Contrasting Cultures at Somerset House – Amazon and Dazed & Confused

10 Dec

I’m particularly interested to see what’s going on in the new East Galleries at Somerset House as they will be hosting the London show of In Conversation with Stuart Sutcliffe from July 2012, with which I’m very involved.  Well, I wasn’t disappointed.  Aesthetically, the new galleries look stunning – with their 18th century features and-low level lighting, the space is wonderful.

Amazon in the East Galleries at Somerset House. Own photograph. 

For the inaugural exhibition in this space, Somerset House is showing Amazon,  in aid of Sky Rainforest Rescue, showcasing works by award-winning photographers, Sebastião Salgado and Per-Anders Pettersson.

The exhibition is intended to draw awareness to the plight of the Amazon which covers over 6.7 million km2 and comprises 40% of the world’s remaining tropical forests.  The information panel at the beginning states that every minute, an area of Amazon rainforest the size of three football pitches is lost to deforestation.  The statistics continue.  The impact is immediate, this exhibition is designed to shake us and make us realise the severity of the situation.  The Sky Rainforest Rescue is a three-year project that aims to save one billion trees in the State of Acre. 

Per-Anders Petterson, An aerial view over the rainforest in Amazonas state, Brazil on June 21, 2011. Image courtesy of the artist and via www.somersethouse.org.uk.   

Pettersson presents photographs from his recent visit to Acre, documenting the shocking deforestation in progress as well as showing those who are benefitting from the Sky Rainforest Rescue.  His images aim to show the stark reality – both ‘beautiful and heart-breaking in equal measure’ – and the effect that these changes are having on local communities.  His recent trip to the area gave him ‘a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the work that is being done firsthand and to help showcase it’, looking at how Sky, WWF and Acre State Government are helping the area. 

Per-Anders Petterson, An aerial view as sun rises over the rainforest in Amazonas state, Brazil on June 21, 2011.  Image courtesy of the artist and via www.somersethouse.org.uk.   

In striking contrast, Salgado’s works, from his on-going photographic essay Genesis, portray Amazonian landscapes in their most pristine state and give a rare insight into the lives of two Amazon tribes.  His often-monochrome images try to show the environments that remain intact despite the scale of destruction, aiming ‘to highlight the beauty that must be preserved.’  His works are beautiful, reminding of us the rich habitat that can still exist in this area. 

Sebastião Salgado, The State of Amazonas, Brazil. 2009 – fishing in the Piulaga laguna during the Kuarup of the Waura group.  Image courtesy of the artists, Amazonas and nbpictures and via www.somersethouse.org.uk.   

It always bothers me that charitable organisations produce such elaborate and OTT promotional material, like the lavish book being handed out here.  Are they getting enough of a return to make this worthwhile?

However, it is a very moving exhibition .  The two photographers could not be more different in their styles but, between them, they highlight the severe scale of devastation.  It’s always good to get these issues into the public eye and Amazon succeeds in a breathtakingly beautiful manner.

Sebastião Salgado, The State of Amazonas, Brazil. 2009.  Image courtesy of the artists, Amazonas and nbpictures and via www.somersethouse.org.uk

Just next door in the main building of Somerset House, stretching across the courtyard and terrace rooms, it could not get more different, with an exhibition celebrating the 20th anniversary of the magazine, Dazed & Confused.

Dazed & Confused has been gracing our bookshelves since its inception in 1991.  Dazed aimed to strip away artifice and show ‘real’ life.  They weren’t a normal fashion magazine; they were shocking and, at times, alarmingly honest, in their portrayals.  The magazine is not to everyone’s taste and has provoked controversy and polarised opinions over the years.  Although it started in one room, 20 years later a measure of its success is that about 65 people work on the Dazed team.

Jubilee, October 2000, photography by Paulo Sutch, styling by Katie Grand. Image via www.somersethouse.org.uk

Jefferson Hack, co-founder of the magazine, deserves an exhibition about his extraordinary life. But, in a way, I suppose this is his life – the eccentricity, excitement and wildness of the magazine is Hack on paper.   Hack met Rankin on a journalism course at the London College of Printing.  Rankin, on a break from a photography degree, was running the student magazine and, together, at weekends, they began producing this.  Untitled won three Guardian Student Media Awards and they took their vision and passion over to Dazed, the magazine which became a ‘social scene …  a conceptual thing for young creatives’.

Pulp – It’s a Wrap, 1995, Photography by Rankin.  Image via www.somersethouse.org.uk

The exhibition presents highlights from a new book about the magazine.  Curated by Jefferson Hack and Emma Reeves, it features a range of work that includes ground-breaking photography by Rankin, Nick Knight, David Sims and Terry Richardson; specially commissioned projects by artists Jake & Dinos Chapman, Damien Hirst and Sam Taylor-Wood; cutting edge fashion pages by stylists Katie Grand, Katy England, Alister Mackie and Nicola Formichetti; and specially selected designs by fashion giants Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood and Gareth Pugh.

The curation of the exhibition reflects the nature of the magazine, immortalising its most infamous visual stories.  Dazed sought to publish unheard voices and new talents – quirky, fashionable, extraordinary and different.

20 Years of Dazed & Confused magazine at Somerset House. Own photograph.

The exhibition is surprisingly extensive but, then again, Hack has never done anything by half.  It celebrates what Dazed is all about and what makes Dazed so wonderful is that it doesn’t fit a mould.  Hack and Rankin have never tried to conform.  When they started, they didn’t really know what they were meant to conform to.  The magazine took off, people loved the freedom of expression it allowed and, as they connected, the creativity burgeoned…and still does to this day.

Amazon is in the East Galleries at Somerset House until 18th December.  20 Years of Dazed & Confused Magazine: Making It Up As We Go Along is in Somerset House’s Terrace Rooms until 29th January 2012, www.somersethouse.org.uk.

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2 Responses to “Contrasting Cultures at Somerset House – Amazon and Dazed & Confused”

  1. adpraisal December 10, 2011 at 11:43 pm #

    I like how Somerset house is branching out from what it is typically associated with – the Amazon exhibit sounds great. I am a massive sucker for beautiful landscape images!

    • chloenelkin December 11, 2011 at 10:30 am #

      It is great and if you like gorgeous landscape photos then you’ll love the exhibition. It’s only on for another week or so but do pop in if you have the time.

      Thanks for your comment 🙂

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