Thursday, 17 May 2012

Stan Douglas: Midcentury Studio

Suspect, 1950, 2010
Stan Douglas is exhibiting a series of captivating black-and-white images at Victoria Miro gallery in London that give full weight to the expression 'every picture tells a story'...

The photographs were shot over the last couple of years, but look as if they could have been lifted from a 1940s archive, with Douglas referencing both the photographers of this period (one image of a mobster being arrested could be straight out of Weegee's ouevre), and its cultural preoccupations: film noir, murder mysteries, gangsters and melodrama all make an appearance.

Juggler, 1946, 2010
Hockey Fight, 1951, 2010

The Midcentury Studio series brings together a number of themes that have long been prevalent in Douglas's work, in particular a preoccupation with the cinematic. Through detailed research, Douglas achieves the atmosphere and complexity of film in a singular image. To create the authentic 40s-50s look featured in these images, he used equipment and technologies from the time, and combined this with era-appropriate costumes and styling.

But it is the sense of mystery, and often foreboding, contained in the photographs that makes Douglas's work so intriguing. In Juggler, a middle-aged, conservatively dressed woman is shown tossing three large butcher knives in mid-air. What violence awaits her can only be imagined. Similarly, Hockey Fight presents a brawl in the stands of a hockey game. Immaculately staged, everyone in the scene – fighters and onlookers alike – plays their role to the perfection, giving the finished image painterly, rather than documentary, overtones.

Hair, 1948, 2010
Grips, 1949, 2010
Cricket Pitch, 1951, 2010

As well as other photographers, Douglas refers to literary and cinematic heroes such as Beckett, Kafka and Hitchcock. There is an expectation of knowledge from the audience, if not of the work of these artists in particular, then at least of the themes and styles presented; the works are as much an exploration of what the murder mystery or film noir genres mean to audiences today, as a celebration of them.

As such, Douglas avoids pastiche and instead weaves his references amongst other political and social themes, particularly of gender and race, to create images that are ambiguous but absorbing. It is left up to the viewer to try and unravel their multiple meanings, as well as to decide how the narratives contained within each photograph will unfold.

Passe-tete, 1948, 2010
Trick or Treat, 1945, 2010. All images courtesy the Artist, David Zwirner, New York and Victoria Miro, London © Stan Douglas

Stan Douglas: Midcentury Studio is on show at Victoria Miro until May 26. More info is at

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