Free Exhibitions

Somerset House is dressed for Christmas, and the central courtyard already filled with the temporary winter ice skating rink.  But we weren’t there for the skating, nor even for the Courtauld Institute which is housed in the building; instead we were intent on having something for nothing and visiting the free exhibitions currently on there.

And we were very successful in this endeavour: three shows at Somerset House and then two across Waterloo Bridge in the foyers at the National Theatre.  When so many things have a price of entry, it was a good reminder to look out for all the things that are available in London.

Our first stop, after an energising coffee, was Tim Walker: Story Teller, which in truth, we only went to because we saw the entrance as we were leaving the cafe toilets.  It’s not really an exhibition aimed at me, as I simply can’t take fashion photography that seriously, and found the use of a crashed aeroplane as a prop for such things as in poor taste.  I liked the portraits of various achingly cool and fashionable folk, dressed in white against white backgrounds, but not the rest of it.

From there we progressed to Cartier Bresson – A Question of Colour which displayed colour photographs by European and American photographers inspired by Cartier Bresson’s concept of ‘the decisive moment’, alongside several of his original black and white shots.  This was an eclectic collection of people and places, some showing their impromptu nature, making a virtue of unusual angles, or framing them through the back window of a car, or past the front seat headrest and seatbelt.  Although Cartier Bresson was dismissive of colour prints, this exhibition showed how much colour can add to the depth and complexity of a composition with many of them glowing with saturated tones.

Our heads filled with images from around the world we crossed the courtyard to see 10x1o Drawing the City, for which 100 luminaries from the world of the creative industries had each been allocated a square inch on a map of the West End of London, and invited to create a work of art responding to what they found there.  It was fascinating to see the variety of responses on show;  some had done detailed sketches or paintings of very recognisable and familiar views; others had produced architectural type drawings, or tiny details that expressed something specific about a small corner.  One, a sort of repeated tiling pattern of Hungerford Bridge, had us puzzling about exactly what perspective it was representing.

Until, that is, we were walking across Waterloo Bridge and spotted the oblique profile of the struts of the bridge captured in the work.

Once south of the River, and after a bargain ‘Blue Monday’ lunch of discounted sushi, we hit the National Theatre, where there are currently two free exhibitions in the foyer areas.  Landscape photography in the Lyttleton and Jewellery  in the Olivier.

Achieving something new and original in landscape photography must be nearly impossible these days; we’ve seen so many images already.  But it’s the combination of colour, composition and the capturing of the right instant that sets a pretty picture apart from a truly striking one; there were parallels with the ideas behind the ‘decisive moment’ photographs across the River in Somerset House.  I was particularly impressed by one shot of a huge wave crashing against the promenade in a northern town, as well as a collection of images of cold white, with only small details highlighted in a contrasting hue.

And finally, the Jewellery did indeed dazzle, but thankfully not enough that I had to buy some of it, as that might have rather defeated the point of our economical day out……

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  1. Great day out and i’m so glad you got a away with it ‘Scott’ free after all 🙂

  2. Katie Carder

     /  November 20, 2012

    Hi Rowena,

    Your blog is fantastic!

    We noticed your review of Metamorphosis in the Summer and would love to add you to our mailing list. Please send me your contact details if you would like to be kept up to date on our latest exhibition and gallery news.

    Best wishes


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