Beyond Documentary at the Museum of London

Beyond Documentary: Experimental Photography in London 1976-2006
Museum of London

Three prints from the series Gentlemen currently on show as part of a free display of recent acquisitions from a recent three-year collecting project.

Interview with Karen Knorr available to view online

Since the 1970s, photographers have increasingly asked questions about the nature of the medium and the role of the photographer in the construction of the image. Women artists have been particularly active in this, as photography provides a way of working distinct from the traditionally masculine art forms of painting and sculpture.

The photographs in this exhibition are a selection from a three-year collecting project. The museum’s aim was to acquire the work of artists who make photographs about London using experimental tactics. Their approaches involve examining social issues through carefully set-up compositions or by placing prints in a narrative sequence. Others study closely a particular locality over a sustained period of time or record it by pushing against the technical constraints of photography. All, in their different ways, have produced rich bodies of work through prolonged engagement with the city.

“The project was not just about acquiring new objects. An important element involved working with young Londoners to give them an insight into the museum and its collections. Specifically, this meant working with a filmmaker, a photographer and museum staff to make a short film about one of the photographers whose work the museum had collected. In the film shown here, Dan, Nada and Violeta met and interviewed photographer Karen Knorr.Through a series of thoughtfully composed questions and an informal discussion with Karen, they drew out the story behind her photo series Gentlemen, three prints from which we acquired in 2015.

It is clear from the film that, not unlike like Margaret Harrison, Karen consciously set out to critique class and gender roles in British society. She does this is in subtle ways, through details such as the unstable house of cards in one print, for instance, or by pairing her images with a text which either reinforces or undercuts how we read the image.

Important influences on Karen, as she revealed in the interview, were the 18th century British tradition of ‘conversation piece’ portraits, such as those of William Hogarth, and the satirical prints of Thomas Rowlandson. The museum has a large collection of works by Rowlandson and his contemporaries, so Karen’s admission helps to locate her work within a long tradition of British visual art which examines the society around it.”

—Francis Marshal, Senior Curator of Paintings, Prints and Drawings at the Museum of London