I recently, well if February is ‘recently’, visited Project Space in Bermondsey to view the Peter Dench curated exhibition, Great Britons of Photography. Separate to this exhibition I saw a body of work by Minnie Weisz, Time Present Time Future, on display in the upstairs gallery. It has been described as ‘a very personal exhibition featuring photographs that reflect the artists life.’ Whilst completing her German degree in Berlin, three years after the wall fell, she saw many derelict buildings. ‘At the same time, there were strange private art events, upstairs in people’s lofts, or in cellars.’ And her fascination with space began from there-on-in.
Minnie Weisz is said to be ‘a Photographic Artist interested in the identity of spaces’, which I thought tied in quite nicely with the idea of authorship, reflexivity and how to represent the feeling/ relationship of people to place. Since 2006 Weisz set about recording and documenting buildings ‘in areas of transience in London’ and ‘forgotten interiors in Europe.’
Using both a documentary approach and a pin hole camera, Weisz turned these spaces into a camera obscura.
Exterior and interior worlds collide and merge, projections of light open up a conversation between the present and the past; traces of memory and time bordering a threshold between the real and the imagined, dream and reality? These rooms are witness to history and the passage of time, to memories past and present; family and home, space and connection.
Her work was very reminiscent of Abelardo Morell, who made his first picture using camera obscura techniques in a darkened living room in 1991. However, whereas Morell captures stunning panoramic views of cityscapes, Minnie Weisz has been concentrating on the more rundown and forgotten.
On comparing the two I love Morell’s vibrant colours and sweeping vistas, although they have more of the ‘Tourist’s Gaze’ about them. Most were shot in hotel rooms with scenes of traditional tourist hotspots. Weisz’s had more narrative, and a sense of melancholy history.
Travelling to Croatia Weisz explored and recorded spaces in remote locations. She also photographed rooms in the now empty 1854 Great Northern Hotel – the first great railway hotel in England – the images show, not only the rooms, but also the imprint of the outside, the disappearing present-day King’s Cross and its redevelopment. ‘And all of them are in a process of flux.’ Quite surreal, the colours are faded and not bold, which makes them feel rather dreamlike.
What you get is like transience within transience. It’s like a Russian doll, with one layer inside another.The hotel is marooned in King’s Cross, surrounded by construction and regeneration. It’s a nowheresville. But for me it’s about humanising these buildings. I show them and they show me things, about themselves.
It’s a romantic subject. All these huge, looming buildings, and now they’re empty, where once it was about so many people arriving and leaving… “Room 418”, is particularly disconcerting: you don’t immediately notice that it is upside-down because, in this state, the projected image appears the right way up. The flat roofs of what look like railway sheds hover over the floor like a daylight hologram, and a wire coat-hanger rises, from a hook, like a cheap aerial.
The merging of the two spaces are interrupted by the objects she includes in the shots: a pair of shoes and a dead pot plant, another blurry corner of another dingy room houses a pair of suitcases and a cushion-less chair, another: pictures and posters, some of which were arranged on the wall above a cheap bed-stead: ‘A little shrine!’
This “little shrine”, was one of the images not to include projection, but the elements contained within, such as the shoes and travelling cases, were ‘about self and others, [and a] connection between things.’
…in a damp corner, on a tea chest, sits Minnie Weisz, planning her next move. She says she wants to go to Istanbul and, maybe, even Shanghai, to do something similar. “My goal is world domination by camera obscura,” she guffaws. “I want buildings watching each other across continents!”
What did I take away from this exhibition?
- that older photographic techniques can still be used to great effect
- even if other photographers have used the same technique, a different spin can be put on it to achieve different results
- by including certain objects/elements within the scene provides a greater narrative; the semiotics linking the different images within a body of work