I love the Photographers’ Gallery. My membership has been a barometer to how flush I was feeling but it was the first gallery or museum I joined when I moved to London in my twenties. In fact, one of my few true regrets involves their print room, when the gallery was in it’s old home on Great Newport Street – I swithered about buying a stunningly beautiful portrait of Tilda Swinton by the Douglas Brothers. It was an awful lot of money for someone working in a bookshop! Sadly my prudent side won over and I didn’t take the plunge.
So, with that background, I know how dangerous the basement of the gallery is to my finances – it now houses both the bookshop and the print room space! My wallet twitches every time I descent the stairs… On my recent visit I managed to resist purchasing one of the beautiful works by the relative newcomer, Alma Haser, though I may definitely be back to purchase a copy of the second edition of the kickstarter funded book that accompanies this exhibition. The first edition of ten handmade books made by Alma and the book’s designer sold out in two days. As I entered the small gallery space in the basement, I recognised her work. Doing some research for this piece, I later realised I had seen here work ‘The Ventiloquist’ in the 2012 Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize, and I had also read an article about ‘Cosmic Surgery’ in Creative Review last year. This, I think, is Alma’s first solo show in the UK.
‘Combining photography with collage and origami techniques, Haser’s work seeks to expand on traditional portraiture and reflect on the concerns of millennial and future generations.’
The Photographers’ Gallery
Haser grew up in an artistic family in the Black Forest (both her parents are artists) and studied at Nottingham Trent University. Rather wonderfully, the title for this project came from Alma’s dyslexia, and a mixup with the words cosmetic and cosmic, and the concept for the project emerged from there. Are these images of surgical procedures performed somewhere in the near future, or are we looking at the next step in human evolution? The works appear to be comment on today’s obsession with beauty and surgical alterations through cosmetic surgery. They also seem to examine the idea’s of ‘self’ and obscuring one’s true identity, with the sitters faces obscured by the origami versions of the portraits.
‘I am always trying to make work that either confuses or invites the viewer to take a closer look… I like making work that has an otherworldly feel. The children in ‘Cosmic Surgery’ are the next generation. The parents are not disfigured by the origami because they are like us.’
You can read more about Alma’s influences in an interview which is a great insight into her work and thought processes. For a bit of fun you can also upload a photo of yourself to her project site to see what you’d look like after being cosmically altered. I became Patient 918.
The show runs at the Print Room Gallery till the 14th of August.
Artist’s quote from an interview in Wonderland, August 2013. All other text and images © Jonathan Dredge.