Last month, I visited London for the first time with Tony, my older brother. It was a whirlwind of a week with excursions to the museums to see many works of art that I’d studied as an art history major at the University of Virginia. Call to mind any number of famous works housed in London in graphite, paint, ceramic, or marble and it’s likely we marveled at them.
Notice that my enumeration above leaves out photography. To be honest, I generally dislike exhibitions centered around photography, avoiding them on the museum circuit. It’s probably because photos, while artfully rendered, often seem too gimmicky and hollow. Where’s that sense of a captured moment in time, quirkiness, and charm when you gaze upon a subject?
Fortunately, I’d left a day on my itinerary marked as a “Free Day,” which turned out to be one of the best days of the trip. A last minute glance through Twitter and some sites on London events brought “This Comedian” to my attention. The opening day coincided with my final day in London and it wasn’t terribly far from Westminster, already in my mind for the morning. Tucked away out in Southwark, the Embassy Tea Gallery is an interesting choice of venue for the photographic display of selections from Idil Sukan’s portfolio of works over the past ten years. Her debut retrospective exhibition, which opened on February 19th, is really quite impressive from her prolific body of work.
I was pretty intrigued as soon as I stepped into the basement level and encountered the photos of entertainers and often self-identifying comedians: Celia Imrie, Patrick Stewart, John Hurt, the Muppets and even Peter Capaldi. Sukan seems to devote special attention in how she chooses to frame her shots, which lends a burst of liveliness and energy already simmering within the steady gaze of her subjects. Even the occasional critter (non-Muppet) demands your rapt attention, such as the raccoon. Hannah Dormor has a great review of this exhibit, quickly honing in on Idil’s pictorial exploration and engagement with identity and going beyond “gender norms” in representation: likening the other Peter Capaldi piece to an “Herbal Essences ad” as one example.
Some of these were taken backstage at awards ceremonies and I would surmise these demand a quick and keen eye within such a short span of time. After all, these entertainers are being pulled in other directions for parties, press interviews, and so on during those evenings. Rather than feeling contrived and artificial, a sense of the actor’s personality, playfulness, and even gravitas are still allowed to shine through all at once. Because these elements come through in Idil’s unique style, the photos invite you to be an active viewer. You’d never mistake any of these as merely creative promo or head shots for an actor. After going through an exhibition such as this one, you’re likely to recognize an Idil Sukan photograph in the future without needing to read a caption.
So thank you, Idil Sukan, for changing my perspective about photography.
If you don’t have a chance to make it to Southwark by tomorrow, be sure to take a look at Idil’s extensive catalog of works, with limited edition and small collectable prints available for sale at http://shop.drawhq.com/. For updates about her work via social media, check out @idilsukan.