Open Eye Gallery is one of the UK’s leading photography spaces, located on the Liverpool Waterfront: - If you're interested in writing for our blog please email: 

formalism in photography

On the persistence of formalism in photography by John Meehan

The exhibition Not All Documents are Records is Open Eye Gallery’s reflective contribution to the 2014 Liverpool Biennial. The exhibit is an exploration of the question: “Can photography be the site where the history of an exhibition is produced and still retain its independent artistic autonomy, thus overcoming pure documentation?”

I have visited the exhibit several times, mainly to study the 26 photographs comprising Hans Haacke’s Photographic Notes, documenta 2 (1959). Of the four artists represented in the show, it is the images by Haacke and Ugo Mulas (of the 1968 Venice Biennial) that seem to answer the question most affirmatively.

This view is based on the overt formalism in both artists’ photographs that reveals a self-consciousness of style. Haacke and Mulas were clearly aware they weren’t merely documenting an event but were also attempting to create works of autonomous aesthetic value.

Many of the images have geometric compositions and use intrinsically photographic devices such as lens characteristics and tonal separation as image elements. For instance, Haacke’s image ‘Pollock, Child with Toy, 1959’ has geometry reminiscent of Piet Mondrian’s extreme formalism.  Inclusion of one of Mondrian’s own works in another image (‘Mondrian, Klee, 1959’) suggests the formal structure of Haacke’s image is no accident. Coincidentally, the Open Eye exhibit coincides with Tate Liverpool’s Mondrian and his Studios show.

Photographic Notes, documenta 2, Mondrian, Klee 1959 © Hans Haacke © DACS, London

Photographic Notes, documenta 2, Mondrian, Klee 1959 © Hans Haacke © DACS, London

Similarly, Mulas’s image titled ‘Venezia, 1968. Sala di Gastone Novelli’ blends a strong geometry and lens distortion – especially of the women’s legs – that seems to simultaneously reference not only painters such as Mondrian but earlier surrealist photography by Man Ray, Bill Brandt and others.

Venezia, 1968. Sala di Gastone Novelli, XXXIV Esposizione Biennale Internazionale d’Arte “Photo Ugo Mulas © Ugo Mulas Heirs. All rights reserved”

Venezia, 1968. Sala di Gastone Novelli,
XXXIV Esposizione Biennale Internazionale d’Arte
“Photo Ugo Mulas © Ugo Mulas Heirs. All rights reserved”

I have always been drawn to photographs with strong formal elements. Like many photographers, I move between genres when photographing. Street photography rarely allows time to consider the formal arrangement of elements (unless the photographer waits at a fixed location for a final element to arrive). However, still life and architectural photography are particularly suited to this more structured approach.

Following a recent visit to Open Eye Gallery (perhaps under the influence of Haacke and Mulas’ images) I ‘made’ the following formalist image.

Mann Island Building 3, ©John Meehan

Mann Island Building 3, ©John Meehan

This is not an unusual approach to modern architecture, except I have prioritised photographic style over any attempt to represent the building itself. In prioritising authorship over subject, this use of abstraction similarly echoes the modernist photography dominant between the 1920s and mid-1970s.

The Mann Island site occupied by Open Eye Gallery offers many such opportunities given the striking architecture of the site’s new buildings. Similarly, the nearby Museum of Liverpool has become well known to photographers due to its spiralling central staircase. This staircase alone offers endless creative opportunities for formalist photography (even before visiting the excellent exhibits it leads to).

Museum of Liverpool, study #2. ©John Meehan

Museum of Liverpool, study #2. ©John Meehan

Formalist photography was initiated by Alfred Stieglitz’s push for ‘straight photography’ in the early decades of the last century and developed by artists such as Paul Strand, Willard Van Dyke, Edward Weston, Margaret Bourke-White and Minor White. Its influence on photographers working in the 1950s and 1960s, such as Haacke and Mulas featured in Not All Documents Are Records, is therefore not surprising.  Though less fashionable in contemporary photography, formalism remains part of the language of photography.

