Thursday, 28 January 2016

Joseph McKenzie: Women of Dundee & Photographs from the Margaret Morris collection

Stills, Edinburgh, 6th February-9th April

At first glance, two old women gossiping on a half-demolished street may not have much to do with the group of nymph-like waifs in swimsuits draping themselves across the branches of a tree in synchronised unison. Seen alongside each other as in this two-part exhibition at Stills, however, the documentary photographs of Joseph McKenzie and images by Fred Daniels taken from the collection of choreographer Margaret Morris fuse social history and artistic archive in fascinating counterpoint.

Where Joseph McKenzie was regarded as the father of Scottish photography up until his death in 2015, the shapes thrown in Morris' 1920s world were the epitome of abstraction applied to everyday life. Both, in their own ways, were radical pioneers.

“The Margaret Morris collection is a really early example of an artist recognising the importance of documentation,” Stills director Ben Harman says,“while Joseph McKenzie's photographs are early examples of a form that shows how important documentary photography has become.”

McKenzie's images of Dundee women are drawn from a much larger collection, Dundee - City in Transition, exhibited in 1966 and now held by the city's McManus Gallery and Museum. Daniels' images of Morris and co are taken from the Fergusson Gallery's collection at Perth Gallery and Museum.

As vital as the work of both McKenzie and Morris remains, this second of Stills' ongoing series of twinned historical shows aims to bring it into the open in a way that both saves them from neglect and illustrates their influence on those working in similar fields today.

“I wonder whether part of Margaret Morris's legacy is the whole cultural spirit of Glasgow,” posits Harman. “She was such a part of that. As far as Joseph McKenzie goes, documentary photography is such a major strand of contemporary practice now, but McKenzie really set the bar.”

The List, January 2016

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