New York

Hello all, sorry for the radio silence, been a bit busy. I thought I’d share some brief thoughts about my visit to New York, which was amazing (but feels like a million years ago now…)

A few bits of news before I do:

  • I did an interview for the Queer East London Project, which you can read here.
  • ‘Twilight People: stories of faith and gender beyond the binary’ is looking for trans and gender variant people of faith to share their stories, see here for more details of how to get involved, it’s a groundbreaking project that I feel really privileged to be a part of.
  • An updated version of my book chapter about LGBTQ oral histories (including PICTURES!) appears in the new MuseumsEtc book ‘On Sexuality‘, it’s a really great book that collects together essays about making LGBTQ narratives visible in museums, it’s also more reasonably priced than the last one!
  • I’m part of a really great steering committee for the next LGBTQ+ Archives, Libraries, Museums and Special Collections conference. The last took place in 2012 in Amsterdam, and was incredible, I wrote about it at the time here. The committee includes archive professionals, artists, academics and activists from Bishopsgate Institute, London Metropolitan Archives, Kingston University, the Institute of Education (that’s me), Tower Hamlets Local History Library, rukus! Federation, the Parliamentary Archives, Tate Britain and University College London. I’ll keep you posted once the official blog is up and running, but in the meantime, like the Facebook page here.
  • I’ve been recruited as an ‘expert advisor’ for a new project by Leeds Beckett University and Historic England, which is crowdsourcing pins on a map highlighting LGBTQ history. The trial version is available here. Feel free to add your own pins, although for the trail the map includes only London.

That’s enough of that. On to New York.

Museum Association of New York: Museums in Action Conference “Museums Mean Business”
April 12th , Corning Museum of Glass

Myself and Lauren Windham presented a workshop together on the first day of this conference. Initially, it was to be a three person panel, but Ellie Lewis-Nunes was unfortunately unable to make it (I’m hiking with her to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support, you can donate here!), so while it was bitter sweet, the talk was still a great success. Our workshop was called ‘Addressing the balance’ and we spoke about challenges arising when addressing specific community groups in historic buildings in London, and how this can extend to the regular visitor. I spoke about my work with Sutton House, and Lauren spoke about her time at Bruce Castle, and a project she ran with children and their non-English speaking parents. We had some really great questions, and people seemed really engaged with the subject.

We had a quick chance to poke around the new wing of the museum, and we were blown away. I must admit my expectations of glass museums are based on the one in my hometown of Sunderland, which may be great now, but when I visited it a very long time ago, it was a little dry. This new wing was spectacular, a huge array of really challenging contemporary glasswork in a beautiful naturally lit space, it really was breathtaking.

Bjork at MOMA

I am a huge Bjork fan, like worryingly huge. I have her words tattooed on my flesh (as well as the swan from Vespertine) and I’ve seen her live 6 times now (7 in July!), she truly is my idol and this exhibition felt like a pilgrimage for me. Four of her instruments, which I’d previously seen live on her Biophilia tour, were dotted around the museum atrium and removed from their natural context, it became even more clear what beautiful works of art they are, especially the pendulum harp.

The first part of the exhibition was an immersive screening of the MOMA commissioned video for Black Lake, which is the centrepiece of her new album Vulnicura. At ten minutes long, Black Lake is sparse and heartbreaking, probably Bjork’s most personal and vulnerable song to date. The video is understated, it features her walking around barefoot in the inside of a volcano, and only in the final minute or so does she surface to the moonlike mossy Iceland surface. The video is projected on two walls that are often in sync, but often show different things, and the small space they were played in was made to recreate the inside of a volcano, with crater-like protrusions lining the wall. The room had nearly 50 speakers, and we saw the film twice (I cried both times haha), the first time, everyone was sitting on the floor, which I thought was weird, and the second time, people stood and moved around the space. There’s a particular moment in the film during a long 30 second drawn out note from the strings, where Bjork, on her knees, pounds violently at her chest as if she is trying to restart her heart. I glanced around and it was really moving to see so many glistening eyes reflected from the glow of the screen. For me, if you can’t see an artist live, surely this is the ideal way to experience music, it was a staggering achievement.

