America And Victorian London: A Photography Double Header At Science Museum Reviewed
The Science Museum Media Space has in a very short time become one of London's premier photography galleries. It's currently showing two exhibitions, one of contemporary photographer Alec Soth and his shots of America; the other of early pioneer Julia Margaret Cameron.
Gathered Leaves: Photographs by Alec Soth
Alec Soth has travelled around the United States documenting his road trip as he goes, and this exhibition covers everything from the majestic to the surreal. Soth's photography can change from sweeping shots of Niagara Falls to a mattress abandoned in a marsh (how it got there is anybody's guess).
Whether it be a foam party in New York or a disco ball hanging in the middle of a forest, the documentary style of Soth's photography feels somehow both staged and natural. Did he stumble across a naked man wading through a river with a swastika on his arm, and is that old man dancing with an invisible partner because he knows the camera is on him?
Fans of the surreal will find lots to enjoy in this truly bizarre snapshot of the US, and while not all of the photos grabbed us there's enough to make us look forward to seeing more work by this photographer.
Julia Margaret Cameron was an early British photographer and now — on the 200th anniversary of her birth — she gets her own exhibition. Cameron was a trailblazer in the field of celebrity photography, pioneering techniques such as close cropping and soft focus, still used by photographers today.
Cameron kept good company and this exhibition features famous faces from the arts with painters George Frederic Watts and William Holman Hunt, and poet Alfred Tennyson all featuring here. It feels like a photographic equivalent to the recent Sargent exhibition at National Portrait Gallery.
The trouble is these photographs all feel very formal and are more notable for who is in them than for their technique. The same can be said for Cameron's pictures influenced by Renaissance paintings in which the poses of the subjects make them feel distant. Still, on occasion they are powerful, such as the striking far away gaze of an Italian model.
The strongest works on display are the intimate ones of Cameron's family members, which contain the warmth the other photographs lack. Fans of 19th century photography have been spoiled recently with Salt and Silver, Cairo to Constantinople and Drawn By Light. This may not be the pick of the bunch, but it's important to recognise Cameron's legacy and her influence on modern photography.
Last Updated 22 October 2015