In the lead-up to the UK General Election in May, James Hyman Gallery presents Spitting: Photographs by Andrew Bruce & Anna Fox, an exhibiton of never-before seen photographs by acclaimed Britsh documentary photographer Anna Fox and rising star Andrew Bruce.
One of the most popular television programmes of the 1980s and 1990s, watched by an audience of 15 million people at its peak, Spitting Image was a British satirical show featuring puppet caricatures of prominent celebrities of the time, including international politicians and the British Royal Family, among others. The series was cancelled in 1996, but remains a seminal piece of British television. It has recently been announced that a brand new six-part series, entitled Newzoids and featuring modern-day personalities such as Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Russell Brand, will air in 2015.
On the termination of the original series, James Hyman began to acquire some of the most important puppets used in the show for his private art collection, the Hyman Collection. A life-long fan of Spittng Image, Hyman believes that the life-size puppets should continue to be seen and enjoyed, and is delighted to be collaborating with photographers Fox and Bruce to bring these politicians back into the public eye in this important election year.
In the lead-up to the UK General Election in May, James Hyman Gallery presents Spitting: Photographs by Andrew Bruce & Anna Fox, an exhibition of never-before seen photographs by acclaimed British documentary photographer Anna Fox and rising star Andrew Bruce.
One of the most popular television programmes of the 1980s and 1990s, watched by an audience of 15 million people at its peak, Spitting Image was a British satirical show featuring puppet caricatures of prominent celebrities of the time, including international politicians and the British Royal Family, among others. The series was cancelled in 1996, but remains a seminal piece of British television.
On the termination of the series, James Hyman began to acquire some of the most important puppets used in the show for his private art collection, the Hyman Collection. A life-long fan of Spitting Image, Hyman believes that the life-size puppets should continue to be seen and enjoyed, and is delighted to be collaborating with photographers Fox and Bruce to bring these politicians back into the public eye in this important election year.
Echoing the garish photographs made by Spitting Image creators Peter Fluck and Roger Law before Martin Lambie-Nairn approached them to suggest adapting their creations for television, Fox and Bruce spent weeks in the studio working with a selection of the original puppets, crafting these ominous images. Photographed either against brightly coloured neon backdrops or shrouded by darkness; each image depicts a former Tory party member. Rendered in extraordinary detail on large format film, at times stripped of their clothing, every mark on the latex or foam is made visible and accentuated, including signs of wear, fragility and decay. Presented in this way, the puppets become evocative emblems of a past era and a faded power. There is an awkward tension in these photographs between the puppets as depiction of people, as cultural icons and also as crumbling modern artifacts. Key works in the exhibition include Margaret Thatcher, her predecessor Edward Heath and successor John Major, and cabinet ministers Cecil Parkinson, Norman Tebbit, Michael Heseltine, Leon Brittan and Douglas Hurd.
Anna Fox said: Once we had them out of their packing cases, lying on the studio floor, the puppets looked broken, aged, decrepit and lacking any glimmer of life. The orange latex protruded pathetically from underneath their clothing as we re-arranged them on the stand. At one point, Norman Tebbit's head came off as if he was being decapitated by some unknown force. The glamour faded, the sheen gone. Failed characters abandoned in storage... Spitting Image was a great show that was made, in the wake of Python, at a time when humour really could be outrageous. These puppets, imbued with satire, represented our most significant politicians at their worst... Now, like all political fortunes, we are left with the remnants of a different age.
Andrew Bruce said: Several years ago I visited Ten Downing Street to help on a shoot creating a portrait of David Cameron for a Sunday supplement. Throughout the shoot we were constantly watched over, told what we could and couldn't do; where David could stand, how we could light himit seemed like we were puppets. And so years later, when myself and Anna posed Maggie, an upside-down tripod running up her back for support, we rearranged her hair, depressed the plunger controlling the angle of her eyes and I unbuttoned her blouse to take in the crumbling foam body that lay beneath - then I thought about that shoot at Number Ten. I was born in the final years of Thatcher's government; born into a generation of politics that seems quite unrecognisable from that of the politicians whose puppets we photographed. Now in an era where satire has become dangerous and appearances are guarded and cultivated with a clinical level of precision, it seems more important than ever that we remember to probe the imagery of politics we are presented with every day.Hyman said: Spitting Image was part of my childhood so it was incredibly exciting to be able to acquire some of the most important puppets used in the famous TV series... When I mentioned these puppets to the wonderful British photographer, Anna Fox, she was immediately excited by this crazy purchase and we discussed the possibility that she might photograph them. So I'm delighted that after a gap of some years the opportunity arose for her and Andrew Bruce to collaborate on these exciting new pictures. For me these new photographs, often on an enormous scale, are about more than recording appearance, although they do that in extraordinary detail, but are also about the expendability of politicians. We are shown that beneath the veneer there is fragility, underneath the power-dressing there is vulnerability. These photographs remind me of right-wing politician Enoch Powell's assertion that "all political careers end in failure."
Hyman continues: One of my favourite pictures shows the puppets dumped in a pile on the floor as though ready to be swept away as garbage. But whilst it may be true that these puppets have lost some of their shine, through Spitting Image and now these remarkable photographs, these politicians have achieved a form of immortality."
About Anna Fox:
Anna Fox is one of the most acclaimed British photographers of the last 25 years. Working in colour, Fox studied under Martin Parr, Paul Graham and Karen Knorr, and is influenced by the British documentary tradition. She first came to attention with her 1988 study of London office culture in the mid-Thatcher years, entitled Workstations.
Fox is perhaps best known for Zwarte Piet (1993-8), a series of 20 portraits taken over a five year period that explore Dutch 'black- face' folk traditions. Other projects have included The Village (1992), a multi-media collaboration with the writer Val Williams that examines the experiences of rural women, and Friendly Fire, which records the leisure activity of paintballing in the manner of war reportage. From 2009, Fox photographed for two years at Butlins in Bognor Regis for her book, Resort 1 - Butlins Bognor Regis.
Fox's work has been exhibited extensively across the globe, at leading institutions including the Tate and The Photographer's Gallery in the UK, and the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago. In 2010, she was shortlisted for the prestigious Deutsche BPhotography Prize. Fox is currently Professor of Photography at the University for the Creative Arts, Farnham.
About Andrew Bruce:
Andrew Bruce is an artist working primarily with photography. He has worked alongside Anna Fox on a number of projects, having initially studied under her at the University for the Creative Arts before later obtaining his MA at the Royal College of Art.
His work focuses primarily on the representation of nature both in relation to culture and to the natural world itself. Bruce's meticulously staged photographs carefully slip between real and unreal, still-life scenes and fleeting moments (or in this case images that seem neither still-life nor portraiture). Bruce has exhibited in group shows both in the UK and also internationally at festivals such as Goa International Photo Festival and Les Rencontres d'Arles, and also solo exhibitions at Cabin Gallery in London and Galleri Box in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Bruce was a recipient of a British Council grant in 2010 and was selected for Fresh Faced and Wild Eyed at the Photographers' Gallery after his graduation. More recently Bruce was nominated for the Prix Pictet award.
Bruce also lectures extensively on the subject of photography in universities, museums and has contributed to educational publications.