Shoot! Existential Photography

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Bring me home, please

The exhibition Shoot! Existential Photography opened a few weeks ago at The Photographers' Gallery and i never got to mention it so far. The selection of work is fantastic, the theme is seductive and it makes you want to locate the nearest playground.

Load, aim, Fire!

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Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Paris 1929

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Simbeck's Foto-Schiessen, Freiburg 1979

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Simbeck's Fotoschießen, 1980

In the period following World War I, a curious attraction appeared at fairgrounds: the photographic shooting gallery. If the punter's bullet hit the centre of the target, this triggered a camera. Instead of winning a balloon or toy, the participant would win a snapshot of him or herself in the act of shooting.

The exhibition celebrates the use of the shooting gallery at fairgrounds by the famous (from Jean-Paul Sartre to Federico Fellini) and the non-famous but also the contemporary artists who have been intrigued by the idea of shooting oneself.

The most stunning work in the show is probably the video-sound installation Crossfire by Christian Marclay. I felt like that rabbit in the headlights of a car (or was it a hare? or a deer?) Crossfire is a super fast, loud and powerful sampling of shooting scenes from Hollywood movies. You stand in the middle of the room and wherever you turn your gaze there's Clint Eastwood, Antonio Banderas or some other action hero star aiming and shooting at you.

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Christian Marclay, still from 'Crossfire, 2007

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Christian Marclay, still from 'Crossfire, 2007

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Christian Marclay, still from 'Crossfire, 2007. Photo by Kate Elliott

Since the late 1970s, Jean-François Lecourt has been literally shooting his own image. In his early experiments, the bullet smashes the camera. The roll is pierced by the shoot. In the second series, the bullet perforates a wall of the lightproof box, a ray of light comes in and leaves a mark on the photosensitive paper.

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Jean-François Lecourt. Shot into the camera, 1987

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Jean-François Lecourt. Shot into the camera

Similarly, Rudolf Steiner uses the camera as a target. In the series Pictures of me, shooting myself into a picture, the bullet hole is the aperture for a pinhole camera, creating an image upon impact.

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Rudolf Steiner, Pictures of me, shooting myself into a picture

The story of Ria van Dijk is endearing. Every single year, the lady goes to a fairground shooting gallery in Tilburg, Netherlands to shoot a self portrait. She started her pilgrimage to the shooting booth in 1936, when she was 16. The artist Erik Kessels collected all the images she has taken at the fair. Going from one self-portrait to another is fascinating. You see her hair getting greyer, her glasses following the fashion of the passing decades, her friends or fans coming along with her, etc. The only pause in the sequence is from 1939 to 1945.

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Ria van Dijk, Photo-shot, 1936

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Ria van Dijk, Photo-shot, 1969

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Ria van Dijk, Photo-shot, Oosterhout, Netherlands, 1978

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Ria van Dijk, Photo-shot, Tilburg, 1998

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Ria van Dijk, Photo-shot, Tilburg, 2006

I've written about the work of Steven Pippin in the past. His Point Blank series of photos was made by cameras recording the precise moment of their own destruction by a gun.

The action takes place in total darkness with the flash being triggered just as the bullet breaks open the analogue camera and hits the negative inside it.

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Steven Pippin, Mamiya 330 twin lens reflex shot with.25 calibre (self portrait), 2010

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Steven Pippins, Point Blank (detail), 2010

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View of the mechanism used by Steven Pippin. Photo by Kate Elliott

Sylvia Ballhause bought a shooting rig from the booth of a family business in Germany. It was the last booth working with analogue, large-format cameras in the country.

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Sylvia Ballhause, Shooting rig [active / passive]

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Sylvia Ballhause, Shooting myself, 2008

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Photographers' Gallery installation photograph by Kate Elliott

The shooting gallery is not as popular as it used to be but you don't need to go far to try the amusement yourself, the Photographers' Gallery has turned on of its rooms into a photographic shooting gallery so that visitors can shoot (at) themselves.

Shoot! Existential Photography is up at the Photographers' Gallery in London until 6 January 2013.

Related story: The cameras that record the moment of their own destruction.

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