I went into the Sam Taylor-Wood exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney with not very high expectations regarding what I was about to see: there is something I find too precise, too controlling, too polished in her art. This is obviously borne out of the nature of her chosen artistic expression, staged photography requires enormous amounts of organisation and meticulous detailing, to paradoxically depict what should seem act of unrehearsed movement and human expressions.

My prejudices seemed to be fulfilled as the first images to confront me were a series of photographs of people in extreme poses taken whilst floating in the air. The very act of this unconstrained and uncontrollable action frozen in a stylised and stifling snapshot, showing none of the freedom of the real movement, producing beautiful but vacuous images.

Opposite these, in a small blacked out room, the work David (2004) was shown, this is a video of a sleeping David Beckham, a close up portrait of the footballer in peaceful slumber. Again doubts regarding the value of Sam Taylor-Wood's work began to arise. I have often found David problematic, as I cannot avoid the malicious thought that the choice of model has somewhat been dictated by the artist slight 'teenage crush' on the subject; a piece where the artist-celebrity exploits the celebrity himself.

At this point I was tempted to head back for the main entrance, when curiosity and a wish for redemption, after my internal barrage of derisive comments, got the better of me and I decided to give the show a few more minutes of my time. It is then that a series of photographs entitled Crying Men stopped me in my tracks. On three adjacent walls of the gallery there was a series of twenty seven portraits of renowned male actors in the act of weeping. Their bravura in impersonating a crying man nullified the possibility of falsity of their action; the emotion, grandeur and scale of the piece enough to outweigh the though of their expression being a mere fulfilling of their chosen career. One cannot help to think that the sorrow each actor is conjuring up, in order to bring such tears, has had to come from a recreation of truly felt, painful personal experiences.

Their renowned ego becomes obsolete, as their famed faces are transcended and become a symbol of humanity, they are linked by the communal experiencing of sorrow, equally felt by all men. In fact their facial familiarity brings their sadness closer to the viewer, as if watching a known friend weep, rather then an actor. The photographs are so convincing that the whole worlds woes are transfixed in a room and to try not to succumb to the emotion is pointless.

Crying Men shines a light of compassion and warmth not present in the rest of Sam Taylor-Wood's work; I found it truly enriching and convincing, and even though there is still a part of her art that I find manipulative, (in the treatment of both subject and object), I was just for this instance, willing to let her play away with my emotions.

Gaia Persico

 

 

Courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney and the artist.