Finding myself in Oslo for a day, I decided not to visit the Edward Munch Museum but to head towards the Nobel Peace Centre to see an exhibition of photographs; I think that photographs are more at place in a centre like this than a museum or art gallery. I did find myself wondering over the political implications of this exhibition and whether it is really about European identity as much of the work is more personal in nature. Yet this exhibition asks whether there is a European identity rather than attempting to assert it and features 12 different photographers from 5 different countries. It is the first in a series of planned exhibitions by EPEA that is concerned with socially relevant issues to be developed and discussed by talented young photographers with reference being made to questions of cohesion and unity as well as aspects of diversity in Europe. The exhibition consists of a series of photo-essays.
The first body of work I look at covers a wall to the left of entry and is called “Midnight Milk”, a study of motherhood by Marie Sjovold (b.1986). The coloured images are varied and include nudes (both child and breasts that are inlaid with a pattern of veins) and more abstract images like a toy squirrel perched on a bar of soap that help to evoke childhood . The photographer is concerned with the role of the mother in her exploration.
Another photographer whose images greet one on entry is Gabrielle Croppi (b.19740), whose photo essay is called “Metaphysics of an Urban Landscape” and is composed of high contrast black and white photographs; he is the only photographer to do an all black and white portfolio although there are other black and white images in the exhibition. These are staged in cities around Europe and focus on monuments with models being added for dramatic effect. Mostly 1 or 2 models are used in each image, heightening the sense of drama. Of his personal approach, Croppi says that “It emphasises that the understanding and the deeper meaning does not stop with the act of seeing.”
Catarina Botelo (b.1981) travelled from Lisbon to Istanbul to make a series of images in bath houses (hamams); people do not feature only some of the objects found in such places, the tools of the trade which have been modernised hence we see a lot of plastic implements. These are superb colour images revealed by a soft light giving a painterly feel particularly in image *2 which shows a couple of bottles, realistic in their translucency. Her training is in Fine Art and her themes have been described by Sergio Mah,a Portuguese academic and curator, as “the experience of memory and issues of gender, the body and intimacy.”
(b.1982) is from Amsterdam and has photographed acrobats assuming the form of sculptures as if they were museum exhibits; she admits the influence of Greek sculpture which she considers to be at the foundation of European culture. She does not pretend to have an eye that captures the moment rather she is interested in the forms the human body can assume and there is humour underlying her work. This body of work is titled “Models of Surfaces.”
Jose Pedro Cortes (b.1976) has had a number of photo-books published and for this exhibition, created a photo-essay called “Costa”about a beach resort to the south of Lisbon where people go to relax yet are surrounded by detritus from suburban neglect. This is one of the largest displays in the exhibition; of the work, Sergio Mah writes “His visual heterodoxy can be regarded as part of the more subjective tendencies of photographic reportage, a genre which allows one to cross over and fluctuate between conceptual and lyrical intentionality and the performativity and spontaneity inherent to the photographic snapshot.”
Pietro Masturzo (b.1980) comes from Naples in Italy and body of work, Retour Parti, takes as it’s starting point a letter found in his grandmother’s house which relates much about his grandmother’s life and origins which were in Odessa to where he returns in an attempt to discover something of her roots. There is a video showing of the artist driving around Odessa which is situated in a small cubicle in the centre of the exhibition space where there are also a number of photographic images; the technical quality is not good but this work is imaginative and atmospheric. One called “composition” is a collection of 36 images, uncaptioned vignettes of the photographer’s search for his grandmother’s world.
Frederic Lezmi (b.1978) who lives and works in Istanbul, has travelled around Romania, one of the newer additions to the European Union. He portrays contemporary life in contemporary Romania where Western and socialist notions of economy collide. The body of work is called “Complex Proeuropa” and Lezmi also upholds the complexity of the photograph, evident in his images.
Rune Eraker, the curator, is a documentary photographer, known for his work in Norway and abroad, and his views on this exhibition are aired in the exhibition space. He sees the photographs as examples of the way young photographers interpret the European identity although surely this was the not the intention of this group of photographers some of whom are clearly making personal statements.
Monica Larsen, (b.1977) has photographed 2 young women who have moved from Lithuania to Fenmark where they know the state will look after them; colour photographs depict moments in the lives of these two subjects. Called “Closer in the distance” the body of work explores these two women’s sense of displacement, as the photographer is “investigating psychological and social aspects of society through nuanced documentaries about everyday life.”
Hannah Modigh (b.1977) produces what to me is the finest body of work; called “Whispering Howls” it is about a group of 12 to 15 year olds and their first experiences of what adulthood is about. The photographer lives and works in Stockholm and part of the text is her diary from when she was 15 which details the insecurity she felt at that time. Her subjects seem to be going through similar experiences since a few look forlorn if not lost (the cover of the catalogue shows a largely naked adolescent with eyes closed and mouth held in an expression that is almost a grimace) although some embrace each other and so seem to be having an easier time. In her diary, Modigh wrote, “”I think most young people have poor self-esteem. We need encouragement, but instead it seems as though grown ups hold us teens back. They just want to control us and to shape us to be like them.” also “You know you are alive through suffering. When it hurts, you become aware that you are alive.”
David Monteleone (b.1974) lives and works in both Russia and Rome and has photographed illegal immigrants from Tunisia as they make their way to Europe; these are imaginative photographs, snapshots that imply rather than tell a story. Called “Harregas”, the photographer actually travelled with these immigrants and from the experience learned, that the “experience is a profound fragmentation of existence in a sequence of time” and realised that “perhaps, in a period of a changing world, the personal identity with all its experiences may be the stronger element.”
I missed part of the exhibition that was in another alcove of the exhibition space but was able to see this work along with the rest in the excellent catalogue accompanying the exhibition, Here Linn Schroder has made photographs in the U.S., a reflection of the influence of the U.S. in Europe; She states “Photography makes the world legible and can also visualise an outlook on the world … a photographic gaze is both diffuse and firm.”
I had not planned on seeing this exhibition, I had just noticed it was running when passing through Oslo, the capital of Norway.It is encouraging to come across such work that takes European identity as a theme at a time when Europe is in a state of economic crisis and the United Kingdom is seriously considering breaking away from it. Looking at this work, I am reminded of the European message as being something worthwhile rather than punishing to it’s members.