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reviews


Lauren Greenfield, "Growing Up in LA" series cibachrome print, 20" x 24"

HANGING OUT • ROCKET GALLERY, LONDON, ENGLAND

A truly international show, "Hanging Out" brings together the work of four photographers, all working with the theme of adolescence but each in their own, distinctive way. What is surprising here is the way that the nuances of presentation, which might otherwise seem peripheral, contrive to color the viewer's perception of the work. Toril Brancher, who is Norwegian but lives in Wales, chose large format C-prints, mounted, with no margin, in heavy, no-nonsense wooden frames, to present her work; their aggressive presence tends to repel the viewer. The dynamic close-up shots, against dark backgrounds, of Brancher's adolescent children and their friends indulging in horse-play, whose contrived recklessness and feigned rebellion is less than convincing, burst out of the confines of the frame, not through any raw energy, but through their overblown pictorial style. Annalies Strba, the Swiss artist, also photographs her children, but the mood in her images is more relaxed, expansive, oozing spontaneity and warmth. In Brancher's images here, the heavy-metal T-shirts and carefully ripped and distressed denim, much in evidence, are so formulaic that they implode, effectively counterbalancing the pictorial radiation. No fall-out here, though; more fizzle-out.

The Frenchman Eric Larrayadieu shows two, gritty, sweaty, greasy images-medium format C-prints, pinned to the wall with map tacks–which catch the aggression given off by two groups of adolescents, one in a club and one on a street corner. These images are permeated by the smell of aggression. The body language from these youths is less than gentle; there is no smoke or fire here, but their smoldering imminence hums like neon signs waiting to flash into life. The characters here are dynamically juxtaposed, there are no conversations going on: the communication is powerfully sub-verbal, the energy is potential, with the stress on potent-that dynamis through which Aristotle's wood catches fire. Larrayadieu appears to be an interloper here, he seems to be sacrificing himself to his art, these frames filled by a mingling of tensions, pictorial and emotional, contrast markedly with Brancher's works, which labor to generate a narrative, where Larrayadieu's are bravely snatched chunks of a narrative too hot to handle.

The work of German photographer, Albrecht Tubke, is different again. His images are matter-of-fact portraits of adolescents posed, individually, against a blurred neutrality of urban scenes, on looking at these images, two adjectives spring to mind, sympathetic and empathetic, in that chronological order. Older than his subjects, Tubke nevertheless has an intuitive grasp of where they are coming from, he has taken the trouble to get to know them, and likes them, he is in tune with their attitude he seems to be doing this for them rather than him, or us. I am reminded here of the work of Rineke Dijkstra, Beat Streuli or Helen van Meene, however the work of those three artists brings with it an agenda through their typological implications and their subliminal messages (signaling the intrinsic vulnerability and insecurity of the adolescent). Here we are able to have an intimate, if silent, conversation with these subjects, their demeanor open, we might have known them for years, there is no veneer, no barriers, no self-conscious posing, but all the signs of a meeting on equal terms. Here we have adolescents comfortable with themselves and confident, for good reasons, of Tubke's intentions.

Lauren Greenfield, who hails from Los Angeles, is gregarious by nature, we know that by the way she interacts with her subjects, but of course her environment with its Hollywood gloss and momentum demands no less than this. Her lens hooks into the joy and effervescence which spontaneously bubbles up around her. These moments are not isolated by the photographic image; they are not mise-en-scˇne cameos but snatches of life with all its color, and its optimism, the flip side of Larry Clark's darker California. Pseudo, unreal? Not at all, Greenfield is infected by the natural ebullience of these kids and she is not afraid to show the symptoms of this infection in a vibrant spontaneity whose visual sparkiness bounces off their energy.

In two of her quieter images–almost reflective in feel–PHOEBE, 3 and EMILY, 10, these younger children are given their own space, where the hint of ennui at their suspension in an adult world, is relieved by the whole process of being photographed–the camera becomes savior, the lens a diversion. They have become the focus of attention and they have become transfixed–kids making pictures is usually a messy process, but here they complete these scenes, round them off in a way that is almost too tidy, too pretty, but their naturalness, their absorption in the process, rather than in themselves, rescues these images from the charge of preciousness. One in a shoe shop and the other in an exotic pool, their isolation, and their ability to overcome this through some fantasy scenario of which we are deprived, sharpens the impact of these scenes, gives them a poignant edge.

Roy Exley

Sussex, England 1999