In the nineteenth century, when the new railway tracks were being driven into the centre of London, this new utopian transport system destroyed many community facilities in its way. Homes, schools, hospitals all had to disappear or be relocated for the greater good. St Thomas’ Hospital was rebuilt in Lambeth to create the new station at London Bridge and the Lambeth Ragged School had to go to enable the new viaducts and tracks from Vauxhall into Waterloo.
One of the wings of the school remains today and, along with an adjacent railway arch, it houses the Beaconsfield Gallery whose mission is to provide a “laboratory space for contemporary art and artists”, key to which is the identification and support of new and young artists. In partnership with the Foam Fotografiemuseum in Amsterdam “Foam Talent” selected work from 21 photographers from its annual Talent Call, representing an international group under the age of 35 years old. Selecting the finalists must have been quite a challenge given that there were 1028 submissions from 67 different countries.
The 21 young finalists are using the medium of photography to raise questions of complexity, contradiction and relationships over time in modern society, in effect using their projects in a documentary role. The black and white photographs of Justin James Reed from the US create abstract patterns from the weathering of rocks, the twisted trunks of trees and natural shapes in the landscape while Christian Viam from Denmark in his project “The Wake” is facilitating a dialogue between the past and the present in aboriginal communities in Australia and David Fabrod from Japan is also looking at building bridges across time with reflections on the memories of his grandparents in the Second World War in the 21st century. Guo Peng from China uses multiple images from a variety of viewpoints to create a dialogue between large scale patterns and small scale detail. Manon Wertenbroek traps her human models in a grid and pattern of two-dimensional shapes, numbers and diagrams, with the dimensions moving in and out, while Sjoerd Knibbeler from the Netherlands captures and brings natural phenomena such as the wind and climatic conditions into the dark dank enclosed railway arch and Daniela Tkachenko from Russia explores scientific and academic sites that are now closed, empty and decaying, a relic from the previous Soviet regime – major scientific centres which were going to be at the heart of a new future, now lying empty and deteriorating, asking the inteviatable questions about the contradictions in modern science where dystopia may be as likely as utopia.
These are only a few of the 21 photographers and, as with this year’s Deutsche Borse Photography Foundation Prize finalists at the Photographers’ Gallery, it is encouraging to see how photographers are engaging with social, environmental and political issues.