After realising Liverpool’s Open Eye Gallery was full of photography, I quickly dismissed it. Always associating the medium with fashion and pretentious college students, I’ve never really appreciated the art of photography. This collection, I have to admit, made me ashamed to think such an ignorant thing.
Simon Norfolk, a Nigerian-born but Brighton-based photographer, has produced what I can only describe as an extraordinarily moving body of work. With an understated and somewhat humble name, For Most Of It I Have No Words (1998), his photographs investigate the genocidal events of the twentieth century.
The images carry us backwards through time, beginning in Rwanda in 1994 where half-naked skeletons remind us of the numerous lives lost there, and ending in the Omaheke Desert, where we are forced to remember those killed under German colonial rule in 1904.
Yes, the subject matter alone is deeply upsetting, but the way Norfolk has chosen to photograph these images evokes an ’emptiness’, fully portraying the idea of loss and human suffering: the colour is drained from all the images, not only to create a striking photograph, but to represent the draining of human life; focal points are significantly small, meaning we’re engulfed by large foregrounds and still skies, cleverly manipulating a sense of loneliness; and the photographs themselves are small in size to force us to look closely and concentrate – something, I admit, we failed to do when such events were unfolding.
Along with the curators at the gallery (who, in my opinion, have hung the pieces perfectly in an echo-filled, small, white room), Simon Norfolk won me round, consequently opening my eyes to real photography. Whether the collection is a political/social criticism, a reminder of humanity’s destructive past, or a warning of humanity’s destructive future, the collection is without a doubt, thought-provokingly morbid yet artistically beautiful. I’ve been known to cry at Renaissance paintings, sculptures, and even architecture, but for the first time, I shed a tear at a photography exhibition. Well done Simon Norfolk, well done.