The Moon and a Smile exhibition at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea, Wales (4 Mar 2017 - 23 Apr 2017) was based on the contemporary responses of nine photographers to a period in the 1840s and 1850s, when Swansea was at the centre of early experiments in photography worldwide. In particular, the Dillwyn family circle was prolific in the development of photography, especially Mary Dillwyn and John Dillwyn Llewellyn.
Commissioned by Glynn Vivian, the nine international artists created new work for the exhibition, alongside a display of 19th century photography.
Anna Fox wrote of her involvement:
"One of the most striking things about the Dillwyn photographs is how candid and playful they are; to capture the first smile must have been an exciting event in itself. Clearly the family involvement with the science of photography and their pursuit of faster and faster shutter speeds had a big influence on the relaxed feel of the work. Trawling through the archive one discovers the imaginative Dillwyn family investigating the development of camera technology and the desire to capture information about life itself, their own lives and the natural world around them. This combined with the the pleasure of playing with photography's illusory quality creates a strange mix in the archive of alchemy and indexicality.
In recent work I have been investigating the mysterious relationship between time and memory in photography and like the Dillwyn's investigations this has a relationship both to changing technology and to the illusory nature of photography. For many years' photographers have pursued the capturing of fleeting moments, freezing action, albeit small, on a plate, film or file as a significant moment, a poignant note about life summed up in a pregnant milli-second. The photograph has been understood as a memento directly out of a time and place and this has been embedded in the medium since its inception, a miniature death or life suspended as if in aspic. More recently a kind of magical realism has arisen out of the coming of the digital age. While we are still wrapped up in photography's indexical relationship to the world new ways of playing with this illusion are erupting.
Since 1983, when I started photographing, I have been picturing the leisure industry. For this commission I have re visited some of the houses and locations that the Dillwyn's recorded. The houses they photographed were private homes and the beaches and hillsides used for leisure purposes predominantly by the moneyed classes. Today these places are open to the wider public and leisure is the pursuit of the masses. My photographs tell a story about the leisure industry as it is today. The work plays with time and illusion, echoing the provocation of the Dillwyn archive. Each image is constructed with dozens of separate images. First a background plate is created and then, together with a team of assistants I photograph what happens in the location over approximately a 3-hour period. Images of the people are selected and then layered in post-production onto the background. This process and its' results has led me to think more intently about photography time and memory and to consider that a single image, shot at 125th of a second, is not necessarily a memento of an event in the way that an image constructed out of many images and in a few hours might be. The picture made up of many images represents what has been seen over a period of time and so has a new relationship to the notion of what constitutes a documentary photograph. These are slowed down images connected to memories of a period of time in a particular place and an event or series of events that happened there.
While rummaging in the archive I discovered numerous photographs of gardens and the Dillwyn's own garden at Penllagaer in particular. Many of these images have a theatrical feel to them, canoes and a wigwam by a lake and stuffed animals posing for real in the woods. One photograph I loved was simply of flowers in a flower bed with an artificial background dropped in behind them. I made a short sequence mimicking this approach but in colour, they are whimsical, the theatre and all its construction are laid bare."
This work was made with the assistance of Andrew Bruce, Ashleigh Fisk and Amanda Whittle. Digital post production Andrew Bruce.
John Dillwyn Llewelyn, Iris Germanica, salt print, 20x16cm, c.1853-4, National Museum of Wales