154MC- An Extended Critical Reflection

For part of 154MC I have to write a critical reflection on something. This can be almost anything, from a photo book to an exhibition. I feel like when viewing an exhibition, I get a lot more understanding about the body of work in comparison to a photo book. Therefore I have decided to review an exhibition. At the beginning of my course at University I visited The Herbert gallery, which displayed Jason Tilley’s work called People Of India. Jason Tilley produced an interesting and amazing series of images that tell us a story through three different time periods of work. Each bodies of work are of portraits of people in India from the past one hundred and fifty years. This created a historical archive containing, The People of India Publication 1868 – 1875, The Photographic Archive of Bert Scott 1913 – 1948 and The Beautiful People by Jason Scott Tilley 1999 – 2009. The three bodies of work were very different but it connected together through the story that Jason gave. This exhibition offers the viewer to link the ways in which Jason and his family have captured a moment and memory.

Jason’s story started when he was looking through his Grandfathers old negatives after he passed away. Jason discovered many pictures of an unknown woman. Jason noticed that his grandfather spent many days with this woman, as the images showed this woman by the beach and having picnics with this grandfather. After the Second World War, his grandfather’s whole life was left behind. His grandfather could only save family photos and images of this woman. After research he believed the women was named Marguareite Mumford, whom was his grandfathers first love before the war. It took him six years to find Marguareite, whom is now at the age of 99, and is currently living in New Zealand. This gave Jason inspiration to start his project of following in his grandfather’s footsteps. A photograph of Marguareite in her swimming costume taken by Jason’s grandfather in 1940 is featured as part of Jason’s exhibition.

As it is only required to write one thousand words for this part of the module, I will only talk about the exhibition itself. Jason displayed his work in stunning white frames, which complimented the photographs very well. His own photographs of The Beautiful People were square, which showed the viewer that the gallery displayed three different bodies of work, which were taken in separate time frames.

Jason’s work was striking, wonderfully high contrast, and well produced. Each image told a story with each individual portrait. All the images were in black and white; this worked effectively. If the images were in colour the viewer would be sidetracked onto different viewpoints and would not feel Jason’s intentions. Also it made the piece fit well together as a whole. The images themselves were thought out intensely in the case of presentation. Tilley positioned his images in the gallery with width for text to title each body of work.  I felt the text helped me follow the image in a sequence as I walked round the gallery. Some text would almost make me laugh as it was companied with the portrait. The text told the story of the individual images.

Before viewing this exhibition, I had the opportunity to talk to Jason himself. This helped me to get an emotional view with his work. I gained insight into his experience and journey through India, following his Grandfathers footsteps. This allowed the viewer to get a sense of where this work has come from, the intentions that Jason had and how the work was produced. As this exhibition was holding three different bodies of work, we got a deeper insight of Jason’s family life. Jason’s personal family photographs were shown at the beginning of the exhibition, and then followed by his Grandfathers images. The audience gained a deeper connection while viewing his family’s work as they gained knowledge on how this work was important to Jason and why he has continued his Grandfathers photographs.

The three separate periods of time were separately displayed in different frames, so that the viewer could follow the time period. However, there was no structure on how the audience should be directed around the gallery. After viewing the exhibition I thought that the audience should be guided around the room. I feel if the gallery had a starting position, which led onto an ending point, it would make the story of his work clearer. Having a talk with Jason showed me that there was a connection to the three bodies of work. To someone who didn’t have the privilege to talk to Jason directly, the journey would not be a clearer for them. The exhibition had no guide and order to view the pictures. It was a ‘go and explore yourself’ guide.

I also feel like Jason’s own work of The Beautiful People, would have been best produced by itself in the gallery, without the company of the two other bodies of work. Like I said, there was no structure to the gallery, so this was the work I saw first. When looking at The Beautiful People, I thought it was very effective as it clearly showed his experience in India. Then I looked at the other work, which then gave more of a meaning to The Beautiful People. Personally, I think Jason’s work could stand alone in a gallery, and it would work equally as effective.

I very much enjoyed my experience viewing Jason Tilley’s work and would highly recommend anyone to attend this exhibition if it comes apparent to you. To view a great part of history as well as an amazing set of series of work. It was great to see how technology had developed through time, as you can clearly see with his portraits and the other work. I also recommend receiving a talk by Jason himself as no one can tell his story better than himself.

Vonledebur, A. (2014). Coventry’s Herbert Art Gallery opens its doors to Jason Scott Tilley’s new exhibition. Available: http://www.coventrytelegraph.net/whats-on/arts-culture-news/coventrys-herbert-art-gallery-opens-7836723. Last accessed 27th Apr 2015.