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Another way of telling

王烨昇Johnny Wang 2019-02-18 17:03

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Speaking of documentary photography, a few names come to our mind: Marc Riboud (1923—2016) and Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908—2004) from France, Hou Dengke (1950—2003) and Xiao Quan from China. Like almost all forms of art, documentary photography unavoidably evolves with time. As traditional art labels itself with conservatism, while contemporary art poses freedom and inclusiveness, the New Documentary photography also indicates features of contemporary art. 


There has been a volume of activity in the field of documentary photography in Britain since the late 1970s, which builds upon and stands as a reaction to traditional documentary styles. Photography played an incisive part in constructing a British documentary movement from the mid twentieth-century, beginning with 19th century realist literature (Charles Dickens, George Eliot) and later extending to film (ie: John Grierson), and in time to television. 

The spirit of questioning and re-invention that characterised the period of New Documentary that emerged from the 1980s, was new in that it began to draw on strategies from contemporary art, primarily in its questioning and play with notions of authenticity and truth. That play, in terms of the mix of carefully observed reality and consciously constructed illusions, is embodied in the work of Anna Fox and Karen Knorr. 

Recently, Another Way of Telling showcases representative works from Anna Fox and Karen Knorr. Karen Knorr was born in Germany, raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico in the 1960s, and settled in Britain in the 1970s. Since 2010 she has been teaching photography at the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham, Surrey. 


Knorr’s focus often sets upon cultural inheritance and ideological foundations. Since the 1980s, her photography directs to the relationship between post-colonialism and aesthetics. From the perspective of techniques, Knorr favours visual and textual approaches to process her objects of caption – whether they are families, lifestyles, or museum exhibits, Knorr gives a satiric and critical interpretation with these approaches guided by the New Documentary. 

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The exhibition features works from Knorr’s Metamorphoses. With a background in Italy, including Palagonia in the north, Caprarola in the central and Palermo in the south, the series explores Italian cultural heritage, for example Villa Farnese in Caprarola is one of the three famous villas in Rome and a classic masterpiece among Italian traditional gardens. Palazzina Cinese in Palermo and Villa Farnese are expressed with animal elements to formulate a vivid contrast to the solemn architecture. From another perspective, as Italy was one of the major parts of Roman Empire, as well as the cradle of Roman Polytheism, the historical fact indicates a curious lead to the central status of Rome in the Christianity world, through which the collection discusses the impact of global immigration on European traditions. To make this happen, Knorr synthetises animals with backgrounds with computer technologies, which is impossible in traditional documentary photography, and this also presents the contemporariness of Knorr’s photography art. 


Besides, the exhibition also features Knorr’s Belgravia, all of which highlight the gulf in class attitudes. Karen Knorr’s Punks, produced together with Swiss photographer Olivier Richon, documented the first generation of the punk music movement in the UK in the mid-1970s. 

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Anna Fox explores stereotypes that have become entrenched in lifestyle magazines, beginning and ending with contemporary aspirations. As described by British photo critic Sean O’Hagan, her “subject matter is the ordinary and the everyday,” but what makes the resulting images striking is how she “approaches it with an artist’s eye for the absurd and the revealing.” 

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The exhibition features Work Stations, a study of London office life in the late 80’s and a critical observation of the highly competitive character of working life in Thatcher’s Britain. Interestingly, Business added text captions to these pictures in 1987, including phrases like “fortunes are being made that are in line with the dreams of avarice” and “strength, stamina and precision had kept him on top”. In this collection, Fox captured the less observed moments, recorded them and magnified them, resulting in an outrageously dramatic effect. In another documentary, Basingstoke, Fox cast her eyes on the newly established town, along with it the issues of urbanisation, representing the lack of vitality and ignorance toward these issues at that period. 

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Unquestionably, these photographs exhibit a distinctively different outlook compared with traditional documentary photography. The New Documentary narrates in a way of “picture drama”, evolving into a unique discipline within contemporary art. 

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