The next part was the Bjork cinema, a room filled with red velvet cushions to lay on where they play all of Bjork’s music videos in chronological order. We spent about 40 minutes in there, I have seen all of those videos countless times, but it was a whole new experience to see them in this setting.

The final part was the timed-ticket section called ‘Songlines’, in which a fictional story about a woman moving through the albums of Bjork is whispered in your ears alongside snippets of her songs. It was a really creative and unusual way of telling the story of Bjork’s music, and of the strongly defined characters she creates for each of her albums. In each room, which corresponded to an album, were costumes and props from videos and live performances and Bjork’s notebooks.

The exhibition completely lived up to my expectations, and the Black Lake screening in particular completely surpassed it. I’m not sure I’ll ever love an exhibition as much as I loved this one, it truly felt like a religious experience.


(here’s me gazing lovingly at the bell dress from the Who Is It? video)

9/11 Memorial Museum

Lauren left to go back to Washington, it was really great to catch up with her after so long (she and I studied on our MA together), she is one of my heritage idols and a continued source of inspiration to me. I had a day on my own before my housemate arrived to stay for a week, so I went to see the 9/11 Memorial Museum. I was expecting it to be problematic to be honest, I imagined it would be extremely patriotic and Islamophobic, but I was very pleasantly surprised at how tasteful and moving it was, it was purely a commemoration of those lost in the attacks, and the interpretation combined stark monuments, rich and compassionate storytelling, and some really visually powerful moments (especially the missing posters that were projected onto one of the walls and gradually faded in and out). The fountains themselves were really beautiful too.

Two really interesting points (from a museum studies student perspective…); firstly, there was a recording studio for visitors to record their memories and thoughts about the day, these were then projected onto a long screen and was really beautifully done. Secondly, I’ve never experienced such a raw and solemn audience before, I’m a terrible eavesdropper in museums, as I think it’s a good lazy research tool, but in this museum the conversations were much more personal than usual, everyone remembers where they were that day, and everyone was very visibly moved and at times uncomfortable. The museum even had tissue dispensers at parts of the main exhibition, it was quite unlike anything I’d seen before.

Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art

One of the smaller treats we had was the Leslie Lohman, which is a really nice space devoted to LGBTQ art and artists. The mission statement reads: ‘The Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art is the first dedicated LGBTQ art museum in the world with a mission to exhibit and preserve LGBTQ art, and foster the artists who create it The Leslie-Lohman Museum embraces the rich creative history of the LGBTQ art community by educating, informing, inspiring, entertaining, and challenging all who enter its doors. The Museum is operated by the Leslie Lohman Gay Art Foundation, Inc., a non-profit founded in 1987 by Charles W. Leslie and Fritz Lohman who have supported LGBTQ artists for over 30 years.’

 

The exhibition we saw was called ‘Irreverent: a celebration of censorship’. The museum hosts up to 8 exhibitions a year, which is pretty remarkable for a non-profit venture, it was also one of the very few free museums we visited, which seems like a rare treat in New York, where entry to most museums is in excess of $15. I really wish there was an equivalent to this in London.

Brooklyn Museum

I think my favourite museum overall was the Brooklyn Museum. Lauren had recommended I go and see the Kehinde Wiley exhibition there, and the museum was already on my housemate’s to do list. It is one of the best art exhibitions I have seen in ages. Wiley paints huge portraits of people of colour in classic heroic poses, with rich and florid patterned backgrounds. They really are incredible, and the exhibition also featured work on stained glass and sculpture. We also saw the Jean-Michel Basquiat ‘Unknown Notebooks exhibition’ and looked around the permanent collections. It was great to see a museum genuinely privileging its local artists, and especially exciting to see people of colour represented on such a scale in such a huge museum.