John Meehan is a Liverpool based photographer and blogger. His images can be found at and blog at

formalism in photography was originally published on Open Eye Gallery

Paul Morrison: Limited editions

Every two years to match with the Liverpool Biennial Open Eye Gallery changes the galleries exterior walls with different artist’s work. This year as part of the Cultural Programme of the International Festival for Business 2014, we have commissioned Paul Morrison, a Liverpool-born artist, to transform the façade.

Urformen is a cognitive landscape created from a selection of disparate found elements, which are taken from Morrison’s archive. The images are integrated through digital manipulation and form an indeterminate space that is simultaneously flat, yet gives the illusion of strong pictorial depth. The resulting composition functions as a screen that allows the viewer to complete the landscape according to her/his perception, history, memory and cultural associations. The contrasting black and white heightens the work’s visual impact. However, the piece is somehow rich in associative colour.

A long side this amazing wall installation we are offering three Paul Morrison prints, each of these screen prints are limited edition of 100 and are available to buy framed and unframed in our gallery shop and online.

The three prints are presented below:

Paul Morrison, Rosy Fingered Dawnlr

Paul Morrison
Rosy Fingered Dawn
Screenprint with gold leaf
Edition of 100
Sheet size 81 x 100cm
Signed, titled, numbered on the front

Paul Morrison, Phsycotrope

Paul Morrison
Edition of 100
Sheet size 73.5 x 99cm
Signed, titled, numbered on the front

Paul Morrison, Das Neicht

Paul Morrison
Die Nacht
Edition of 100
Sheet size 81 x 100cm
Signed, titled, numbered on the front

For more information please email or ring the gallery on 0151 236 6768.

Paul Morrison: Limited editions was originally published on Open Eye Gallery

Book review: Hans Haacke

Hans Haacke, £27.95

For anyone who is unfamiliar with Hans Haacke’s work this paperback will offer illuminating insights into the conceptual artist’s life and art. A wide range of photographs, provide a good overview of the numerous aspects of Haacke’s œvre, ranging from photography, painting and installations to his writings on art and politics.

photo 01

At the beginning of the book, a detailed interview with Haacke introduces the reader to his theoretical thinking and political views, especially in relation to his collaboration with the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. This is followed by a section on Haacke’s photographs taken during the Documenta in Kassel, Germany, in 1959. These photos, which are on display in our current exhibition Not All Documents Are Records, can be seen as reflections on our public engagement with art. Moreover, they present exhibition photography as an art form in its own right.

photo 02

The third chapter focuses on an exhibition at London’s Serpentine Gallery called Mixed Messages, in 2001, in which Haacke’s works which are part of the V&A collection were on display. The exhibition, again, shows the artist’ engagement with questions concerning documentary photography and the issues that may arise when it is mistakenly taken at face value. The forth chapter titled ‘Artist’s Choice’ consists of abstracts of Bertold Brecht’s text ‘Writing the Truth’. Brecht is mainly concerned about an author’s duty to seek the truth, to have the courage to present it and to be cunning enough to spread it among likeminded people. This is particularly relevant with regard to Brecht’s opposition to the oppression and censorship practiced by the Fascist regime in Germany but it also links up with Haacke’s own work since the artist had to deal with censorship in the course of his career. In general, Haacke’s political views strongly influence all aspects of his work. This becomes again clear in the fourth section of the book. Under the title ‘Artist’s Writings’ the editors have compiled a revealing selection of Haacke’s own texts in which the artist reflects on artworks as systems, artworks as part of an institutional system and artworks as commercial commodities.

photo 03

The book ends with a chronicle overview over Hans Haacke’s exhibitions and publications and an extensive bibliography. As part of the Contemporary Artists series by Phaidon Publishing Hans Haacke benefits from well-written contributions by renowned art critics and art historians like Molly Nesbit, Walter Grasskamp, Jon Bird and texts written by the artist himself.

Available online and in the Open Eye Gallery shop for £27.95

Written by Joanna Straczowski

Book review: Hans Haacke was originally published on Open Eye Gallery

Screen Play.

The majority of artworks exist for the duration of an exhibition before being stored away in a shroud of bubble wrap and parcel tape. From there on out the works are experienced through documentation on websites and in publications. This nature in which art is made and distributed asks the question; do these documents take on the status of autonomous artwork in their own right?

