A solo exhibition of Victor Albrow’s photography is currently on view at Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow. On entering the exhibition space, one is immediately drawn to the almost life-size portraits through the odd contrast of figures in a contemporary setting staged so to be reminiscent of Renaissance portrait paintings. While Albrow did not intentionally create parallels with Renaissance portraiture, the similarities and contexts are palpable. Two distinctive qualities of Renaissance portrait paintings were technical innovation that allowed for much greater detail in rendering, and a democratization in choice of subjects, where people from different social classes, not just the privileged, were depicted. These two aspects of introducing new techniques and social demographics mark issues in contemporary art which emanate from Albrow’s works.
Albrow’s photographic portraits exude an unmistakable sheen of digital production. While the camera was initially used as a window into social life through documentation, the ubiquity of digital technology has moved us along a trajectory where the motif of fact versus fiction is now deeply embedded in photography and art production of various media. Within this context, a viewer recognizes each of the photographs as a tableau, constructed and choreographed.
Albrow selects each of his subjects, some purposefully, but most by serendipity, and has each carefully and precisely transformed in the studio. Each subject appears styled based on physical and social codes. For instance, the associations of the color white, pickles with pregnancy, the embossed eagle insignias, a plate of chips, gravy and pie, all have evolved to become signifiers of culture and class. The acknowledgment of the construction of the scene makes explicit a provocation to question if these codes are demonstrative of the person “behind” the image and the validity of appearances and images in relation to our lived experiences. Regardless of the staging, a sense of despondency from the bare and vacant expressions which contributes to a pervasive human quality is felt, and further wrestles uncomfortable with the air of artifice within each work.
Albrow (b. 1952) was placed second in the Schweppes Portrait Prize 2003 at the National Portrait Gallery, London, and participated in Future Face an international touring exhibition which was presented at the Science Museum, London. His work is in various private collections and the permanent collection of the Ivory Press Gallery, Madrid.