These are just a few of the things we saw, we also saw a small exhibition of Keith Haring’s work, the American Folk Art Museum, the Museum of Morbid Curiosity (which was a HUGE disappointment), the Museum of Sex, the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens (which a lovely couple kindly gave us their tickets for so we didn’t have to pay!), a super cute little museum at Coney Island, and Lauren and I had a little tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

If you get the chance to go to New York, definitely do! It was incredible and I hope I get the opportunity to go back one day, I feel like we only scratched the surface!

Here’s a little bonus picture of me admiring some of the art at the American Folk Art Museum:

Home and art: creating, performing and researching home

Just a quickie to say I’ll be speaking at this event on Friday 1st May. I realised I’m posting this too late to entice anyone to it, as the registration period has closed, (I’ve just got back from a conference in New York which I’ll blog about shortly) but I thought I’d share anyway, as it promises to be a really interesting day.

HOME AND ART: CREATING, PERFORMING AND RESEARCHING HOME
Friday 1st May 2015
The Geffrye Museum of the Home, London

Programme

10.00-10.15
Registration and Introduction
Richard Baxter and Olivia Sheringham
Queen Mary University of London 

10.15-11.00
Keynote 
Gill Perry
The Open University 
Breaking and Entering the Home: Practices, Problems and Definitions in Contemporary Art

11.00-12.20
Inside Home

Vanessa Marr
Artist and University of Brighton/Sussex Coast College 
Women and domesticity: investigating common experiences and perspectives through creative collaboration. A collection of hand-embroidered dusters

Sarah McAdam
Photographer and London College of Communication 
Home is Where the Art is

Cate Hursthouse
Artist and University of Hertfordshire 
Unmaking the homely: de-familiarising the tablecloth

Laura Cuch
Artist and University College London 
‘The Best Place in the World’: a biography of home

12.20-13.00
Lunch

13.00-13.40
Keynote
Sutapa Biswas
Artist 
Home and Hearth / Hearth and home. Love in a cold climate

13.40-15.00
Domestic Marginality

Sean Curran
Curator and UCL Institute of Education
Queer activism begins at home: the curator as activist in historic houses

Janetka Platun
Artist 
But where is home?

Alice Correia
University of Salford 
The House that Jack Built: Home, Identity and Legacies of Empire in the work of Donald Rodney

David Pinder
Queen Mary University of London 
‘If my house was still there’: sound, memory and the destruction of home

15.00-15.20
Tea and coffee

15.20-16.40
Performing Home

Jon Orlek, Mark Parsons and Cristina Cerrulli
University of Sheffield and Studio Polpo 
Open Public Experimental Residential Activity (OPERA): Looking Back and Looking Forwards

Paul Merchant
University of Cambridge 
Who can publicise the private? Domesticity, representation and class in ‘El hombre de al lado’

Nadege Meriau
Artist-in-residence Queen Mary University of London 
Home futures: exploring the Aylesbury Estate through video and sculpture

Katie Beswick
Queen Mary University of London
The Resident Artist: Jordan McKenzie’s Council Estate Practice

16.40-17.00
Closing Remarks
Harriet Hawkins
Royal Holloway University of London 
Collaboration and curation

‘126’ exhibition poster!

I’m delighted to unveil the official poster for the ‘126‘ exhibition at Sutton House.

The poster was made by the super talented Alex Creep.

 

 

The event on Facebook is active, please click ‘attending’ and invite everyone you think might be interested!

The event is also on the LGBT History Month calendar. Which is a great source for keeping an eye out on the various events taking place in February and beyond.

Hope to see you all there!

‘126’ and ‘Queer Season’ at Sutton House

We’re less than a month away from the exhibition that I (and 125 volunteers) have been working on. I’m delighted to unveil the trailer here:


‘126’ LGBTQ exhibition trailer from Sean Curran on Vimeo.

