Collected Shadows: The Archive of Modern Conflict

“It is the people in the photographs that drive the spectacle and engage us with the diversity of their humanity,’’ says Timothy Prus, the curator of Collected Shadows. 200 photographs, drawn from the extensive collection of an organisation called the Archive of Modern Conflict (AMC), and hung in a salon style manner, invitingly wait in the gallery halls of Stills. This is an exhibition to visit, and revisit: a plethora of photographic possibilities, both for the photographer and the subject, and an excuse for you to expand your amateur interests in photography.

One can even go so far to say that this is a perfect postmodernist exhibition, as it doesn’t matter who took these photographs; what matters is that these photographs were taken, collected and curated for you as a spectator to experience them.
The photographer is absent; Collected Shadows asks you to see yourself in every photograph framed, and create a meaning for yourself: “In one moment we will be in the Pacific Ocean of the 19th Century and the next in outer space. African kings rub shoulders with 19th Century botanical images printed in the beguiling cyanotype blue. Icebergs sit next to studies of cabbage leaves.’’

In this postmodern age, Collected Shadows strives towards defining the photograph and differentiating it from any other ordinary image out in the database of our visual world. These are not just photographs taken contingently, a simple shutter, or a click of a button on a camera or a phone. These are photographs, taken by photographers lost in ambiguity, who struggled with the inefficiency of their tool, waited hours on a single exposure, or had sitters waiting hours for a single exposure. Amateurs like you and I, they captured man and his creations, his industrial destruction and the divinity of creation he happened to find in the nature around him.

Collected Shadows celebrates the democratic nature of photography, a medium that brought the arts down from the heavens, onto the streets and into the homes of the working class. It celebrates the camera, and the absolute ability of the camera to make anyone and everyone feel like an artist; it doesn’t matter if you are in front of it or behind it, you are always a part of the artistic act when in the presence of a camera.

Nature becomes art, war becomes art, poverty becomes art, ethnocentricity becomes art, and racism too becomes art. This is the fascist reality of the camera, and with every framed photograph that you walk by in this exhibition, you realise that neither man nor universe – not even the photographer – is in control when with a camera; it is the camera in control, and we are all in merely in the process of becoming an image.


Stills Gallery

Until 8 April 2018 

Image credit: Maxwell R. Hayes. Courtesy the artist and Archive of Modern Conflict, London.

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