There were seven photographs by Sharon Boothroyd at Art Jericho and, I think, ten from Tim Crooks and whilst it isn’t my intention to compare the two sets of work I think it worth noting the quality of the presentation between the two sets. Tim Crooks had seven prints behind glass which looked like inkjet 40 X 40 cm prints, window mounted as well as three larger unframed but mounted prints. The glass prints suffered from light reflection which detracted from the image and gave it an inconsistent feel, which I don’t think helped the artist’s intent at all. Whereas Boothroyd's images were the epitome os consistency and immediately compelling for that reason.
That being said the Crooks images were still very interesting. The artist had been quoted in an interview with Janine Freeston from Photomonitor regarding the series as: “I composed the content of my images in a structured, methodical and calculated way and this was an intentional choice. I wanted to represent the Victorians desire to establish a sense of order in an otherwise chaotic environment. By this I am referring to the mind of a mentally ill and institutionalised person”. I think that the prints worked very well. The images depicted an institution that was clearly once a hospital, but the decrepitation in the former ordered facility was a very clear metaphor for the state of mind of someone condemned to a life incarcerated from reality. The building was slowly decomposing, just as maybe the mind of a long-term inmate would slowly crumble.
What troubled me though was the way this highly structured process had been subverted, two of the images were incorrectly mounted - the tape attaching the print to the mount may have slipped but it gave an incongruous feel, especially coupled with the variance in the presentation style. However I thought the narrative, as expressed through the statement by the artist and the images themselves was very clear and my mind was drawn to the recent conditions at Winterbourne View here where the opening few moments seem very redolent of Crooks’ images so making this series extremely current as much as it is an echo of the past. I was reminded of the derelict leper colony I visited many years ago – see here, I happened upon it so the intent I felt was spontaneous rather than the considered approach from Crooks. The artist's use of a medium format film which he then scans and then digitally prints also crosses the divide of time, these negatives will also break down and decompose.
It took me a little while longer to feel the full impact of Sharon Boothryod’s work; but there was no issue at all with the quality/consistency and beauty of the prints. Seven prints in all who have as their focal point children who portray the victims from a parental break-up and in five of the photographs have the father depicted. The clarity of the imagery makes the emotional strength of these images much stronger. Boothroyd in the “we are OCA” blog here makes the statement: The highly fabricated images incorporate elements of fantasy in their precise construction, settings and use of actors. By exaggerating conventional locations into filmic versions of themselves, the artifice of the photograph is highlighted. The manufactured scenes challenge the accuracy of selective memory by questioning the truth behind the images. So, we know these aren’t “real” situations but staged managed, but they still worked for me. The focus on rejection, of over compensating, of superfluity, of filling the time are very compellingly portrayed. Fiction is, I believe, the way in which we can explore moral dilemmas, to decouple reality with a tale enables a safety curtain to be drawn over difficult situations and enables explorations of agendas that are sometimes difficult to engage with directly. My wife is a primary school teacher and has to deal with a lot of the fall-out of these breakdowns, it is difficult not to point fingers – but the infant carries the damage almost as if the parents shed their responsibility to the child as they deal with their own traumas. I was very moved by these images.