In Camera: Mat Collishaw

September 18, 2015 by Mary

18 September 2015 – 10 January 2016
The Gallery, Library of Birmingham


In Camera: a legal term that means keep private, confined or hidden.

Camera obscura (Latin: ‘dark chamber’): an optical device that led to photography consisting of a box or room with a hole in one side through which light from an external scene passes through to make or reveal an image.

In Camera: a term used by photographers to indicate that an image is authentic, having been made from the real, and presented without any cropping or post production.

In 2014, Mat Collishaw was commissioned by GRAIN to make work in response to the Library of Birmingham photography collection. This exhibition of new work, supported by Arts Council England, is presented in parallel with a major survey of Collishaw's work being show at the New Art Gallery Walsall (25 September 2015 – 10 January 2016).

In Camera is an installation created around a series of 12 crime scene negatives made for Birmingham City Police Force during the 1930s and 1940s. Collishaw discovered these uncatalogued images, made to provide evidence in alleged and actual crimes committed in the city, hidden amongst an archive of orphaned police negatives whilst exploring the Library’s photography collections during 2014.

Extracted from their current, obscured institutional setting and detached from their referent case notes, in Collishoaw's new installation these unexceptional, transparent images become fluid, emotionally redolent and unsettling objects. Intermittent flash bulbs expose the images printed in phosphorescent ink and incarcerated in translucent vitrines. The scenes glow eerily in the darkness, as if lit for forensic analysis. Mundane depictions of empty rooms become charged by the illicit acts implied. These human stains appear as violation of decency, images that commemorate transgressions, as with the act of capturing an image; where the light contaminates the photographic negative.

The work prompts questions about the medium of photography, its historical role as witness and the way in which our reading of images are affected when they shift from the private to the public. devoid of human presence, the works invite the audience to speculate about these backdrops; the identity of suspects and victims and circumstances which led to the crimes being committed.

Here, as in the works on display at New art gallery Walsall, Collishaw continues to explore the potential for such images to be simultaneously shocking yet alluring, drawing us in with these seductive, unsettling and compelling works and asking us to look beneath the surface where complex questions and darker, more malevolent forces are at play.