The artist Paul Cezanne once observed that “we live in a rainbow of chaos.” The expression could very easily have inspired Saturation: The Everyday Transformed, the new exhibition of photography at the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork.
Where the Crawford’s previous exhibition, Rembrandt in Print, was a sombre homage to the power of black ink, Saturation revels in its polychromatic joie de vivre; of the thirteen young photographers featured, a few may exercise restraint in their use of colour, but most tend towards extravagance. Their efforts are augmented by the redecoration (courtesy of Pat McDonnell Paints) of the gallery in what is surely the brightest range of hues it’s ever known.
The show is curated by Dawn Williams and William Laffan.
“With Saturation,” says Williams, “the intention has been very much about collapsing hierarchies in the art world. The question it asks is, why should art photography be more important than any other kind of photography?”
In this spirit, the exhibition makes room for commercial, fashion and music photographers as well as those who come from an art college background. Likewise, some of their images are staged, but many more appear to have been taken spontaneously.
One common thread is a preference for people as a subject over place; many of these photographs are of the young, and by the young, and could have been taken almost anywhere.
“That’s a thing we definitely saw in the work,” says Williams. “Previous generations used photography to explore land and place, but there seems to be a new generation – whether it’s through the influence of social media or whatever – who seem more interested in turning their cameras on themselves and their friends than on their physical surroundings.”
Saturation is also distinctly contemporary in tone; this is work that belongs to the immediate present.
Dragana Jurisic is a native of Croatia who completed her PhD at the European Centre for Photographic Research at the University of Wales in Newport, UK in 2013 and now works as an Assistant Professor at Dublin City University. Her books include Yu: The Lost Country and Museum, a collaboration with the poet Paula Meehan.
Jurisic’s work in Saturation is a series of dream-like photographs with the title Hi-Vis. They feature underwater swimmers and were taken over the past few summers on the island of Vis, off the coast of Croatia, in the Adriatic Sea.
“The models were my friends,” says Jurisic. “I didn’t really set up the shots, they were fooling around under the sea, basically. They all got diarrhea because they drank so much salty water. That was part of the project; shits for arts. I’m very grateful to my friends, they’re very good people.
“Vis is the island, but the title is also a play on the words ‘high visibility’, as the water is so clear. The island is a place I’ve gone to since I was a child, so it’s my second home. These past few years, it was like a refuge of normality in a crazy world. Everybody was living outside, so no one had to wear masks.” Jurisic saw her contribution to Saturation as a chance to do something playful.
“A lot of my work is heavy and political and serious, but I’ve been hankering for a long time to make something that’s just beautiful and nice to look at. The exhibition is quite refreshing. Some of the photographers are new and emerging. It’s great to see their work and share a space with them.”
Jurisic can see how much of the work in the show is focused more on individuals than on the environment.
“But I guess I’m interested in both… places and people. Though I’m not that interested in people, to be honest. I’m interested in my friends. My intimate circle. Even on the island, it was just a close group of friends.” She uses colour photography more often than black and white.
“It’s not that I prefer one over the other. I’m very seduced by the darkroom and fibre-based prints, but, especially in the last few years, colour photography has been better suited to the kind of work I like to do.”
Jurisic is engaged in a number of projects this year. One is called Winter Garden, an ongoing long-term project about aging. Another is a book about her late aunt, who served as a spy in Paris for much of the Cold War.
“She escaped from Yugoslavia in 1954, but the government enslaved her mother and used her as collateral to get my aunt to spy on the very people who had helped her escape. But then, she became a part of the system, and she died in murky circumstances in 1987, around the time of the fall of communism in Europe.
“The premise is that they got rid of a lot of the old spies who knew too much. But that’s not confirmed. My book is a fictionalised biography, let’s say. I would like to finish it by May, and leave it with the designers, hopefully to publish in November.”
Ruth Medjber is a native of Dublin. As one of Ireland’s leading rock photographers, she has worked for magazines such as NME and Hot Press, for the BBC and Electric Picnic, and toured the world with acts such as Hozier and Arcade Fire. “Pretty much any live gig that was going on, you could find me down the front,” she says.
Medjber’s immersive sound and video installation, WORSHIP, occupies a cube at the centre of the exhibition space. It features a series of her concert photographs, with the emphasis very much on the sweaty and ecstatic faces of those in the audience, along with a lighting display by Conor Biddle and a specially commissioned soundtrack by Alma Kelliher.
