Yesterday I went to the Philadelphia Street Gallery in Cabot Circus for the final day of¬†up and coming Bristol photographer Katy-Jane Riches exhibition ‚ÄėThe Skeleton Frame‚Äô.
The gallery was quiet, with more people thinking about January Sales shopping than buying Katy‚Äôs wonderful prints.
‚ÄúI picked a bad time of year to exhibit I wanted to make any money!‚ÄĚ¬†admitted Katy, with an honest and cheerful optimism, despite clearly looking forward to a week off after a hectic couple of month touring Bristol with her beautifully shot portraits.
I had seen Katy‚Äôs work before, but until now had only seen her landscapes, which greatly appealed to me because of her wonderful ability to take raw industrial ugliness and juxtapose it with nature – the result made beautiful by her ability to shoot in a way that captures the scenes in vivid natural colours, giving the often broken down features of the compositions a whole new appeal, life and hew.
I had previously bought a print of an industrial plant outside Nottingham, pumping out billowing smoke over a motorway, which Katy had managed to catch in such a way that a passing lorry reflected the bright pink sunset as the smoke blended into to the cloud over head on the reflective, rain soaked tarmac.
However, ‚ÄėThe Skeleton Frame‚Äô was something different entirely.
Katy said she worked on the concept behind the exhibition for three months before putting lens to subject. The main subject being vintage beauty that takes us on a classically rose tinted journey through what Katy describes as the ‚ÄėSkeleton Frame of life on which we build, adding necessary tasks that make up every-day life‚ÄĚ.
The pictures exhibited are all limited editions, (Katy made just five of each) shot in black and white, and split into two parts, ‚ÄėThe Skeleton Frame‚Äô and ‚ÄėThe Meaning‚Äô.
The first part looks at the necessities that we require in order to exist before we add anything to the life we live. The interesting thing about this exhibition is that rather than concentrate on the absence of these things, the portraits bask in the beauty of having ‚Äď or enjoying these simple necessities in a style that is both retrospective and softly beautiful.
They show the enjoyment of the subject in the smallest of pleasures, from shots entitled ‚ÄėDrink ‚Äďbecause water sustains all life‚Äô to ‚ÄėAge ‚Äď The inevitable process that faces us all‚Äô.
It would have been easy to focus on the melancholy side these two themes, on the absence of, or the restrictions that, these things can place on our lives. And in a post-modern world, focusing on these absences is a popular thing to do.
However, having met Katy, what shines through in both her work and her personality is her uniquely optimistic take on the subjects she portrays. In the skeleton frame, the meanings ¬†and themes she builds upon are viewed positively, and focus on the happiness and pleasant nostalgia life has to offer, however fleeting.
She explains this saying ‚ÄúI have chosen a vintage theme for most of the images within my work, this is to show the timeless nature of the skeleton frame and the relevance of it through generations‚ÄĚ.
She was also very deliberate in her choice of model and subject. As well as enjoyment, the pictures portray the mundane nature of everyday existence, and using the fifties inspired vintage theme, Katy also aims to comment on traditional ideas of femininity. Pieces like ‚ÄėHousework 1‚Äô and ‚ÄėHousework 2‚Äô inspire the feeling of a fifties billboard advertisement, yet the look on the subjects face belies a disinterest, and a determination. Katy says through these pictures she aimed to ‚Äėdraw a contrast between the mundane nature of routine and the beauty of a woman empowered‚Äô.
Her title piece, ‚ÄėThe Skeleton Frame‚Äô was shot in an empty swimming pool in Bishopsworth, Bristol. The artist said ‚ÄúThe shot portrays the idea of an empty space that needs to be filled to enable purpose‚ÄĚ.
And that, overall is the theme of the exhibition. A beautiful look at the life we are given, with Part Two, ‚ÄėThe Meaning‚Äô, looking at the small but equally important things we do in order to build on that frame of necessity – little things that culminate to build a fulfilling life.
One of the most moving pieces ‚ÄėLasting Love‚Äô is a simple shot of two aged hands resting on one another. Katy took this shot of her grandparents shortly before her grandfather died. The caption below simply reads ‚ÄėSince the age of 12 and 13, my grandparents shared their lives and love with each other; true love that lasts a lifetime‚Äô.
It is this simplicity, made beautiful by honesty and a touch of the kind of glamour we unintentionally add through memory and fondly looking back that makes Riches work so unique, and so uncomplicatedly striking.