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Exhibition Review : Performing for the Camera at Tate Modern – 18th February to 12th June 2016


Tate Modern explores the relationship between photography and performance in their exhibition, Performing for the Camera.

Since the invention of photography in the 19th century, the genre has been concerned with showing art and performance, the exhibition brings together over 500 images spanning 150 years which document  performance works such as Yves Klein’s Anthropometrie de l’epoque blue 1960, a live painting event using the bodies of naked women, as well as key 60s performances by Yayoi Kusama, Marta Minujín and Niki de Saint Phalle.


Some of the earliest works in the exhibition look at the way that photography began to used showing famous performers acting out their characters from the stage. Photographs from Nadar’s studio in 19th century Paris show the famous mime artist Charles Deburau acting out poses as the character ‘Pierrot’ and famous actress Sarah Bernhardt in a series of roles.


Later works drawing on this same idea include Harry Shunk and Janos Kender with their photographs of dancer, Merce Cunningham in 1964. Eikoh Hosoe’s Kamataichi, a collaboration with the choreographer and founder of the Butoh movement Tatsumi Hijikata in 1969 is one of the first to have given equal authorial credit to the performing subject and the photographer.


Ideas of self-identity are explored through works by Claude Cahun, Man Ray and Cindy Sherman, as well as projects like Samuel Fosso’s African Spirits 2008 where the artist photographs himself in the guise of iconic figures. The exhibition also looks at the ways that portraiture has been used by photographers like Lee Friedlander, Masahisa Fukase and Hannah Wilke.


Marketing and self promotion have always played a major part in photography and recent masters of the form, artists Jeff Koons and Andy Warhol illustrate how identity can be formed and distorted for a particular event.


In many ways, most of the exhibition illustrates the photographer and the photographed as two separate entities, however, the modern world of social media and selfies offers the subject as photographer which raises a series of questions about the lines between photography and performance. A recent work staged on Instagram by Amalia Ulman illustrates the ways that people are using their poses for photographs to seemingly find ways of validating their identity.


Performing for the Camera is an interesting and thought-provoking exhibition that explores the relationship between photography and performance. From the earliest days of photography, there seems to have been an element of performing for the camera. Over the last 150 years, this performance has led to a wide range of applications from serious performances to more informal humour and improvisation. The exhibition provides of plenty of evidence that photography’s influence has grown considerably till it has now become a constant presence in the lives of millions, many now recording their own and others performances each day.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

Performing for the Camera

Tate Modern: Exhibition

18 February – 12 June 2016

Adult £16.00 (without donation £14.50)

Concession £14.00 (without donation £12.70)

If you would like further information or book tickets, visit the Tate Modern website here

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