Eclipse/Mirror Image, 2010
Photograph, Mirror, Plinth, Dimensions Variable
Picking up the latest Argos catalogue is rarely an inspiring experience. The process we undergo is straight forward, indeed almost mind numbingly automatic. Taking a cursory glance at the object we require, we will fill in the form and rarely give it another thought until we pick up the object at the collection point. The printed image that confronts us is bland, two dimensionally direct and startlingly non-confrontational. In his first solo show, Richard Paul aims to illuminate our understanding of the mode of mediation that is catalogue photography. The basic premise is that a catalogue image presents the viewer with what they want to buy. It goes no deeper than this. It is expertly packaged, paired-down, unglamorous and is strictly conditioned by a documentary stance and simple confidence. Paul's show does not reproduce catalogue photography, but rather enters into an ambitious dialogue with this most visually undemanding of consumer practices. A series of prints and sculptures attempt to challenge our pre-conceptions, playing with the genre's conventions and asking us to imagine the infinite possibilities of an image. We are presented with high resolution prints of some of the paraphernalia we may expect to find in various catalogues - a flowery plate, a beer bottle, a pot of paint and a mirror. In each case, however, the image has been tampered with and re-contextualised to create something new and utterly unexpected. The mirror is black and, therefore, effectively obsolete, while the pot of paint is photographed on its side, the white spilt residue becoming a plastic smiling face. Likewise, an empty green beer bottle spews its contents on to a purple background - the contents not being the beverage but a doily. In establishing these unprecedented pairings, we are reminded of the more salubrious world of artefact or museum photography. The precise meaning behind this show is difficult to ascertain and the works themselves simply provide a stimuli, leaving it up to the viewer to produce their own response. There is, however, something consciously exploitative and deadpan about this comment on consumer culture and the marketing practices that inflect our purchasing habits. These witty images serve to unsettle the typical functions of the products we would normally buy, perhaps prompting us to re-assess the questions we ask ourselves when we are selecting an object from a catalogue. Moreover, they provide a wry comment on the nature of branding and of our, perhaps ill-advised, readiness to accept everything the huge conglomerates present us with at face value.