Exhibition Review: Charles Fréger – The Wild and The Wise

When: 17th May – 26th August 2013

Where: Open Eye Gallery

I first came across Fréger’s work during a student presentation during my last year of college. Work I’d never taken much interest in at the time, probably because I was concentrating on my own delivery of some work at the time.

I was at the Open Eye for a workshop and didn’t look at the work to start with; it was during my lunch that I decided to look at the photographs on the wall. I walked around Gallery 2, looking at the Haka performances by school boys (Short School Haka), I was struck by the lighting of the images, I moved round to the Sumo wrestlers then over to the European wrestlers, lighting the same, however, the type of prints had changed from inkjet to c-type, then over to tribal leaders of Africa. At this point I was struck by how masculine these images were with very little imagery of women.

I walked through to Gallery 1, and continued along the men dressed in traditional European Pagan Costumes against an alpine backdrop (Wilder Mann) then the biggest prints out of all the collection of two Klu Klux Klan members, photographs I didn’t linger on, and as I came to the end there was the work I had been introduced to during that presentation, the Légionnaires 10 images, all men, 5 stripped to the waist and 5 in dress uniform, all against a bare background with the same strong flat lighting leaving no shadow that featured in all the images. Although the images were all framed and mounted the same, each of the collections differed in size and could stand alone.

Looking at the photographs as a whole and considering the lighting it seemed to me that Fréger was putting these groups under the microscope and like Victorians collected butterflies; Fréger was collecting groups of similar genus such as the wrestlers or the school boys.

Having read the accompanying leaflet it became clear that Fréger does indeed do this as he has a fascination with sociology and explores identity by documenting social groups somewhat similar an ideal to that of August Sander and his work documenting the classes of pre-war Germany. None of these images are candid all are staged and deliberate making them even more objects of investigation, specimens of their genus.

As for the masculine theme, it was intended as juxtaposition to that of Eva Stenram’s work focusing on feminine, a body of work that I will review in the next post. As this is the first UK debut of Fréger’s work as part of the LOOK/13 Photography festival it was a good catch and I enjoyed seeing the exhibition and look forward to many more at the Open Eye Gallery.

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