Critical Reflection: Vivienne Sassen Exhibition First Draft
For part of our course we have to write a critical reflection on something, this could be almost anything, from a photobook to an exhibition. For this I decided to go to London and go to a few exhibitions to see what was about and if there is that I found interesting enough to write a reflection on. Whilst there I went to Vivienne Sassen’s exhibition at the Photographers Gallery, I found this really interesting, and loved her work and how she had presented it. As we only had 1000 words to write this I decided that I should focus on one specific part of the exhibition therefore mainly focusing on the display of the exhibition itself. Below is my essay.
Viviane Sassen- Analemma: Fashion Photography 1992-2012
Analemma, the title of the exhibition, refers to a term describing the eight-shaped curve which maps the position of the sun over a year, this is echoed in one of Sassen’s main traits in her photography: curved bodies placed against interesting light and shadows causing a high contrast. Sassen is widely known for her experimental approach within her photography, by her wide audience, and this exhibition was no exception, although many of the images would have previously been seen from earlier series, exhibitions and award winning campaigns such as: Stella McCartney and Adidas together they all flowed well to show a run through of fashion from 1992-2012. The movement from image to image worked so well that they worked as a series in itself. This is due to Sassen’s; although experimental, but consistent style, including bold colours, abstract shapes, volumes and lines. Many of these attribute’s being inspired from her
upbringing in Kenya, which Sassen also relates to these, due to the vivid colours and strong contrasts of light she may have seen whilst she was living there, she has recreated this in many of her images. Although some work was done on location and some in the studio it is still relatable, models were usually seen as a secondary subject due to the surroundings and forms they were positioned in, creating sculptural compositions. However within this analysis I am going to concentrate on the presentation of the exhibition itself, the installation.
Viviane Sassen herself said it has always problematic to find the right way to show fashion images within a museum or gallery, but has she found the ‘right’ way? The installation used certainly provided something interesting to look at and a way to show the large quantity of around 350 images that she wanted to, this would work in almost any gallery, no matter how big the space is.
The installation also made the viewers part of the exhibition, which is an interesting aspect as not many photography
exhibition produce that opportunity. There were three parts to this exhibition, two video feeds of scrolling images projecting onto walls and shifting across space, one incorporating mirrors and reflections. This slightly distorted the images making you wonder what they were, giving you a new view, one you may not have seen previously and the second with a viewing area on a flat wall allowing you to sit and view the images in better detail with no physical distortion. Just by simply walking across the exhibition space you were part of this exhibition, forming shadows within the images and giving you the opportunity to be inside the images that Sassen has created. Finally there was a
shortstop film depicting one of Sassen’s shoots, and how she works. Again this is another interesting aspect as many exhibitions are more about the final work that has been produced, not about how it has been produced. This gives the audience an inside view of how the photographer works.
In previous exhibitions Sassen has used both a more traditional method and one similar to what I saw at Analemma. Examples of exhibitions where she used a more traditional method are ‘Flamboya’ and ‘Where There’s Smoke’. These still work well and provide more
concentration on the image itself, especially with the bold colours that Sassen often uses, even in group exhibitions such as ‘Where There’s Smoke’ her work still stands out well. However Viviane Sassen’s work is more about the images as a series and how they are perceived rather than singularly therefore I think for her an installation like in ‘Umbra’ and of course ‘Analemma’ works better for what she is trying to get across. This still allows the audience to have their own opinion and concept on the work yet they see it as a series of images instead of being tempted to see them separately. In ‘Umbra’ the main focus
was on the light and shadows, it was a spatial installation again with the use of a projector and mirror. It was a simpler design than ‘Analemma’ but definitely effective in what she wanted to get across for this certain exhibition.
The use of mirrors within fashion photography could have a direct link to the fashion itself, related very closely with the vanity aspect of fashion. However I think Sassen’s use of the mirror within ‘Analemma’ was more to do with entering a different world. Although the images were the same in both this part of the exhibition and the viewing side the mirror gave an unusual viewpoint and distorted many of the images, so although this was essentially the same world it seemed completely different, something that many people believe about fashion itself. However by using this projection against the mirror it is hard to see where one image ends and another start, this may be off putting for some people preventing them to fully appreciate the work they are seeing.
I believe that the digital era suits fashion photography well, and therefore using an installing much like Sassen may not be the ‘right’ way to present your work but there is certainly something very intriguing and captivating behind it. Much like many digital things fashion is disposable, it changes, and there are many ways of showing fashion, not only in the photography world, and a lot of these are also disposable, such as magazines and things presented online. The nature of fashion itself is very fleeting as is the exhibition that Sassen created. Within her work Sassen is often described for pushing the limits and boundaries of fashion photography, is she now doing this with her presentation methods? Or is this just the digital era catching up with exhibitions?
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Clash Magazine, (2015) available from <http://www.clashmusic.com/fashion/viviane-sassen-analemma> [4 February 2015]
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Vivianesassen.com, (2015) Viviane Sassen [online] available from <http://www.vivianesassen.com> [1 February 2015]