This question is at the heart of Open Eye Gallery’s current exhibition and Screen Play, a recent show at Glasgow’s SWG3 Gallery.

Screen Play, curated by Camille Le Houezec and Joey Villemont, explores this second life of an artwork and argues its critical potential to be equal or even higher than that of the original work. Indeed it is the way that most people experience an artwork that don’t make it to the show and if your content gets re-blogged it has the potential to reach thousands of unexpecting viewers. As an online document the site of the artwork is redefined as more fluid, no longer is it bound geographically but infinitely accessible via the Internet. It is this accessibility that initiates interesting conversations about artistic ownership, appropriation and authorship.

The Curator’s website, IOP, serves as an online exhibition platform where the viewer experiences and interacts with artworks though their browser. Screen Play feels like their approach has come full circle, re-inserting the aesthetic of their website back into the gallery space.

For the exhibition at SWG3 photographs of artworks were exhibited in a large format that often mimicked the original scale of the works being depicted. The installation explores the interplay between photography and sculpture, the virtual and the real world. Which in the ‘Art World’ is an ever-blurring boundary.

Written by Liam Peacock.

Screen Play. was originally published on Open Eye Gallery


For your chance to win this fantastic selection of Impossible HQ film please send a digital copy of your best polaroid with your name, contact details, image title and film specifications to

Competition deadline:12 noon Friday 15 August.

The winning image will be chosen by most Facebook likes! Take a look at the entries so far and vote for your favorite HERE.

IMPOSSIBLE POLAROID COMPETITION was originally published on Open Eye Gallery

Finding Vivian Maier

The cliché of the suffering artist, locked away in their room, unappreciated. We love it don’t we? The art critic, Rene Ricard, describes it so well in the 1981 essay he wrote about Jean-Michel Basquiat, entitled ‘The Radiant Child’, where he first coins the term, ‘The Van Gogh Boat’.

“Everybody wants to get on the Van Gogh Boat. There is no trip so horrible that someone won’t take it. Nobody wants to miss the Van Gogh Boat. The idea of the unrecognized genius slaving away in a garret is a deliciously foolish one. We must credit the life of Vincent van Gogh for really sending that myth into orbit.”


We buy into stereotypes, foolishly at times. Yet deep down we know that in this day and age it is so rare for a true talent not to be uncovered. So what is so remarkable about Vivian Maier? Well, it’s how little interests she shows towards the fame and fortune of artists like Van Gogh. Vivian kept her passion for photography largely unseen from the world, as interviews with friends and former employers reveal what a secretive individual she was.

John Maloof, director of Finding Vivian Maier, bought a box full of her negatives for around $400 at a Chicago auction back in 2007. Since then John has documented, archived, and collected Vivian’s work, exposing her to the world. Apposing what friends portray as Vivian’s reticent nature. Maloof’s benevolence towards Maier is an intriguing sub plot to this documentary. However you do really have to swagger through the self-indulgence in which Maloof narrates his account to feel any remote respect for what he’s achieved. He asks us though, smugly, “Why do we take photos?” Answering, “If it’s not for our selves and others to see and appreciate, then why is it?”

1950s. Chicago, IL

Focusing back on Vivian herself, this documentary provides a worrying insight to her detriment. Certain eccentricities such as talking in a questionable French accent, and obsessively hoarding over newspapers lead us to question Maier’s mental health. However her passion and devotion to documenting the world around her demonstrates a true voyeurism and empowering sentiment. Maier’s trademark Rolleiflex portraits, normally shot from a low viewpoint, have captured a host of spellbinding images of American life during the second half of the twentieth century, making her one of the most notorious and talked about street photographers today.

Looking for Vivian Maier is a pleasant testament to the artist and is definitely worth a watch, if only to familiarise yourself with her comic eye, and ability to get close to an array of fascinating individuals. Yet I do speculate whether Maloof has forced Maier to take a horrible trip on the Van Gogh boat, or done something truly wonderful by sharing her photographic talents with the rest of the world?