I’m also delighted to announce that owing to the success of last February’s exhibition Master Mistress, the staff at Sutton House have decided to eschew the confines of LGBT History Month by hosting a two month long Queer Season throughout February and March. Below is the exhibition blurb and more information about the other events taking place throughout Queer Season:

Queer Season at Sutton House

Starting in LGBT History Month, Sutton House is hosting its first Queer Season, a series of exhibitions and events celebrating the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer communities.

National Trust’s Sutton House presents:

126 
5th February to 29th March,
Weds to Sun 12pm to 5pm

Building on February 2014’s exhibition ‘Master-Mistress’, the first LGBT History Month event to be held in a National Trust property we think, ‘126’ is a crowd-sourced audiovisual experience featuring all 126 of Shakespeare’s Fair Youth sonnets as read by members of the LGBTQ community. Each sonnet is self-recorded and is accompanied by video portraits of the contributors.

Admission: Adult £3.50, Child £1, Family £6.90, National Trust Members FREE.

The Amy Grimehouse and National Trust’s Sutton House present:

The Craft Valentine’s Massacre 
14 February 7pm to late

 Join The Amy Grimehouse for their special presentation of that 90s classic, The Craft. Explore Sutton House and participate in some anti-Valentine’s spells, Hex-Your-Ex, the Nancy Booth, The Craft Craft Room with binding and poison pen Valentine’s cards and more. All before the pre-screening show with the Bitches of Eastwick. The screening will make way for the ‘Invoking the Spirit of Manon Ball’ with Connie Francis on the jukebox and more til late. “Now is the time. This is the hour. Ours is the magic. Ours is the power.” 

Nick Fox and National Trust’s Sutton House Present:

Bad Seed 
5th February to 29th March,
Weds to Sun 12pm to 5pm

 This will include the first comprehensive survey of work by South African-born artist Nick Fox. Arranged over seven rooms, the exhibition brings together artworks created over the last ten years, principally painting but also films, installations, cyanotype prints and intricately laboured object d’art from his celebrated Nightsong and Phantasieblume series. Fox has also chosen Sutton House to launch a new artistic project called Seedbank, which invites members of the public to select seeds linked to a veiled dictionary of floral meanings to give as long term and living tokens of love and loves loss. Bad Seed will be shown simultaneously with Fox’s International touring exhibition Nightsong, at Angus-Hughes Gallery (7th February – 7 March 2015), which is also located in Hackney.

Admission: Adult £3.50, Child £1, Family £6.90, National Trust Members FREE.

‘Queer homes, queer houses’ workshop at ‘Lines of Dissent’, the 12th annual LMA LGBTQ History & Archives conference

Yesterday was London Metropolitan Archives’ 12th annual LGBTQ History and Archives conference. The day was co-curated by the Raphael Samuel History Centre and the theme was ‘Lines of Dissent’ and was focusing on queer genealogy. The key note from Daniel Monk, Birkbeck was ‘The perils and pleasures of queer wills’ and after that was a series of carousel workshops in which delegates got to play archive detective by looking at primary source documents and trying to gather what the material might say about the person, or people to whom they belonged.

In the afternoon, I facilitated a workshop called ‘Queer homes, queer houses’, in which I briefly spoke about my own research, and highlighted some examples of queer homes. I then asked the participants to create plans of a place they live, or have lived in, but instead of highlighting rooms or objects, to highlight moments and memories. We all did this on A3 tracing paper, and then we tied them all together to create a patchwork curtain (dubbed on the day, rather tongue-in-cheek, as a patchwork quilt of painful memories), which I then presented to all of the delegates. I’m delighted with how much effort everyone put in, and for sharing their memories, and I’m really grateful to Jan Pimblett, who organised the day, for inviting me to do a workshop. It has given me loads to think about for my research. You can view the work that was created here:


Created with flickr slideshow.

and I made a video of some highlights here:


‘Queer homes, queer houses’ : a workshop at the LMA LGBTQ History and Archives conference from Sean Curran on Vimeo.

