Poster for Thom Lyons' exhibition 'Observations' at Photospace Gallery, 24 March to 15 April 2017
Thom Lyons is an American photographer resident in Australia. 'Observations' is his second exhibition at Photospace Gallery, after 'A Soldier's Eyes' in August 2015. Exhibition and artist information.
For this exhibition, Thom presented me with a large number of colour photographs taken in NZ and Australia in the time since his last show here, and I was in the position of selecting a dozen or so pictures for this new exhibition. I guess this makes me the curator, which means I should probably try to explain my choices and decisions.
While the majority of Thom Lyons' photos depict somewhat surreal, oddly resonant urban landscapes and objects within them, making an Eggleston-inspired selection from the works was my first intent. However, there were also a lot of photos featuring people, ranging from street portraits, 'decisive moment' type street scenes, to landscapes with people in open spaces. While many of these images are pure photographic moments, they contain a tension between photographer and subject that will be familiar to those who have ever photographed strangers in public spaces.
Also, when the main subject (like the young woman videoing out the train window) is plainly unaware of being photographed, the tension shifts to being between the viewer and the photographer (via the photograph).
While this is probably not the only photography exhibition to be titled 'Observations', I chose the word for its multiple-entendre; the photographer as observer; the subject often observing the photographer; the viewer observing the subject via the photographic print, and less directly, the photographer. There is also the observation of social rules, boundaries, ethics and legalities around photographing in public, all of which is shifting ground.
Photospace Gallery has presented many exhibitions of street photography over the last 18 years, all of which raise similar questions, but attitudes towards photography in public places has changed in that time. With many photographs now appearing online, people today are generally more suspicious of photographers' motives. But imagine a world in which street photography was always illegal or so problematic as to make it unfeasible; for a start, we wouldn't have the photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Garry Winogrand, Andre Kertesz, Vivian Maier or countless others that show us how we as human beings are in a certain place and time. History and visual arts would be much the poorer.
Although this seems pretty flaming obvious, 'street photography' means going out into the streets with your camera and photographing what you find there, which often includes people, mainly strangers. There is a rich tradition of it in many countries, including France, where the art was born. Ironically, France is one of the countries that is currently making street photography untenable.
Anyway, this is all academic. Come and look at the photos, which we hope you will enjoy. -James Gilberd, March 2017.
Thom Lyons at opening of 'Observations', 24th March 2017