Richard Learoyd: Dark Mirror
Victoria & Albert Museum, 24th October – 14th February 2016
Gallery 38a, a long space channeled by wooden flooring, centered by two benches drawing the eye down the room, and cocooned by softly lit slate grey walls. One cannot help but feel relaxed on entering, and commencing the voyage through Dark Mirror.
The show comprises of over a dozen sizeable photographs, most of which are portraits, with some still lifes, mounted mainly in white wooden frames and almost 2m in height. These photographs are exquisite in both clarity and colour, and can only be described as hypereal. Most would assume that premium grade high dynamic range technology was behind this impeccable quality. In actual fact Learoyd’s images are made using the oldest photographic process; a room sized camera obscura. The light of the subject is focused through the lens, and directly onto the photographic paper, bypassing the need for a film negative. This creates a grain-less, pixel-less photographic image, clearer one might argue than looking directly at the subject with the naked eye.
The subjects in each piece have been carefully lit to create a vignette, which is sympathetically repeated by the gallery lighting creating vignettes around the works themselves.
Many of the images contain a mirror in some way, in others the mirrored image is suggested through the reflective qualities of two facing portraits, as with the diptychs Jasmijn Away from Light; Jasmijn to the Light, 2010, and Agnes to the Right (Nude); Agnes to the Left (Nude), 2014.
Approaching the display clockwise, a series of portraits open the show. The pinpoint focal range falling around they eyes draws the viewer into the subject’s world, the detail means that you simply cannot help but, and continue to look, deeper. The portraits are mesmerizing, it’s almost as though you can climb right in. The otherworldly dream becomes progressively interlaced with death; A More Insidious Root (2008) presents the decay of the natural world, later the lifeless Hare 1 (2012), and climatically Horse Head (2013), with blood dripping, parades sombre interludes within an otherwise ethereal narrative.
The plot moves to the human condition, but with slightly more ambiguity. Agnes with eyes closed (2007) leads to Horizontal Male Nude (2011) which resembles the deceased on a mortician’s slab. The show concludes with Mirror 1 (2008) the super close up nature of this piece transforms the mirror into a galaxy, the specs of dust become stars in the night sky.
The narrative created through the curation of Learoyd’s work describes the fragility of life, and is accented by the unique nature of each piece. And one may sense that we are all exceptional, yet all insignificant; just dark matter on the Dark Mirror that is the universe.