In collaboration with FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology), Open Eye Gallery’s Director Lorenzo Fusi will present a short lecture on Vivian Maier’s photographic practice. The lecture will be followed by a documentary screening of ‘Finding Vivian Maier’. For more information, click here.

Written by Ashleigh Owen

Finding Vivian Maier was originally published on Open Eye Gallery

Liverpool Biennial Events

The Liverpool Biennial runs right up until October 26th, meaning there are lots of exciting events taking place across Liverpool.

We have picked a selection of upcoming events over the next two weeks, including our free monthly exhibition tour of ‘Not All Documents Are Records’ taking place on Sunday August 10th at 2.30pm.

Drinks With… Lynne Tillman

Thursday July 31st 6pm, free booking is required, Liverpool Medical Instiution.

Book tickets here.

Join novelist Michael Bracewell in conversation with author and critic Lynne Tillman, as they examine her approaches to writing fiction, looking closely at her decision to write narratives as analogues to contemporary art.

liverpool medical institution

James Mcneill Whistler Tour

Saturday 2nd August 2pm, free booking required, The Bluecoat.

Book tickets here.

Simone Mair, Assistant Curator of the Liverpool Biennial will be giving a guided tour of the James Mcneill Whistler exhibition, a controversial American painter who is considered the ‘original’ contemporary artist.


Talk Tuesdays: John Moores Painting Prize

Tuesday August 5th 1pm, free no booking required, Walker Art Gallery.

This is a series of tours, artist talks and discussion events, exploring the John Moores Painting Prize. The first tour is lead by art historian Julie Robson in which she will discuss a variety of pieces from this year’s exhibition.


Broadcast of Symphony No. 11: Hillsborough Memorial

Wednesday August 6th 3.06pm, free no booking required, Liverpool Cathedral.

If you missed the live performance of Michael Nyman’s ‘Symphony No.11 Hillsborough Memorial’ on July 5th you will have the chance to hear a recording inside the Liverpool Cathedral. The symphony represents Michael Nyman’s thoughts of the tragedy of Hillsborough 25 years on.

liverpool cathedral

Group Show Tour

Saturday August 9th 2pm, free booking required, The Old Blind School.

Book tickets here.

Ellen Greig, Assistant Curator for the Liverpool Biennial will be hosting the exhibition tour for the  ‘A Needle Walked into a Haystack’ group show, this features the work of numerous commissioned artists who were also asked to show some of their previous pieces of work.

group show

Liverpool Biennial Events was originally published on Open Eye Gallery

Independents Biennial 2014: Monthly highlights

Open Eye Gallery is pleased to promote the activity of The Independents Biennial running from 5th July to 26th October 2014.  Previously established as the fourth strand of Liverpool Biennial, The Independents has grown rapidly since 2004 to become a completely autonomous fringe festival that runs alongside the main Liverpool Biennial.  The aim of the organisation is rooted in supporting the creation, production and presentation of high quality work by emerging artists active in a local, national and international context.  Here’s a brief overview of this months highlights:

John Davies, Turning Green To Brown

John Davies, Turning Green To Brown

John Davies – Turning Green to Brown

For a period of 10 days during May 2014 John Davies spent 90 minutes each day in Sefton Park Meadows photographing portraits of regular visitors to the space.  Asking 112 adults with 96 agreeing to participate, the project has been developed as a statement against local authority proposals to sell off Sefton Park land for executive housing and at the wider austerity measures currently taking place on a national scale.

All 96 portraits will collectively be shown at The Old Police Station on Lark Lane with a selection of larger prints being displayed at Quaker Meeting House Café and Unit 51 Coffee, Baltic Creative throughout July and early August.

Mark chapman , Friction creates heat

Mark chapman , Friction creates heat

Mark chapman – Friction creates heat

5 – 31 July

Unit 51 Baltic Creative 5 – 31 July

Mark Chapman presents a series of digitally distorted urban landscape images in response to the dramatically volatile conflict between the positive and negative attributes of increasing population density within urban environments. Chapman describes the ‘glitches’ seen in this body of work as representations of the tension, excitement, conflict and bonding apparent within our cities.

