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Performing for the Camera – Tate Modern

Performing for the Camera, is a Tate Modern exhibition visited in June. It is broad in its range, including 500 photographs, covering the relationship between photo and performance – from historical photographs to the contemporary.

No photography was permitted, which diminishes the effectiveness of this write-up. However, the Tate website, Performing for the Camera, provides some visuals and videos. The exhibition is separated into rooms covering the following aspects:

  • Documenting performance. This included Yves Klein’s leap and live paint brushes – the documentation of performance. It was noted that photos are often the only remaining evidence of an ephemeral work and how it can be challenging to photograph the unpredictable whilst making creative decisions.
    Source: www.stedelijk.nl
    Source: www.stedelijk.nl, Shunk and Kender

    For some of the work, one perhaps needed to be present at the event to truly appreciate the photograph – there was more interest in the photograph as a memento of performance art rather than as piece of photographic art itself. Heavily featured photographers were Harry Shunk (1924–2006) and Janos Kender (1938–2009).

  • Staging / collaborations purely to be photographed. Many images were featured from the Paul Nadar studio, the premises inherited from his father. Paul Nadar (1856 – 1939) was the son of the celebrated photographer Nadar. Various staged images were featured.
  • Photographic actions – included artists photographing their own creative processes eg Warhol with Grace Jones body painting, Ai Wai dropping a 2000 year old vase and Erwin Wurm’s one minute sculptures. The work of Francesca Woodman was also featured in this section – interestingly the prints were small in size; not appreciated through online viewing of work.
  • Performing Icons Cindy Sherman’s famous untitled film stills featured here; it was great to see these captivating images in print. David Wojnarowicz’s- series of
    Source: www.americanphotomag.com/
    Source: www.americanphotomag.com, David Wojnarowicz

    collaged faces, Rimbaud in New York,  stood out; the same face place in various scenes by its superimposition over original photographs. David Lamelas’s work, Rock Star, dealing with the conventions of rock photography provided inspiration for assignment 5 of this course (see here). The concept of Yasumasa Mormura’s requiem to Yves Klein through a recreation of the Leaping Man caught my attention – the idea of a photograph as a requiem!

  • Public relations  covered mass media techniques.
  • Self-portrait
  • Performing real life references recent social media projects.

I’ve ordered the catalogue of the exhibition from Wordery, strangely at an £8 discount to the exhibition price, as it will make useful reference and serve to fill in the gaps that are missing by not being able take photos during the extensive exhibition.


Getty [website]. Harry Shunk and Shunk-Kender Archive. Available from: http://www.getty.edu/research/special_collections/notable/shunk_kender.html [accessed 3.7.16]

Getty [website]. Paul Nadar. http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/artists/1586/paul-nadar-french-1856-1939/ [accessed 3.7.16]

Searle A (2016). The Guardian [online]. Performing for the Camera review – pain, passport photos and genital panic (15 February). Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/feb/15/performing-for-the-camera-review-tate-modern-exhibition  [accessed 3.6.16]

Tate Modern [website]. Performing for the Camera. Available from: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/performing-camera [accessed 3.6.16]


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