Reviews: Exhibitions

Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2018 Review by Martin Sharpe

autoportrait

Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2018

"autoportrait" by Luke Willis Thompson

Courage, Dignity and Grief

When I viewed "autoportrait" at The Photographer's Gallery I approached the work with my own set of "photography" criteria which "autoportrait" did not strongly fulfill. This mindset led me to make an initial negative judgment about the worth of the piece.

The predominantly static projected image, low in contrast (much lower than in it appears in the publicity photo for the work) did not hold my attention for the length of time the film ran for. As a result I did not sufficiently reflect upon the dignity and grief of Diamond Reynolds, the subject of "autoportrait", and the appalling event in her life that Luke Willis Thompson's work is responding to. Not to reflect is of course to completely miss the point of the film. The more one reflects on "the event", described below, the more powerful and affecting "autoportrait" becomes.

I believe the reason for the relative weakness of the film image is due to light bleeding from the projector beam which is illuminating the surroundings. I was also distracted from engaging with the image by the noise and the considerable visual interest of the unusual film loop projector, which is clearly intended to be viewed as part of the work. In the press photograph taken by Andy Keate accompanying this review, the light bleed appears to have been treated with darkening filters. This greatly helps give the image impact and of course there is no distracting projector. This forces me to ask the question; does a strong photograph actually convey the great dignity, courage and grief of Diamond Reynolds more effectively than the film? One might argue that using "film" does reference Diamond Reynolds' filming of the horrendous incident in America where police shot her husband and the projector "chatter" mimics the gunfire. There is also the obvious aspect of capturing the subject movement all though there is very little of this. On balance I am more drawn to and affected by the press photograph. For me this is the final satisfying step in the creation of the work.

Luke Willis Thompson chose to celebrate and honour Diamond Reynolds. Visually perhaps this may not be perfectly realised though I acknowledge that for many the visual concerns I have will be far from paramount. However, together Luke Willis Thompson and Diamond Reynolds have created a work that expresses great courage and dignity; a work that can provoke thought, reflection and inspiration long after viewing.

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