Here are a few pictures of the workshop in progress:

and a few of me presenting it, thanks to my glamorous assistants Jan and Gavin:

Another highlight of the day for me was when Surat Shaan Knan of Rainbow Jews told us his personal story and wonderful news, and announced the successful funding bid for Twilight People, a project about trans* people of faith, which I am delighted to announce I will be co-curating. I can’t wait for us to work together, and I am sure this really important project will be a huge success!

Thanks again to Jan, to Gavin Baldwin, Matt Cook, Justin Bengry, Faridha Karim, Surat, and to everyone else who organised and contributed to make it such an inspiring day. Also, big thanks to Claire Hayward who ensured there was a lively twitter presence throughout the day, and who has storified the tweets here.

‘Master-Mistress’ at Sutton House

Less than a week to go until my first curating venture opens… myself and artist Judith Brocklehurst set it up earlier this week and everything is looking and sounding great. I’m really excited to see what people make of it, and I hope the visitors will leave feedback, as aside from curating this exhibition as part of my volunteering at Sutton House, it will also form one of three practice led case studies for my research.

See below the ‘e-flyer’ for the exhibition and events to accompany it. There’s also a little teaser picture of one of the artworks. I’ll post more pictures once the exhibition is open, and write a post about the event on the 13th too, which I’m hoping will be a really interesting debate.

More details about the exhibition and event can be found on the LGBT History Month calendar. And the facebook events are here and here.

Notes on ‘Notes on Neo-Camp’

Last night I attended a panel discussion called ‘Notes on Camp’ at the ICA, which aimed to ‘interrogate the term camp and consider its relevance to contemporary art’. Oddly enough, it seemed that the focus of the discussion was actually the term neo-camp – a rather muddy term coined by curator of ‘Notes on Neo-Camp’, Chris Sharp. It was this confusion over the attempt to revise, reclaim or reimagine the already heavily contested term camp that caused a lot of discomfort for me.

The panel was chaired by the brilliant Gavin Butt, whose work I find really challenging and interesting. The panellists were: Chris Sharp, who, following a rather exhausting article about so called neo-camp, curated the exhibition ‘Notes on Neo-Camp’; Daniel Sinsel, whose artworks were included in the exhibition; and Ellen Feiss, who had reviewed the exhibition.

In homage to Sontag’s Notes on Camp (and through laziness) I’ll put my thoughts about the event in note form.

1. Gavin Butt’s interpretation of camp was the only one that echoed my own, he said that camp was an answer to “straight seriousness”, for when sincerity was not enough. He highlighted three key changes that have occurred post-Sontag’s seminal essay; when written, pop culture as we now know it was in its infancy, now sincere speech is not taken at face value in the age of political spin, ideologies are no longer so readily believed or unchallenged; he referred to “come dine with me” syndrome- i.e.: the way that “trashy consumerist taste” now dominates in ways that it didn’t in the early to mid 1960s; and finally, LGBT political and legal developments- meaning that (arguably) LGBT people no longer need to find a place in society solely through irony and aestheticism.

2. Both Chris and Dan’s interpretation of ‘neo-camp’ was to do with the covert, the unspoken, the euphemism and the suggestive gesture; some sort of coded language. They both seemed to identify camp as solely the territory of the gay male- which I find quite a difficult thing to get on board with. Ellen criticised the exhibition as being under-theorised in the context of camp, and Sontag’s essay- which all three seemed to be quite dismissive of, and Chris in particular seemed to suggest was not relevant anymore.

