There is a long-standing relationship between photography and anxiety. As photos become more easily snapped, widely spread and immediately accessible, they also become less attached to reality. You don't need to be an expert to warp a photograph and mass-distribute it, let alone take it. What photography is and what is stands for is really up for grabs.
In a new exhibition at Saatchi Gallery, titled, "Out of Focus," we are allowed to see many of the ways photography can go. It can enhance images, obscure them, chop them up, weave them together. There is no focus, aside from photography, which won't really make you feel better. Yet even with its variety Charles Saatchi's aesthetic sensibility remains prominent; the exhibition is not an appetizer sampling but a prix fixe meal. Most of the works explore the possibilities and limits of photography, enacting photography's trends with a heavy dose of self-awareness.
Photography has broken with capturing real life. And yet the medium has managed to fabricate images to concepts and feelings, that, although invisible are very real. For instance, Katie Grannan's portrait of an anonymous woman on a San Francisco Boulevard is far more arresting than many of the other highly mediated works. In the photo you can see the complex and strange moment of a stranger taking another stranger's picture. You can see the tension of posing and finding a flattering angle, and you can see where tension gives way to trust in her smile.
While Grannan reveals through crisp wrinkles and bright colors, JH Engstrom uses faded black and white to convey a more truthful image than reality can create. His "Nude 3" captures a naked woman illuminated against darkness. The photo looks like an impossible relic of a memory. Arbitrary parts, like an elbow, are perfectly clear, while her face fades into itself. The image captures the lawless logic of memory and desire. Many of the most compelling photographs do not break with reality, they reveal it.
The exhibition contains landscapes, portraits, fashion shots, and none of the above. "Out of Focus" depicts photography's endless freedom, freedom which in turn created its own kind of claustrophobia. Enjoy the beauty of the photographs because over-thinking them will give you vertigo.
"Out of Focus" will show at Saatchi Gallery in London until July 22.
Yumiko Utsu Octopus Portrait 2009 C-type print 55 x 44.5 cm (c) Yumiko Utsu, 2009 Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London
Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin Culture 3 Sheet 72 2010 C-type print 150 x 190 cm ©Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, 2010 Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London
Chris Levine Lightness of Being 2004 Pigment print 76.2 x 61 cm © Chris Levine, 2004 Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London
JH Engström Nude 3 2005 C-print 125 x 90 cm © JH Engström, 2005 Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London
Elina Brotherus Femme à sa toilette 2001 Chromogenic colour print mounted on aluminium 80 x 66 cm © Elina Brotherus, 2001 Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London
Marlo Pascual Untitled 2010 Two digital C-prints, Mount: Plexiglas, sintra 78.1 x 182.4 x 12.7 cm © Marlo Pascual, 2010 Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London
Katy Grannan Anonymous, San Francisco, Boulevard 15 2010 / printed 2010 Archival pigment print on cotton rag paper, mounted to Plexiglas 139.7 x 104.1 cm © Katy Grannan, 2010 Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London
John Stezaker Marriage I 2006 Collage 23.5 x 28.5 cm © John Stezaker, 2006 Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London
Noémie Goudal Les Amants (Cascade) 2009 C-type, lightjet print 168 x 210 cm © Noémie Goudal, 2009 Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London
David Benjamin Sherry Hyperborealis 2011 C-print 182.9 x 232.4 cm © David Benjamin Sherry, 2011 Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London
Pinar Yolaçan Untitled 2001 C-print 106.7 x 82 cm © Pinar Yolaçan, 2001 Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London
Mitch Epstein BP Carson Refinery, California 2007 C-print 178 x 234 cm © Mitch Epstein, 2007 Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London
Sohei Nishino Diorama Of Paris 2009 Light jet print 135 x 156 cm © Sohei Nishino, 2009 Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London