Brassai, Bresson and more in Shoot! Existential Photography at The Photographers' Gallery

By Chloe McCormack | 23 October 2012
A black and white photo of a husband and wife having their photo taking in the 1920s
Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Photo-shot, fairground at Porte d'Orléans, Paris (June 1929)© Jazz Editions / Gamma / Gamma-Rapho. Courtesy The Photographers' Gallery, London
Exhibition Preview: Shoot! Existential Photography, The Photographers' Gallery, London, until January 6 2013

The photo-shooting gallery was an unusual attraction which appeared at funfairs at the start of the 1920s. Customers fired a gun with the aim of hitting a bullseye that would trigger a camera, capturing an image of the shooter.

This new show is a playful meditation on the interplay between this double act of shooting and photographic shooting, re-appropriating the old-fashioned amusement through the works of contemporary artists whose works deal with themes of mortality, vulnerability of the ego and ideas of the self.

The subjects range from anonymous funfair attendees to renowned philosophers, artists and photographers, chosen from a selection of photographs shot during 90 years.

Existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre and his partner, the feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, make an appearance. Both were reputedly fascinated by the psychological allusions of photo-shooting portraits.

Seminal photographers Brassai, Henri Cartier Bresson and Robert Frank were also inexorably drawn to the photo shooting stalls, and an installation called Celebrity Cabinet features a slideshow of famous figures captured at the critical moment.

Another work, #7, sees publisher Erik Kessels display more than 60 images of Ria van Dijk, a Dutch woman who took the unusual self-portraits across eight decades.

Crossfire, by Christian Marclay, is a multisensory installation, a montage of moments in films where the actors take aim at the audience. Exhibited on four screens simultaneously, it toys with notions of observing and being observed as well as being the target as well as the viewer.

Emilie Pitoiset, a young French artist whose work has a sculptural physical quality, contributes Just Because, which uses reprints of appropriated images on silver paper to recreate the journey of the non-existent bullet leaving the gun.

Rudolf Steiner and Jean Francois Lecourt’s pieces extend the concept further as the camera becomes the target, leaving the final image punctured with bullet holes.

At the end of the exhibition visitors are invited to photograph themselves in a shooting gallery. It allows them to experience for themselves the enduring existential appeal of this curious amusement.

  • Open 10am-6pm (8pm Thursday, 11.30am-6pm Sunday). Admission £5/£3. Follow the gallery on Twitter @TPGallery.
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