Peter Marlow at the Wapping Project

pm10_0You might expect a photo journalist to take photographs of people; not just portraits (although Marlow has captured a wide range, from sportsmen to politicians), but people actually doing things. That expectation is greater for someone whose 30-year career with photography agency Magnum, and previously Sygma in Paris, took him to Northern Ireland, Lebanon, and the bleak decay of 1980s Liverpool.
But in this current Wapping exhibition, Marlow’s interests reveal themselves to be quite other to what we might anticipate – the solo show is characterised by a conspicuous absence of people. What we see instead through Marlow’s lens are the often bizarre out-takes and non-spaces that have interested him throughout his career; an awkward view from behind a porta-cabin, discarded cans under the belly of a concrete flyover, a few telephones sat wearily on the carpet tiles of an abandoned office.  Although there may be no figures to offer a narrative, there are signs of life in scenes that whisper of melancholic loneliness, the in-between, the discarded, the abandoned, the off-key – it is this disharmony that binds together all the images in the show.
On the one hand, his work derives a certain philosophical energy from looking between the gaps, championing the oft-overlooked and the potential poetry in the peripheral. On the other, the thread that unites them can at times feel arbitrary, and the images themselves force-fed with laboured meaning and nuance.  Marlow is at his best when scrutinising the superficially meaningless patterns, like the rooftops of a non-descript suburban town that become reified against a grey sky with a sense of order and divine proportion.
The title itself is pithy and derives its name from a photograph of a lonely sign stating ‘Point of Interest’ in a forest of uniform fir trees. Although as an independent image it has a degree of wit, as a unifying theme it rather lacks the conviction of the ironic overtones it aspires to.  Some of the better pieces have a surrealist undertone – in Derek Jarman’s Garden, a washing line of overalls turn into blow-up dolls or blustering anthropomorphic windsocks.
Perhaps the abandoned supermarket trolley in a Milton Keynes reservoir is a bland reminder of Banksy’s overproduced street art (when he appropriated Monet’s Giverny water-lilies and filled it with urban detritus), making the poetry feel unfairly cliched. Likewise for the enigmatic wardrobe left standing in a stripped and barren room. The pervading emptiness feels at times a touch too contrived, but without reducing the atmospheric and valid interrogation into objecthood.
Link to this article as published in Glass Magazine
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