Adrian Jean, Nice Heads

Adrian Jean, Nice Heads

Adrian Jean- Nice Heads

Location: 42 Nelson Street, Liverpool, L1 5DN

Dates: Thursday 3rd July – Sunday 31st August, 2014

Nice heads is a series of portrait heads modeled in Jean’s distinctive signature style which poses the question, is it the subject’s character being depicted as expressed by his or her facial expression or is it the artist’s character as expressed through his or her style of working?

Fore more information on all featured works please visit

Independents Biennial 2014: Monthly highlights was originally published on Open Eye Gallery

Book Review: Take It or Leave It: Institution, Image, Ideology’

‘Take It or Leave It: Institution, Image, Ideology’ looks at thirty-six American artists and their work during a period spanning the late 1970s to the early 1990s. It suggests a relationship between two influential modes of artistic expression that were prominent during this exciting time in American art: firstly ‘appropriation’, where artists borrowed from and adapted pre-existing multimedia sources to present new work, and secondly ‘institutional critique’, where artists interrogated the structures of society and the treatment of art within those ideological frameworks.

The artists featured in ‘Not All Documents Are Records’, the current exhibition at Open Eye, either draw from or anticipate these creative movements. What emerges is a fresh approach toward photographic documentation, where it assumes a role as dynamic, active agent in art and society.

‘Take It or Leave It’ provides us with considerable insight into traditions and creative contexts that inform the work of Hans Haacke, Cristina de Middel and Ira Lombardia in particular. Perhaps Paul Morrison’s wall work, too, assumes new significance, if we interpret his appropriation of found images to create a fantastical visual narrative as a critique of the conventional exterior presentation of arts spaces.

The publication of Johanna Burton and Anne Ellegood’s Take It or Leave It: Institution, Image, Ideology accompanied an exhibition of the same name, displayed at Hammer Museum in LA, February – May 2014, Featuring artists as wide-ranging in approach as Dara Birnbaum, Mark Dion, Robert Gober, Barbara Kruger, Zoe Leonard, Glenn Ligon, Adrian Piper, Stephen Prina, and Fred Wilson.  Each examined within the context of the larger culture – from the political landscape to design strategies in advertising.

Available online and in store at Open Eye Gallery’s shop for £40

Book Review: Take It or Leave It: Institution, Image, Ideology’ was originally published on Open Eye Gallery

Impossible Shots: Not All Documents Are Records Launch

What better way to try out our new black and white polaroid film than by documenting the launch of our new exhibition: Not All Documents Are Records, which looks at the idea of photographing exhibitions as an art form? Open Eye volunteer Luke Martley investigates…

We used SX-70 film though we also stock 600 film in both colour and black and white.

We’re really impressed by how well this film handles compared to previous versions of Impossible’s black and white film, the whole process feels much more refined and stable, allowing the photographer more time to concentrate on framing and looking for that decisive moment.

Impossible film is sensitive to temperature and is said to operate ‘best’ between 13 and 28° C. This can be exploited in order to achieve specific results; the film’s sensitivity to its environment allows for further experimentation, images can be affected by not only light but also temperature allowing a special kind of serendipity to occur during image making. Whilst shooting I made no effort to regulate temperature, I stored the images in my shirt pocket during the development (Impossible advise shading prints from as soon as they are ejected throughout the development, about 5-10 minutes for monochrome) which could have allowed my body heat to effect the process. The images have a strongly graphic/cinematic feel to them. Their high contrast gives them an immediacy, which is reflected in the (almost) instant nature of the Polaroid process itself.

We’ve had a lot of fun playing with Impossible film and would like to give Open Eye visitors a chance to experiment for themselves!  The kind people at Impossible have helped us put together a goody bag to celebrate the return of Impossible products to our gallery shop.

If you’d like to win a selection of Impossible film please send a digital copy of your best polaroid together with your name, contact details, image title and film specifications to

Competition deadline Friday 8 August at 12 pm

In the meantime, you can buy Impossible products in our gallery shop by following this link

Impossible Shots: Not All Documents Are Records Launch was originally published on Open Eye Gallery