Constructed Narratives, Calum Colvin and Ron O’Donnell, The Photographers Gallery, London, 1986

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There is a substantial growth in the number of independent photographers who are using colour as a medium for creative expression. Until recently in Britain colour photography has been considered the province of editorial and advertising photographers and the large amateur market. The major exhibitions this month draw on the work of four artists who are making a significant contribution to the re-evaluation of a colour aesthetic. Peter Fraser, Stephen Lawson and Ron O’Donnell were represented in the Image and Exploration show held here last summer and now all present bodies of new work completed since 1985. Calum Colvin, a graduate from the RCA in 1985 presents work developed from his successful degree show.

Both Colvin and O’Donnell use photography in an experimental way, bringing together motifs from painting and sculpture and constructing installations – the end product being the photograph. They display items from their respective searches in rubbish skips and construct the detritus of human existence in set tableaux, imbuing their work with surrealist theatricality and references to Scottish folklore.

O’Donnell’s photographs, taken since l984, have a humorous edge. He uses devices from comic strips, cartoons and even Spitting Images. His recent photographs are more satirical. Doc Doc Document is a parody on documentary photography, while Tactical Nuclear ExplosionThe Discovery of Radium and Keep The Radio Tuned For Government Advice And Instruction deal with the nuclear threat. O’Donnell admits to being largely unconscious of any political motivations. However, the model doll usherette in Odeon 2 bears an uncanny resemblance to Mrs Thatcher and new technology’s presence, in the guise of the many situational robots found in his work, bear testament to his concerns with current issues. O’Donnell is not a documentary photographer per se but his multi-layered visual narratives present us with many forms of evidence as entertainment. 

Calum Colvin’s photographs provide a counterpoint to O’Donnell’s. Colvin started his career as a painter and sculptor and increasingly worked with installations. The transience of installation work led him to record his efforts with a camera. His present work lies beyond the three mediums. Such a holistic approach suggests the further potential of photography. A series entitled Explorer shows some 20th century reincarnation of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel God creating Action Man instead of Adam, the world having been reduced to a goldfish bowl. Other references to the history of painting appear in The Death of Venus. Botticelli’s masterpiece has been reworked and reinterpreted for a late twentieth century audience.

Alexandra Noble

Exhibition Organiser,1,0,1

‘Cupid and Psyche’ 1986
‘The Beastie’ 1986
‘Death of Venus’ 1986
‘The Venetian Affair’ 1985
‘Untitled’ 1985
‘Untitled’ (Crying Man) 1985
‘Explorer II’ 1986
‘Venus and Mars’ 1986

‘Constructed Narratives Photographs by Calum Colvin and Ron O’Donnell exhibition catalogue, essay by David Brittain, Photographers Gallery, London, 1986. ISBN 0 907879 08 X.