3. While I agreed with a lot of Ellen’s critique of the term ‘neo-camp’, the examples she gave to endorse her own reading of camp were equally troubling, there were a lot of erect penises and imagery of queer activism. The heavy focus on (homo)erotica I found quite unusual, it’s not camp. Likewise, the political elements of camp (which Sontag refutes by suggesting that camp is apolitical – presumably in the sense that its aim is never to be political, regardless of whether the outcome is or not) for me, are only a small part of what camp is, and the focus on queerness (read “white gay men”) was completely misguided. Women, queer or otherwise, were barely a footnote in this discussion.

4. Ellen highlighted an image of an object (if memory serves it was a ladder) that was rendered functionless because of the way it was arranged – she identified this as camp. This is one of many examples where queer (or queered) art works were misdiagnosed as camp (or neo-camp).

5. There was a lot of talk about us living in a “post-marriage” queer time. And a post queers in the military time. Chris identified neo-camp as being post-closet, but it seems to be that neo-camp is indeed post-camp, in other words, a product of assimilation. Assimilation that I feel is thoroughly un-queer and the realm of a tediously homonormative approach to LGBT politics.

6. Dan and Chris both suggested that, the very fact that ICA was having this discussion showed that camp has become institutionalised, I think this talk proved quite the opposite- that camp has been tamed, sanitised and diluted into a completely different, less exciting (/comprehensible) beast, for the purpose of academia and visual art.

7. The strongest comment, for me, came from a woman in the audience, who said that ‘camp is female’. This comment aside, there was no mention of the role women have played in the story of camp. (I recommend Pamela Robertson’s Guilty Pleasures: feminist camp from Mae West to Madonna as a good counter to this).

8. While a very interesting discussion, the fact that Chris Sharp’s exhibition (and thus, by proxy, Daniel Sinsel’s work) had been framed as ‘neo-camp’, made it difficult to engage wholly with any aspect of it, as a great deal of their images seemed to me, the very antithesis of camp. Thankfully, Gavin Butt in his closing remarks, admitted that many of the images shown throughout the talk had prompted the reaction ‘I don’t think that’s camp at all’ from himself.

9. Without having seen the exhibition, it’s unfair to be dismissive of it, but based on this discussion, Neo-Camp seems to me to be straight, highbrow, abstract and thoroughly un-camp. I’m not sure I can even imagine what a “new” camp might look like, or even if this body of work could be called post-camp- it seems to me that ‘anti-camp’ is a more appropriate term.

10. As my friend Judith, who I attended the talk with, said; perhaps once you start theorising camp, you kill it. However, I’m sure that won’t stop us trying…

LGBT History Month event and exhibition at National Trust’s Sutton House, Hackney

Happy new queer everyone!

 

I’ve got some exciting news about LGBT History Month in February. Following on from my work with the Black History Month project, I have been tasked with curating an exhibition at Sutton House in Hackney. It will be the first time that Sutton House has celebrated LGBT History Month so I’m really pleased to be a part of it.

Master-Mistress: passion, desire and ambiguities in Shakespeare’s sonnets
6 February 2014 – 10:30am – 7 March 2014 – 5:00pm

In the Tudor spaces of Sutton House we pose questions about desire, sexuality and gender through readings of four of Shakespeare’s sonnets, originally published in 1609. Shakespeare’s sexuality has often been contested, based largely on the series of sonnets known as the Fair Youth Sonnets (sonnets 1-126), which were seemingly addressed to a man known only as ‘Mr W.H’. It might be that to read these sonnets as an indication of same-sex desire is to see them through a contemporary lens, and therefore not an accurate reading. It might also be true that these sonnets are not autobiographical, and are fictional, in which case, both the speaker and the subject of the sonnets are in question. It is often disputed that Shakespeare had even intended these sonnets to be published. In 1640, publisher John Benson notoriously changed all of the pronouns in the sonnets to suggest that the subject was always a woman, suggesting discomfort with the implied love- platonic or sexual- for another man.

