Alvin Baltrop and Gordon Matta-Clark: The Piers From Here

If you were as lucky as I was while I was visiting home in the North-West over Christmas, you wouldn’t have been able to visit any of the local photo galleries such as Open Eye in Liverpool and Impressions in Bradford, due to them being closed for the holidays.

After taking forty winks for a week or so however, Open Eye Gallery will reopen on the 2nd January. Exhibiting there until the 9th February is the photography of Alvin Baltrop and Gordon Matta-Clark.

The exhibition focuses on the area of the piers in New York City during the mid 1970s, and speaks of the state of abandonment and dilapidation these underwent as a consequence of the oil crisis that reconfigured the geography of the city as well as the international market and trading system.

The New York piers act as a mirror or counterpart of Liverpool’s docklands. Historically linked via the transatlantic route that since Colonial times, connected Europe to the Americas, the piers in New York and the docks in Liverpool experienced a similar process of transformation. Unproductive and deserted, New York’s waterfront was gradually reclaimed by an invisible population who used it for a variety of activities, spanning gay cruising, drug-dealing and smuggling to prostitution, but also bringing together an underground community of visual artists, musicians, film-makers, performers and photographers, from the likes of Vito Acconci and Dan Graham, to Joan Jonas and David Wojnarowicz.

Whilst Gordon Matta-Clark was pursuing the idea that art could act as a catalyst for urban regeneration and land re-appropriation, Alvin Baltrop investigated life at the margins, mapping hedonistic displays of flesh, occasional sexual intercourse, corpses that could be mistaken for sleeping squatters (and vice versa) and other traces of humanity hidden amongst the interstices of society, notwithstanding the sense of freedom and liberation originating in the sexual revolution.

In 1975 Gordon Matta-Clark illegally entered and took over Pier 52, a huge corrugated iron structure, almost classic in its majesty and, to put it in Gordon’s words, “completely overrun by the gays”. There he created one of his famous ‘cuts’ entitled Day’s End, a spectacular anti-monumental intervention brought to life by the rotation of the sun, which entered the building, thus reflecting in the water of the Hudson River. As Matta-Clark was creating this architectural installation made of light, shadows and water, Alvin Baltrop kept documenting the activity of the other occupants of the Piers. The encounter resulting from their different approaches is documented in this exhibition, that represents an occasion to look back at those years, reflecting on gentrification and regeneration across the ocean and at the simultaneous disappearance of the underground (sub)culture.

This exhibition is in collaboration with The Alvin Baltrop Trust and Third Streaming, New York and the Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark and David Zwirner, New York/London.

Open Eye Gallery

Having a word with… Paul Kenny

© Paul Kenny

Over the years Paul Kenny has photographed and paid close attention to details in the landscape around him. His approach has fundamentally been a photographic process; however, his artistic nature has led him to explore and evolve his techniques over time, much like his own creations. Like a barnacle attached to its own ecosystem, he has returned again and again to the North-East coastal regions of England, the Scottish Highlands, and more recently to Ireland, to explore and unearth the “awe-inspiring in that which is easily passed by”. Developing his own technique by dripping small amounts of sea-water onto plates and letting them dry over a period of days, he has constructed a series of stunning tidal and celestial images, using flotsam and other natural elements he has found in his environment. The camera has become less important for Paul Kenny, yet his work is as clear and beautiful as his vision.

Born and educated in Salford, in the Northwest of England, Paul Kenny completed his Fine Art Degree at Newcastle upon Tyne in 1975.
In 2004 he returned to North Northumberland where he now lives and works not far from Holy Island with his wife Margaret.

Paul Kenny was kind enough to answer a few questions for BITE:

Where did you study photography?

I did a degree in a Fine Art in Newcastle. There was a photography room with equipment, the Ilford Manual of Photography and a monthly subscription to some great magazines.

I’m pretty much self taught.

What format do you like to shoot in and why?

The Epson V700 is the image capture device of choice right now, because it makes the images I want to.

What inspires you to create your photographs?

The urge to communicate not only what I see in the world, but also what I think.

How do you feel about the photography scene in the North today?

I’m not sure where you mean by north. There seems to be a lot of interesting people collected around the North East… but in general there is an overwhelming amount of photography around.

Grayson Perry in his Reith lectures said something to the effect that “we are drowning in a sea of photography” and I sympathise with that view. This image taken at the unveiling of Pope Francis speaks volumes and is scary in its own way.

A lot of photographers need to remember, it’s only a medium like oil, paint or charcoal, it’s limited; it’s only as good as the mind of the person manipulating and using that medium.

© Paul Kenny

Paul Kenny is represented by Beetles + Huxley Gallery, London.

Solas Magazine Launch

Tonight has been an important and eventful night for new photography in Scotland, with the launch of Solas, a magazine of contemporary photography in Scotland.


Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow hosted the launch, which featured talks from Alex Boyd, editor of Solas, as well as from photographers Niall McDiarmid, Paul Kenny and Simon Crofts who are featured in the first issue.

Find out more about this exciting new magazine and the people involved at:

Paul Reas: Day Dreaming About The Good Times?

Showing at Impressions Gallery in Bradford from 12th December is a retrospective of the work of Paul Reas.

Paul Reas is one of the most significant photographers to emerge from the new wave of British colour documentary of the mid-1980s.  Spanning thirty years from Thatcherite Britain to today’s recession, and encompassing themes of class, consumption, work and leisure, this is the international premiere of Reas’ first major retrospective.

Paul Reas is part of the pioneering generation of photographers who revealed and critiqued British class and culture in the 1980s and 90s. Strongly influenced by his working class upbringing in Bradford, Reas used humour and sharp observation to comment on a new corporate and commercial world epitomised by heritage industry sites, retail parks, and supermarkets.

I Can Help (1988), Reas’ seminal body of work, explores the consumer boom of the eighties with its American-style out-of-town shopping malls. Depicting employees and shoppers of the new middle class, Reas offers an acerbic revisioning of Britishness to create a powerful portrayal of Thatcherite Britain. Flogging a Dead Horse (1993) presents a nationwide survey of the emergence of the ‘heritage industry’: museums and theme parks such as Beamish Open Air Museum that offered a nostalgic and often commercialised version of the past in the wake of the collapse of heavy manufacturing and industry.

The Valleys Project (1985) depicts the impact of the decline of steel and coal industries in Wales and the emerging workforce of women in ‘New Technology’ industries, undertaking deadening work assembling electro-components in factories. Reas’ most recent work, From a Distance (2012/13) documents today’s property development boom and the changes facing the traditionally working class and culturally diverse neighbourhood of Elephant and Castle in South London.

“Daydreaming About The Good Times?” also features rarely-seen early black and white photographs made in Wales and Bradford; never-before-exhibited work from Flogging a Dead Horse and I Can Help; as well as vintage material from Reas’ personal archive including contact sheets, magazine spreads of editorial work, and examples of his award-winning and subversive advertising campaigns for Nissan, British Telecom and Volkswagen.

The exhibition will tour to Ffotogallery, the leading gallery for photography in Wales in Spring 2014.

All images © Paul Reas / courtesy Impressions Gallery.