exhibition have engaged with advances in abstract art across a range of art forms; from painting and sculpture, to film and installations. At times these photographers have responded to new discoveries by their peers working in different media. Occasionally they have pre-empted them.”

The above description is from the leaflet that you receive on entry to the exhibition.

Every trip I’ve had to London recently I’ve told myself that I’d visit the Tate Modern to have a look around. At the end of July, I managed to do that, but only for an hour in between other activity.

Tate Modern is an impressive building, huge and spacious, it would be easy to spend a day wandering around.

While a lot of exhibits are free some exhibitions incur a cost, this is the case with the Shape of Light.

At the time of visiting there were several exhibitions, including one about Picasso and another by Joan Jonas. It was the Shape of Light, however, that I wanted to see.

The exhibition space consists of 12 rooms, each with a different theme.

This review will not be comprehensive but will focus on some of the artwork that drew my attention.

But first, I want to share something from the day.

I wasn’t visiting the exhibition on my own, my partner was with me as we were away for her birthday. I was expecting her to get bored quickly, but I was surprised when she started looking at various artworks and commenting on them.

Martha Hoepffner’s Homage to Kandinsky she described as looking like a boat, while the piece alongside it looked like a guitar.

The piece below, looked like SpongeBob SquarePants and a tree.

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Another photo alongside Constantin Brancusi’s Maiastra looked like it included penguins.

With this terrible influence on me I found myself seeing different things in photographs, something that team behind the exhibition were encouraging in the Activity section of the leaflet when they stated “Photography is all about finding new ways of looking… Does looking differently change how you think about the artwork?” In this case it certainly inspired a new way of looking.

Throughout the exhibition there were works by artists whose names I recognised.

Alfred Stieglitz’s Equivalents provided four images, of which three are shown below. This project was one that took 8 years and resulted in over 300 photos of clouds.

These particular images struck a chord with me because I’d recently come across an article about cloud formations, and had read something about Stieglitz’s cloud images. Having taken a cloud photograph a few years ago that I was particularly proud of it was nice to know that even great photographers do similar work at times and is something I might do for the Emulation exercise later in part 4 of the course.

The series of images above was also interesting and shows how capturing something in an abstract way changes how it’s seen. The images are part of a series called Bodies and are by Bill Brandt. They were taken on beaches and appear to be rocks and large pebbles. In fact, on closer inspection it is possible to see that they are parts of peoples bodies. The top left is someone’s bent legs, the top right is a close up of a mouth and nose.

The above photograph was where my mind started to go into overtime. At first the two blobs in this chemigram by Pierre Cordier looked like pandas to me. After seeing it a few times they now look like Teddy Bears, one which is wearing a bowler hat. Facing them are either rats, dogs lying down or Falkor, the luckdragon, from The NeverEnding Story.

The exhibition comes with a catalog. Published by Tate Publishing in 2018 and entitled Shape of Light – 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art ISBN 978 1 84976 369 1.

The exhibition is well worth a visit if you are interested in photography and especially how it can be used for abstract art. I found it very inspirational, especially seeing  work that some photographers and artists have done, which I could use as part of developing my own photography and finding my own personal photographic voice. I also wish I’d had more time to wander around the exhibition as I don’t feel that I got everything I could have from it. At some point I have to arrange a trip to London with the express purpose of visiting the Tate Modern and spending the day wandering around.