To celebrate LGBT History Month here at Sutton House, we have decided to remove four of the sonnets from their context and present them throughout four of the Tudor rooms by the disembodied voices of people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or queer, alongside artworks by Judith Brocklehurst. By doing so, we hope to raise questions about desire, gender and sexuality. Rather than questioning whether or not Shakespeare would be considered part of the LGBT community in contemporary terms, we instead address the universality of desire and the ambiguities of gender and identities.

The usual cost of entry to Sutton House applies (£3.50 adult, £1.00 child) and free to National Trust members.

Note: the house is not open on Mondays and Tuesdays for the duration of the exhibition.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a free event:

Challenging histories: what place do lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer identities have in museums and historic houses?
13 February 2014 – 6:30pm – 8:00pm

To accompany Sutton House’s first LGBT History Month exhibition ‘Master-Mistress: passion, desire and ambiguities in Shakespeare’s sonnets’ we are holding a panel event, and an opportunity to see the exhibition for free.

Join us for an exciting discussion about including lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer narratives in heritage spaces, chaired by exhibition curator and National Trust volunteer Sean Curran and featuring four experts from the heritage world. The evening will also be a chance to see the exhibition beforehand.

Panelists include:
Oliver Winchester – Curator of the Permanent Collection at the Design Museum
Jan Pimblett – Principle Development Officer at London Metropolitan Archives and founder of the annual LGBTQ History and Archives Conference
Claire Hayward – PhD student at Kingston University, looking at representations of same-sex sexualities in public history
Naomi Campbell – National Trust

For information about this, and many other great events throughout history month and beyond, visit the events calendar.

I hope to see many of you there!

Trans art

Just thought I’d share this short video that appeared on the Gender Anarchy facebook group.

It’s called Transactivations and features two artists, Heather Cassils and Zackary Drucker who use their  bodies as artwork, in responses to gaps in art history and silences in conversations around gender identity.

I particularly like what Heather says: “there is a trans politic, but it’s also about creating a visual language that I feel is not out there. So I wish to take up a space that allows for indeterminacy, for slipperiness…”

The video can be viewed here.

Deceptive photography

Persimmon 2011 (http://www.andreameislin.com/artists/tal-shochat/)

Today I went to South Kensington to head to the Wildlife Photography exhibition at the Natural History Museum, but the queue was snaking around the building, so I headed to the V&A. It was a happy second choice as I saw the brilliant Light from the Middle East exhibition. It features 90 photographic works from and about the Middle East. It was divided into three sections; recording, reframing and resisting and explored how the medium of photography can be used to distort, deceive and subvert. This was of particular interest to me, as I’m currently writing about LGBT oral histories, and much of the earlier criticism of oral histories was about its unreliability as a social-historical source. While I accept a lot of the criticisms about oral histories (romanticised, mis-remembered, exaggerated etc.). I also think these  are some of the strengths of oral histories, as the unconscious fantasy and memory have a great deal of value when researching social history. So, it was great to see an exhibition acknowledging that photography too can be an unreliable source and can be manipulated to tell the story the photographer wants to tell, much like oral history narrators can define their own pasts by omitting, emphasising and outright inventing.

For me, the works that best (and most simply) demonstrated this, were perhaps the most understated. A trio of beautiful photographs (Persimmon, Grapefruit and Pomegranate) by Tal Shochat of Israel were arresting, minimal and lovely to look at. These were not simply photographs of trees though, Shochat had laboriously tracked down – in her view- the most perfect example of each that she could find, she waited until the trees bore fruit and were at the peak of their maturity. She then dusted the branches, leaves and fruits and isolated the trees in front of a black cloth backdrop and artificially lit them. These trees would never exist like this in nature without human intervention. Shochat makes the familiar unfamiliar and creates unreal renditions of natural things. There are loads of examples of photography that acknowledges the potential of the art form for dishonesty and artificiality, many of which you can see here. It’s definitely worth a visit (not to mention FREE) and runs until April.