Sybylle Bergemann – “Marisa and Lianne Sellin”
Her documentary work of Berlin its people and its monuments (to Marx and Lenin) has more direct comment and ambiguity. These series are photo essays about life and living in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Bergemann juxtaposes human subjects with the stark anonymity of Stalinist architecture and empty lifeless areas of wilderness. The figures and portraits in this context appear alienated, melancholy and introspective but still strong and resolute. The series on momuments undermine the gravitas of the sculptures by showing them half finished or suspended in mid air so the viewer is not immediately aware as to whether they are being installed or demolished.
It should be born in mind that Bergemann’s photographs cover a lifetime and cannot be judged as making contemporary comment. The texts that accompany each of Bergemann’s series are crucial in providing a background that determines the way the images are interpreted. These photographs gain significance through understanding information that is not contained within the photographs themselves.
This is what provides the contrast with Grant Sheehan’s work. Sheehan’s photos are all there in front of the viewer. No comment or irony is present, no prior knowledge is required of the viewer except to accept (or not) the romanticism of the photographer’s vision. Sheehan’s photos fit into a tradition which attributes cultural properties (like haunting, loneliness, isolation, deriliction ) to landscape. These have been fashionable conventions in the past but risk becoming romantic clichés if repeated too often. While the book that these images are taken from might well be a popular coffee table item the photographs do not invite any new insight or thought that has not been fully explored by other photographers.
The gallery where the Sheehan images are shown deserves special mention. David Hedley has done a superb job in outfitting a vacant space into a very efficient and well appointed gallery. In the middle of Masterton’s business centre this space will provide a great complement to Aratoi with monthly changes of exhibition and the commitment to show only high quality exhibitors. It will be interesting to see what direction the gallery takes when it moves beyond the direct connection with books, that the first two exhibitions have had.