GPN17 at 117 Wallis Road, London E9

rebuilding of Hackney Wick station
My photo of the rebuilding of Hackney Wick station, which, when completed, is expected to drive the regeneration of this area.

Thirty-eight photographers exhibiting in Hackney Wick, some their first public exhibition, some well-known names showing their private work, some their commercial work. Many intriguing, thoughtful images from voices that aren’t seen/heard widely enough. If the art world is to discover another Mapplethorpe to celebrate then maybe it will be one of these photographers or another from the 4000-strong Gay Photographers Network.

An “Open” exhibition - no overall theme - everyone showing what they do in a democratic presentation with a wide spread of subject material. This exhibition is Gay Photographers, not necessarily Gay Photography. Stephen McKenna’s cityscapes, Nicholas Warner’s wildlife. A number of very finely crafted images - Johan Gay’s three images featuring a number of fetish icons but staged in imaginative ways, each image independent but making a coherent statement overall, although as with many of the contributions, it wasn’t very clear what the statement is beyond a celebration of gay sexuality. But that’s enough and (still) new images of gay sexuality aren’t seen often in public places.
The professionals are very aware of the line between craft photography and pornography, the confusion of which limits the proselytism of specifically gay photography in the eyes of the art establishment and the public. Explicit photography is not all pornography - and I think none of this exhibition was pornography although there was plenty which was explicit.
A couple of installations, they stand out compared to the framed images on the walls. HAWT! Photography’s porn star’s gym locker, David Cook’s hexagonal lantern, that surrounds the viewer, bringing the eye uncomfortably close to intimate and very hairy body images, whilst leaving the viewer’s lower body and hands exposed and visible to the rest of the gallery. A memorable, disquieting experience.
A good number of photographers exhibited work that must have taken much time and thought to set up: Myrkky Photography’s stage blood fest gave mixed messages, primarily “Why?” To me the answer was “Because he can”, as a special effects designer. Jonathan Armour’s piece in his “Theatre of Selfs” practice is attractive and was prominently displayed but takes some attention to understand fully. And Michelle Martinoli showed well-loved and intensely crafted images of performers which have achieved a wide circulation.

Great to hear that getting on for a thousand people have viewed the exhibition so far and that on the opening night the gallery was packed, but why, at the time of celebration of 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexual sex in England and Wales, is an exhibition like this self-financed and relegated to what is currently the relative obscurity of Hackney Wick redevelopment zone?
Possible conclusions:

  1. Self-financed = Creative independence
  2. Forty-one years on from “Sing if you’re glad to be gay” (the bitter, bitter anthem of Gay Pride 1976), nothing has changed, gay photography is still somewhat in the ghetto.
  3. Gay photography is out there and mainstream.
  4. Photo exhibitions are not notably popular in the commercial sense, especially now everyone with a phone is a “photographer”..

Tom Robinson Band - (Sing If You're) Glad To Be Gay (7" version 1978)

GPN17 - Gay Photographers Network 2017 exhibition - continues at 117 Walllis Road, London E9 5LN until 8th August 2017.

Fair disclosure: I am a member of GPN but didn’t choose to exhibit.