Art & Photography

Moments of Reprieve

William Kherbek reviews the representation of loss at Paradise Row gallery

Paradise row, instillation view
Instillation view, courtesy of Paradise Row and the artists

How do you represent loss in a photograph? It’s a hard question, no doubt one that has troubled David Birkin and Louisa Adam, who, in their co-curated exhibition, Moments of Reprieve, bring together the work of more than ten (mostly) young photographers in an attempt to come to grips with the thorny prospect of depicting absence.

Mercifully, Birkin and Adam steer entirely clear of the kind of laboured allegories that such an idea could easily evoke and find a number of works which eschew jejune, reductive readings, yet which manage to convey an ineffable sense of, if not emptiness, then a kind of resigned remove. “Loss”, thinking of it, seems to be the right word.

The show comes courtesy of Paradise Row, but it is not in the gallery’s main space, instead occupying the former David Roberts Art Foundation space on 111 Great Titchfield Street. The size of the gallery allows Birkin and Adam’s very confident hang to breathe beautifully; the show doesn’t even use the very large basement room of the gallery. The works are thus free to establish dialogues and play out tensions without having to shout over each other.

The award-winning Birkin himself has one of the strongest pieces in the show, a hazy C-print of an image from a VHS tape titled, Anno in the Tiergarten. The title, like the work, invites interpretation: Anno could be a name, or it could be Latin for year, or, of course, it could be both. The image, too, has the same studied instability, resisting the kind of sentiment and romanticism that its title conjures. It remains suspended between the underlying organicism of the imagery and the technological structures which fix and distort it; you never quite arrive at the work, and, in this way, it writes loss into every step of its visual journey.

“Vanished homes, countries, hidden narratives, all haunt the edges of various broken stories”

Another highlight is Ori Ghersht’s If Not Now, When #1 which also seems to capture assuredly the show’s ethos, engendering the same sense of present absence—or maybe absent presence. Structurally, work exists at the border between landscape and abstraction, suggesting a kind of requiem for the natural world in the new dark age of the anthropocene, but also summoning the idea of a primeval forest, the world before its “discovery”. Somehow this dynamic manages to let the work look both backward and forward.

The modalities of loss in the world of politics and warfare present subject matter for several works by Birkin, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, and Indre Serpytyte; vanished homes, countries, hidden narratives, all haunt the edges of various broken stories. Sometimes losses are political, personal, and cultural all at once. Birdhead has a piece in the show titled Song Dynasty Poem which recreates a poem from China’s Song Dynasty using characters photographed in contemporary signage. The images are then arranged vertically in wooden frames.At first the piece felt a slightly decorative, but somehow it matured, mirroring the subject poem itself, a meditation on how youthful hunger for experience sunders on an only-too-accommodating world. As runs humanity’s oldest curse, may you get what you want.

Moments of Reprieve runs until 22 September at Paradise Row, London. For more information on David Birkin visit