Dean O'Brien's Blog

Photography Exhibitions: Aspects of Edgerton and Steve McCurry’s Retrospective in Birmingham

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Earlier today I managed to visit two photography exhibitions. in Birmingham.  Lecturers at Coventry University told me that if I was interested in a photographers work then its worth going to see the real thing to fully appreciate it as it was meant to be seen.  The true feeling of an image cannot be appreciated by looking at a scaled down version in a book.  This convinced me to start going to see more ‘real’ images and stop settling for images viewed in a book or via a website.

I have been a keen follower of the work of Steve McCurry for quite a while now. His portraits have always inspired me and left me feeling true passion for his image making.  When I heard that Steve was having an exhibition at Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery I knew that I had to attend. The image which I most wanted to see was ‘Afghan Girl’. Its probably the image for which Steve is most known. I had to see the eyes for myself…..Only then could I fully appreciate the power of the image.  Also on display were some fantastic images many of which can be seen in his book ‘In the Shadow of Mountains’.  Breathtaking portraits of normal every day people in war zones.

After visiting Steve McCurrys exhibition it was on to the Ikon Gallery for the ‘Aspects of Edgerton’ event.  Here, Jonathan Shaw and Trevor Appleson discussed the influence of Eadward Muybridge and Harold Edgerton’s photography on their recent work.  I am already familiar with the work of Jonathan Shaw as he is one of my lecturers at Coventry University.  His exhibition ‘Crash’ was a huge installation and was something that made me look at the presentation of my own work.  It made me realise that when I create an image I should not be tied to having it printed in A3 and then mounting it on board.  I need to consider other forms of media.  Crash was produced on a massive scale measuring three metres in height. Throughout his talk Jonathan also managed to get hold of some rare footage showing Dr.Harold Edgerton making some of his images.  This included showing how a bullet was shot through a playing card.  Edgerton explained how the sound of the bullet firing triggered the flash.  Yes indeed, it was like photography was being met with science.

Trevor Appleson showed us a slideshow of some of his recent projects.  These included the portrait projects ‘Beaches’ and ‘Uniforms’ completed in South Africa.  Trevor explained that whilst creating these images he told the subject not to smile and just try to be themselves.  This way he felt that the image would be a true representation of the person.  Trevor also showed us a ten minute clip from his forthcoming moving image work ‘A Dance of Ordinariness’.  This was inspired by Eadward Muybridge’s collotype sequences of human figures. Very original and thought provoking stuff. Moving images within the field of photography seem to be emerging more and more.

Next time you are in Birmingham visit the Ikon Gallery inside The Pallasades Shopping Centre.  They currently have on display an exhibition devoted entirely to the work of Dr.Harold Edgerton.

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2 Responses

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  1. Hello, I went to the Steve McCurry exhibition on the 4th of september. There are differences between prints at the exhibition and in a book such as color but also detail in texture such as seeing dirt on a bag. My favourite photos was the fishermen on the sticks, but also the one of native afghan who was a photographer. I wonder if he felt a bond one photographer to another past any language or cultural barrier.

    Have you heard of a photographer called Saul Leiter. He was a pioneer in early color photography. Worth checking his work out on the internet . I actually think he is a better photographer than Henri Cartier Bresson. I know many photographers would disagree with me saying this, but the differences and heated disagrements between photographers, student, amatuer or proffesional is what makes photography a passion of mine.

    Chris Alford

    September 5, 2010 at 3:07 pm

  2. Hi Chris,

    Thanks for reading my blog and taking the time to post.

    The fishermen on sticks is an excellent piece by Steve McCurry and one of my favourites also. I’m sure Steve would have felt a bond with the Afghan photographer.

    Whilst in Estonia two years ago I met an old Russian guy in a bar. He was sketching people but managed to explain to me that also a keen photographer. It was hard trying to understand what he was saying and he asked to see some images on my camera. Although the language barrier got in the way, a ‘thumbs up’ to some images on my screen helped us to communicate.

    Saul Leiter ‘s work is good but I have to say that I prefer Bresson. I agree that heated disagreements are a great part of photography and it does open your mind to other things.

    Dean O'Brien

    September 5, 2010 at 10:49 pm


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