Rena Effendi at the HOST Gallery – 17 December 2009 to 16 January 2010

Last week I went to see Rena Effendi‘s Pipedreams exhibition at the HOST Gallery just off Old Street. It is part of the Buta Festival of Azerbaijani Arts which runs in London until March 2010. Visit their website for more information as there are a huge variety of events going on.

I first came to know Rena’s work a few years ago when Jim and I included it on the Odyssey Photography site. I immediately connected with it. She was obviously an extremely talented photographer whose work was extremely personal to her. Her full use of the tonal range and slightly off, yet effective framing reminded me of Koudelka. She was also not afraid to use a slightly slower shutter speed either, whether out of necessity or choice. Her work stood out for me.

Needless to say I was looking forward to seeing the exhibition. And yet I came away feeling let down and disappointed. Perhaps it is because I am now thinking of exhibiting myself so tend to approach all exhibitions with a critical eye. Perhaps not.

The first thing I noticed was that many of the prints seemed dirty. Not literally but tonally. There was an excessive amount of a mid range grey that I consider to be sludgy and murky. I asked if they knew who had done the printing and I was told that usually Rena uses darkroom prints from negs, but in this case they were digital prints from scans. It seems someone, somewhere along the line did not have an eye for black and white prints and these somehow slipped through the net. A shame. As I said one of the characteristics of Rena’s work is their strong, clear tonal range.

Another disappointment was in the selection of prints being shown. Collections of documentary and reportage photo essays are inevitably made up of a majority of standard, narrative and yet necessary images. Strong, yet not stunning – the workhorses of an exhibition or book. Scattered amongst these should be the eye catching, unique and more personal outstanding images of which Rena has many. And which I was looking forward to seeing in the flesh, already being familiar with them from the internet. They were not there. Perhaps whoever did the selecting found them too daring and different to include. It seemed to me the soul of the collection was missing.

The venue is a great space. Yet there were boxes in the way and the lighting was poor. The spots fell between the frames, leaving many in shadow, exacerbating the problems with the prints. As I keep saying it is a great shame.

I would still recommend visiting it though. The festival as a whole, as I said, seems fantastic, and I have long been fascinated by Azerbaijan as a country. It reminds me too of Romania as I knew it, nearly twenty years ago. And once again, Rena Effendi is a fantastic photographer and whatever the faults of the exhibition you should grab the opportunity to see her work or visit her website.

Rena will also be giving a talk at the gallery on Tuesday the 12th of January at 7pm. I intend to be there.

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