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The Open Eye Gallery: Painted Photographs

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

I went to see the Painted Photographs exhibition at the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool today of photographs that have been retouched for use on TV and in the Press.

Due to my own stupidity and incompetence I never made it to the Open Eye Gallery before its new venue so I can’t compare it to the old space.  Its new home is almost on the waterfront in a small but perfectly formed gallery with three rooms and a small shop.

There is an impressive elegance to the design.  It’s a simple uncluttered space with simple wall geometry and sight lines used to incorporate the entrance, reception, retail and first gallery area into one room without the other elements impinging on the gallery space.  Cleverly though the reception desk can see the retail area, entrance and first exhibition area while also acting as the payment point for the shop area without resorting to an exit through the shop design.  It’s the sort of architectural design I can’t help admiring.

I read about the Painted Photographs exhibition of pictures collected by Martin Parr on the BBC website last week.  Some of the commenters on the site get tangled up in the idea that this is a modern art exhibition.  It’s nothing of the sort.  It’s a curious insight into the way things were done before Photoshop became the ubiquitous tool of photo retouching.  Its old school and fascinating for it.

There is a photograph of Mohammed Ali arriving in London with crop marks to just use his face, another of James Dean with legs painted in and one of John Lennon with just enough of Yoko painted out to make a square frame of his face.  The brush work is hurried and surprisingly basic.  These are pieces of work produced to illustrate a news story not pieces of art intended to be hung in a gallery.

If you’re interested in how things were done before digital stormed the world this exhibition is worth a visit.   It’s a perfect for a bite sized visit for lunch if you work in the city centre or an excellent aperitif for its larger neighbours if you’re coming from further afield.

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