Women of Dundee

Stills Gallery: Until 9th April

From the moment you walk into the exhibition space, it is clear that simplicity is of the essence. The white walls, dotted with quotes, the concrete floors and the open space all serve to draw attention to the black and white pictures. The artworks stand alone as the people inside them lean out, entering our world, as we simultaneously lean in, trying to see into theirs.

There is something intriguing in Joseph McKenzie’s photographic commentaries on everyday human life. Perhaps this rests in the way most people have been caught off-guard; a woman laughs with her mouth open wide, an old man wears sunglasses, his head bent down under the weight of them. The photo is taken when his subjects are completely at ease, they are free in the moment before the camera becomes invasive and a certain self-consciousness would otherwise kick in. These snapshots of life contrast with the opening of the Tay Bridge at the time, which would connect Dundee to the outer world, resulting in “a self concern with her image.”

On the other hand the only non-human subject shows an aspect of self-awareness. Mckenzie notes the broken mannequin as having “only a feeling of womaness”. There is clear suffering in her broken nose, yet someone has still thought to put a bra on her. She becomes a symbol of a run down old past in contrast to the modernity that is about to enter Dundee. She symbolises Dundee on the brink of change, an idea continued in photos where people stand outside their homes on another periphery. They are on the edge of something.

However, this self-awareness is perhaps more relevant to the Margaret Morris collection. There is a clear distinction between the two collections, heightened by the gallery’s wall partitioning. This makes it difficult to draw parallels between the two. It would perhaps have been easier if they were integrated. The photographs in the Margaret Morris collection are smaller, more delicate photos, which compliments their balletic content. The dancing figures are a collection of moving, breathing bodies, using their limbs as orthogonal lines to create jagged compositions; yet, there is slight freedom in their poses. Their legs and hands high in the air create a sense of abandon, and the trio of dancers become a modern, wilder depiction of the classical Three Graces.

Nonetheless, the photos manage to convey an aspect of continuity in humanity, because utimately we still connect with the faces, the expressions and the movements of the photographic  content.

Image Credit:  Joseph McKenzie and Fred Daniels

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