An exhibit under constant renovation

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A Silvered Light features a selection of pieces from Dundee City’s permanent collected works. The collection started with the acquisition of two works by Thomas Joshua Cooper in 1985, pieces which are currently included in the Silvered Light exhibition. The display is of particular importance as Dundee City’s permanent collection was one of the first to be curated by a local council. It not only shows works by Cooper but houses works by a number of Scottish photographers from a range of periods and styles.

Although A Silvered Light is primarily an art photography exhibition, some of the earliest works date back to the 1800s. The oldest piece is a documentary style portrait of the fine art committee of the Albert Institute (the original name of the McManus Galleries). This photograph by Thomas Roger is perhaps one of the best examples of early art photography. Despite clearly retaining its documentary style (with an almost clinical approach to the subject), there is an overall sense of artfulness about the piece, as seen in the figure composition and drapery. A parallel could perhaps be drawn to images of the Last Supper.

The exhibition features works by Joseph McKenzie, a photographer known for his solemn black and white images of “the decayed and discarded”. Originally from Hoxton, the focus of his works are on the redevelopment of the Hawkshill area of Dundee during the 1960s although portraits and even a car crash scene bring a more relatable feel to his works. It is easy to mistake the rubble and squalor of McKenzie’s works for the devastation of a bombsite – something that can only fully be appreciated by having a look for yourself. His inclusion in the exhibition is clearly due to strong links to the local area, but it could also be argued that his personal style and means of production form an essential link in the show from the earliest uses of black and white photography for the sake of documenting history to a contemporary medium in the art photography movement. His use of a dark room, processing and presenting his artworks are no different from early photography while the subjects and style of his works have a distinct contemporary feel which the viewer finds themselves disturbingly affected by.

There is a natural progression throughout the exhibit, from black and white to colour to digital, the last being represented by Wolfgang Torschen. One of his works which stands out particularly is a photograph seemingly presenting nothing more than a series of coloured lines, and painfully akin to a barcode. A few moments of contemplation reveals the piece to actually represent a single still taken from an animation. This final shot is in such stark contrast to the early beginnings of photography as a medium that it seems an appropriate place to stop.

The whole exhibition delivers an impressive experience to the viewer, covering the early beginnings of the medium, black and white static postures to the early years of the art photography movement, incorporating the reuse of black and white processes into hand coloured pieces to modern day use of digital effects and photography. A Silvered Light might, however, not be to everyone’s taste. The difficulty with collection exhibitions lies in the lack of one single artist providing a clear theme to follow throughout the display, helping to explain each piece and creating a guide for the viewer to follow. A Silvered Light has been constantly refreshed throughout the yearlong exhibition which started in December 2013 and is on display until the end of November.

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