Medjber was invited to participate in Saturation after curator Dawn Williams saw her work on Twitter. “Most galleries would never let you do an exhibition based around music photography as an art form, but Dawn and William were thinking outside the box. When they showed me around the space, I asked if I could have the cube, and they agreed. They let me do big, big images, and they went with all my bizarre ideas about the lighting and sound.”
Inside the cube, Medjber has included a huge image of Jehnny Beth of Savages interacting with her audience. “She’s like a god, crowd surfing on the hands of her disciples in her bare feet. What I wanted to show was the mutual love between artists and their audience.”
Medjber never imagined doing anything but music photography until the first Covid-19 lockdown of March 2020. “Then suddenly, everyone in the music industry was out of a job. Me included. I had two years’ work cancelled overnight. It was so destructive.”
She went home to Finglas, and as the days and weeks went by, she found herself wondering what she could do next. Simply out of boredom, she began taking photographs of her friends through the front windows of their houses.
“I used a square format, as that’s what works best on Instagram. I thought if I had a grid of sixteen images, that’d look good. But then, the Irish Times published the images, and the next day, I had 400 emails from around the country, from people asking if I could also photograph them through their windows.”
Medjber realised she could expand the series into a book, and set off around the country for three and a half months, taking portraits every day. The result, Twilight Together, was published by Penguin in November 2020, and has already sold 12,000 copies.
Medjber has the germ of an idea for another book. “It would be about seanchaís, storytellers, and again, I’d like to travel all over the country to record them.”
But for now, her main ambition is to get back out on the road.
“That lifestyle just suits me so much; I love waking up in a different room, in a different city, every morning. I miss the artists, and the crowds. Right now, I’d go on tour with any band that asked me, big or small.”
Like Medjber, Conor Clinch was delighted to be asked to contribute work to a formal ‘art world’ exhibition. A self-taught photographer, at eighteen he left Dublin for London, where he was initially mentored by the legendary photographer Renton. He now works freelance in the fashion industry.
“It’s been seven or eight years now, and it’s going well,” he says. “But I always feel like I’m still not where I want to be in my career. Every artist goes through that, I guess. Last year, I scrapped all my work from the past ten years, as I thought it looked too commercial, and started over.”
As it happened, Williams and Laffan had seen his work on Instagram, and invited him to submit a proposal for the show. “There was a lot of back and forth with the curators. They must have got frustrated with me, as I kept changing my mind about what images I should use, and it was really down to the wire at the end.
“There’s not really a theme to my work in the show. I know a lot of the other artists are showing projects, but with me, it’s more like a mix of my work from the past year. Some are commissioned images, some are personal.
“But what I’m showing is a really good representation of what I do as a photographer, and it still looks quite cohesive because it’s done in my own style. I like my work to look quite futuristic, and I feel like that’s quite a lot of what the exhibition is about, in terms of saturation, light and colour.”
Clinch insists he favours “really simple palettes, even if it’s just two colours working well together. I don’t like overdoing it; even the image they’ve used for the press release and the posters, I think it might be a bit too much!”
The Covid-19 pandemic gave Clinch an unexpected break. “The year 2020, in particular, was pretty dead, but that did give me time to figure out what it is I’d like to do. Before that, I barely had time to stop and breathe. But with Covid, that pause in time did me good, I think.”
In 2020, he went to Puglia, Italy with his partner, Ryan Zaman, and made a short film called If You Can’t See You Can’t Be. “Ryan has celebral palsy, and the film was about him living with the condition. But there’s a fashion element to it as well; he talks about disability, but he’s wearing Gucci. I’ve always wanted people to look good and feel good in my work.”
The film was well received. “And after that, I was commissioned to do more film work. I really enjoy it, it’s so different to what I’m used to. I went from working with Ryan on that tiny production, which was basically just me and him, to being commissioned by Gucci to do a short film on the designer Jordan Luca called The Palace of Kings. I was suddenly the director of a team of 100, which was quite intimidating at first. But sometimes, you have to get thrown in at the deep end and learn the hard way.”
For the immediate future, Clinch will continue living in the UK. “I go back to Dublin whenever I can, but London feels like home at this stage. I’m doing a lot of still life photography now; I’ve just finished a shoot for Vogue, photographing shoes. I’d love to do a solo exhibi