Making It Up: Photographic Fictions
Untitled – May 1997, Hannah Starkey, 1997, Museum no. E.491-1998. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London / Hannah Starkey
3 May 2013 – 12 January 2014
Photography is widely associated with truthfulness yet it has also been employed throughout its history as a means of telling stories and evoking the imaginary. This display includes photographs by some of the most influential contemporary artists working in this vein, such as Gregory Crewdson, Duane Michals and Cindy Sherman, alongside examples by 19th-century practitioners including Julia Margaret Cameron, Clementina Lady Hawarden and Oscar Gustav Rejlander.
Complementing our permanent collections, there are many free temporary displays around the V&A. They range in size from a single case to a room.
Review by Susan Steward in the Evening Standard:
The photographs selected for this exhibition are drawn from the vast V&A archives, images from the 1850s to 1870s to today’s contemporaries. Some are paired across time, others stand alone, but all are engaged in detailed conversations and stories plotted for costumed actors by the photographers. Cindy Sherman greets the exhibition, an appropriate exemplar of many alter egos and photographic fictions, here presented as a Fifties or Sixties Hollywood actress.
The earliest works inevitably include the young 19th-century daughters of Julia Margaret Cameron and children of friends of Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), all carefully choreographed into familiar poses, but the lesser-known Clementina Hawarden’s girls pose like young lovers, one cross-dressed and with more edge. They complement Hannah Starkey’s colourful cinematic scene of two 21st-century students sprawled on a party sofa. A lone, anonymous and calmly poignant 1850s scene is set outside a chapel where a mournful Bride of Christ in her wedding dress is seated alongside a young nun, a story loaded with emotion but with its religious detail unexplained.
As we see, theatrical narrative serves different purposes beyond pleasure. Many 19th-century painters used it as models for their work, as with SR Percy’s staged gypsy girls in a country scene. For the Chinese photographer Wang Quigsong, Night Revels of Lao Li imitates traditional scroll paintings working the vignette sequences like a story-board.
The museum’s two recent acquisitions fit into these fictions, with William Henry Price’s portrait of Don Quixote and the contemporary German, Jan Wenzel building complex stories through photo-booth snaps.
The silent dialogues behind the frames are an irresistible lure to viewers following the made-up tales.
Until Jan 12 (020 7907 7073, vam.ac.uk)