Friday 5 December 2008

Intricate Detail and a Sense of Humour

Cornish tree windswept by the prevailing wind of CornwallA little ditty in Penzance: Photographic Memories is in the Foyer Gallery of the Penzance Arts Club - admission free - Chapel House, Chapel Street, from 10am to 6pm, Monday to Saturday, until December 12th.

LIKE Hamlet, Penzance-based photographer David Carley succeeds in "wiping away all trivial fond records from the table of his memory", leaving only those things that matter in the 16 photographs, mainly black and white studies, that make up his exhibition Photographic Memories, now being held in Penzance Arts Club.

David's images pay tribute both to the Cornwall he remembers from a few years ago and to which he has now returned, and to Europe where has lived and worked in the interim.

The exhibition is dominated by the large Tree – Cornish Blackthorn which he says reminds him of the Ingmar Bergman film Through a Glass Darkly and of the fact that the quality of light in Cornwall is similar to that in Sweden where "the sparseness belays brutality and yet beautiful tranquility, struggles against nature, struggles against the past".

It is the first time David has exhibited his work and it is hard to believe that he is a self-taught photographer.

He believes in the power of "intricate detail", which would be an apt subtitle for his show. This use of intricacy is demonstrated well in three close-up studies of flowers, Lily, Clematis and Rose – in which he uses soft focus to alter the shapes and structure of the petals, taking away the starkness and encouraging something more organic in the compositions – and in Salagou Landscape, in which he concentrates on a fragment detail of this sprawling wild and hot part of the world.

From one end of the spectrum to the other – from the huge, such as his Tree, to these delicate flower studies – this is an aspect of photography which he finds particularly appealing.

His photographs could hardly be more rewarding: from a quartet of studies of the Gothic portal of Chartres Cathedral, with its perpendicular and horizontal jamb statues, to a jewel-encrusted beetle – in which one can all but feel the heat of the sun which has helped weather them – to Number 21, a corner of the small village of St Guilheim Les Desert in the Languedoc, which "pulls everything together, religion, fun and sobriety, and could easily be seen as a homage to the artichoke", his sense of humour adds enormously to the pleasure of his pictures.

Whether looking at the Seagram Building, which he sees as a glass stairway to the heavens; or at the agony and the ecstasy of the Arezzo Cross; at a Thuringer Landscape, with its red-roofed barn; or at a Rugen Island Trabant – two of the few colour shots in his show – his compositions possess the precision and mix of delicacy and strength which are found, as he says, "in the simple Japanese woodcuts of Haku Maki".

As a final word, he reminds us that photography allows no distractions: the focused image takes precedence over all else.

"You can't shove an old tractor (McCormick Tractor) around till it's in a better light. You have to set the scene, be it fun or sombre," he says.

He is to be commended for coming up with a first solo show which is as inviting as it is intricate and as delightful as it is detailed.

Photographic Memories is well worth a visit and can be seen – admission free – in the Foyer Gallery of the Penzance Arts Club, Chapel House, Chapel Street, from 10am to 6pm, Monday to Saturday, until December 12.

Frank Ruhrmund
This is Cornwall

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