Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present – National Gallery

The National Gallery in London is currently hosting its first major exhibition of photography, Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present. It explores how both early and modern photographers were influenced by the work of artists, particularly Old Masters, when exploring the possibilities of this relatively new art form.

The exhibition is divided into themes, with paintings and photographs displayed alongside each other. I found it interesting to look at how photographers were inspired by artists. Julia Margaret Cameron, for example, took inspiration from the Pre-Raphaelites to create her soft-focus pictures. Richard Learoyd’s photograph ‘Man with Octopus Tattoo’ was displayed alongside James Anderson’s traditional sculpture involving humans wrestling with an octopus. Gainsborough’s eighteenth-century painting of Mr and Mrs Andrews is juxtaposed with Martin Parr’s 1991 photograph which also shows a couple setting up their first home together.

In some ways I found the Still Life section the most interesting, despite viewing still life paintings as among the most boring. A video of fruit in a bowl decaying, speeded up so that the process lasts only a few minutes, comments on the decay inherent in life in the same way traditional still lives do. I recognised Fantin-Latour’s ‘The Rosy Wealth of June’, a rich and brightly coloured arrangement of stunning flowers spilling out from a vase, and really liked Ori Gersht’s 2007 interpretation: he blew up a similar arrangement of flowers, capturing the moment of explosion on film to create a hugely dramatic image.

Ignace-Henri-Théodore Fantin-Latour, 'The Rosy Wealth of June'
Ignace-Henri-Théodore Fantin-Latour, ‘The Rosy Wealth of June’

Dramatic paintings of historical events were displayed alongside photographic tableaux of such events. I also liked Thomas Struth’s 1989 photograph of the National Gallery, which makes a centrepiece of one of the Gallery’s beautiful paintings but also recognises the importance of the Gallery’s visitors.

I’ve never had a major interest in photography and my knowledge of art has always been limited, but I really enjoyed this exhibition. I feel as though I learned something about both photography and art and gained a greater understanding of the possibilities of both mediums.