CCQ Magazine Review
Elysium Gallery in Swansea hosts Huw Alden Davies’ series of complex portrayals of post-industrial familial relationships. Ric Bower takes a look.It’s seven years since Huw Alden Davies first showed his portraits of young families entitled Fear and Hoping, the body of work with which he won the AOP UK student award. Davies returned to the families he photographed to make a record of where they are now, in the broader sense of course.
It is immediately apparent, that it is not just the families who have matured. The Crewdson-esque thousand yard stare of his subjects is no longer just a borrowed motif but a catalyst by which complex family chemistry might become visible before the lens. The lighting, in the new work, is restrained, the brash chiaroscuro reined in, the crepuscular spaces between light and dark, the multitude of mid-tones mirror the mixed fortunes of the families in the frame. Davies is reaching further back than the HBO aesthetic that perhaps first inspired him, further back than Hopper and even all the way to Caravaggio’s late work. As was the case with Caravaggio, no technique for its own sake doesn’t seem that important to him; the experiences of the seven intervening years are distilled down to a single instant. The pathos of each mise-en-scène bleeds into the viewer’s experience through fissures in the perfect surface of each image.One family is photographed at the same table, under the same clock which, reads 5 minutes earlier than recorded in the first exposure; it is as though there is almost, but not quite, a seamless synchrony between the two worlds portrayed. In another pre-image the husband is placed in the image in such a way that he is separated from his family by a glass door; the 2013 image shows the mother and children on their own as though the pre-image had prophetically intuited the imminent fracturing of their relationship.
Davies’ vision of the 21st century post-nuclear, post-industrial family unit is complex. Gone are the reassuring boundaries of physical community. The shared cultural references of industry and chapel too have disappeared, to be replaced by a bewildering myriad of American, cinematic simulacra drawn down to each home from the ether by wire and satellite. Davies is not the disinterested onlooker, for we see his own family unit examined and the passage of time on their faces. He is embedded from birth in West Walian postmodern village life, the generation he represents, the experiences he shares, are as much his own as they are his subjects. I look forward to seeing the document he will no doubt be making in another seven years.
RIc Bower. November 21 2013