Photography: Saul Leiter & Alec Soth

There are two contrasting and equally enthralling photographic exhibitions in London right now: Saul Leiter: Retrospective at The Photographers’ Gallery (until April 3rd) and Gathered Leaves: Photographs by Alec Soth in the Media Space at the Science Museum (until March 28th).

Leiter’s work, his colour work especially, is so clearly that of someone who is also a painter: his interest is in colour, texture, form. Individuals glimpsed, frequently in mirrors, through glass misted with condensation, through mist or snow, are little more than points of focus. Leiter cares little, in his images at least, in who they are, where they have come from or are going to.

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Saul Leiter

These photographs live by their beauty: too many seen at once (a danger the current show does not fall into) would be, perhaps, too rich.

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Saul Leiter Painting

Alec Soth’s work, as displayed in the airier galleries of the Science Museum’s Media Space,  has more variety, partly because of his decision to work as much in black and white and in colour, but more specifically due to the fact that he works on distinct projects –as he says on his web site, I like to take pictures and I make books. So, for Broken Manual, he tracked down and photographed people who had chosen to live in isolation within the United States, both the people and their environment; and in Looking for Love, he matched images to numerous actual love letters (most often letters of rejection) that he had solicited.

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Alec Soth : Not in Current Show

Some of Soth’s photographs have a formal beauty that makes you want to stop and gaze irrespective of their context, but it is the context – and the chance t0 do so that this rare show provides – that makes his work both individual and outstanding.

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Alec Soth

I’ve been lucky enough to have seen both of these shows more than once and feel lucky to have done so: to take on for a moment, the argument arising from the decision to remove thousands of images from the Royal Photographic Society’s collection currently held  at the National Media Museum in Bradford and transfer them to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, wouldn’t it be great if it were possible for these two exhibitions to travel beyond the capital to Bradford, or Manchester, or Nottingham, or, indeed, anywhere north of the Watford Gap?

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Alec Soth

Van Malleghem in Prison

Amongst the highlights at last year’s Festival du Polar at Villeneuve les Avignon, were two excellent photographic exhibitions: Scènes de Crime, by Hermance Triay, a series of atmospheric, disturbing but evocatively beautiful images shot largely in the United States and Canada; and Police, a startling collection of black and white photographs by Sébastien Van Malleghem, stemming from time spent out on the streets with the Belgian police force. Both of which I wrote about on the old Mellotone blog … https://mellotone70up.wordpress.com/2014/10/08/festival-time/

Now comes, a little later this year, a new book of photographs – a photographic essay, one might say – by Van Malleghem, called Prisons, based upon research he undertook in as many as ten prisons, beginning in 2009.

Prisons aims at opening our eyes on inmates; casting light on the failures of an obsolete judicial and penal system which remains to this day inscribed in the country that taught me the ideals of justice and humanity. Why do we turn a blind eye on those broken lives? On those whose lives are ruined? These images show the cracks and, in this light, reveal the toll taken by a societal model bringing out tension and aggressiveness, amplifying failure, excess and insanity, faith and passion, poverty.

Set for publication in June, the book’s publisher, André Frère, is hoping to raise some of the money needed through a crowdfunding project, details of which can be found below. Please take a look and, if you find the work and/or the ideas behind it, of interest, consider making a contribution.

http://www.kisskissbankbank.com/prisons-de-sebastien-van-malleghem-le-livre