Rob Tufnell presents a series of rarely seen, early photographs by Humphrey Spender alongside new video and graphic collages by Stephen Sutcliffe.
Spender’s photographs include images of Christopher Isherwood, taken on Ruegen Island at a Baltic coast guesthouse fictionalised in his novel Goodbye to Berlin (1939) and in Amsterdam. Other subjects include Costa Achilopoulos, socialite and associate of Marcel Duchamp; the surrealist painter John Banting; the ethnographic film-maker Hugh Gibb; members of the Group Theatre; Spender’s wife, the architect Margaret Low and his brother, the poet Stephen Spender. Figures are variously captured against the backgrounds of the Swiss Alps, the waterways of Amsterdam, the streets of Berlin, the Mediterranean coast, Innsbruck during the Anschluss and Lake Garda in the years leading up to the outbreak of the Second World War.
Sutcliffe’s untitled (2010), a short, single channel video work, continues his ongoing identification with and exploration of doubt within the creative process. The work features, found footage of Isherwood, late in life explaining how he writes fictional dialogue. Isherwood refers to Prater Violet (1945) a novel based upon his experience of working as the screenwriter of Little Friend (1934) directed by Berthold Viertel in Vienna. The book describes the technical process of filmmaking as a vehicle for telling the stories of the cast and crew and through this, the erosion of European democracy in the 1930s. Other material used by Sutcliffe includes extracts from a documentary about the nouvelle vague Director Eric Rohmer whose films are distinctive for their focus on dialogue. Sutcliffe has also appropriated extracts from the score for Rohmer’s L’amour l’après-midi (1972).
Whilst Spender’s photographs document a seminal period in British cultural and political life (albeit one chiefly taking place abroad) Sutcliffe can been seen to dissect and reassemble something of their later fictionalisation. Presented together they explore either end of the creative spectrum – original subjects and collaged reconstructions.