Naked Touch: The Institute
The Institute, Edinburgh
5th Aug – 14th Oct

One of our Edinburgh based writers is currently enjoying the many delights of the fringe festival. These include an exhibition by the photographer Gavin Evans. Needless to say in the following review all photo’s are © Gavin Evans.

Whilst the Fringe / Festival is in full swing it often feels as if every available space, down to a vacant urinal, is at risk of being used as a venue and every year it becomes harder and harder to distinguish what is worth seeing and where is worth going. Whilst the big four traditional venues- Assembly, Pleasance, Underbelly and Gilded Balloon- always hold sway it is often the smaller spaces away from the centre which feature the more interesting happenings. This year the gallery space/ café known as the Institute in Marchmont is one of those places definitely worth checking out. Its founder is internationally renowned photographer Gavin Evans and among the other events the venue is hosting is his latest intriguing, groundbreaking and revealing-literally- photography exhibition Touch Reveal.

Having been involved in photography since his early teens Evans has always had a unique perspective when it comes to presenting his work operating from what could almost be termed a forensic point of focus. Attempting to capture elements such as abstract beauty, abject pain and taboo subjects, his visceral instincts arise from a belief that the camera knows no bounds and can create an effect which can provoke and incite thoughts.

The camera then revealed and subsequently proved itself to be a useful ticket in obtaining free entry into gigs where Evans cut his teeth capturing some of his favourite artists. The ticket then manifested itself into a passport enabling him to travel beyond the confines of his habitat in the North East-namely Middlesbrough- which Evans recalls, at this particular juncture in time, resembled something akin to the futuristic dystopia of Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner ; permanently dark, wet, drizzly and nihilistic. This pre-empted- after a brief spell squatting with the KLF- a move to Scotland where his career really started to evolve and take off.

His first subject matter outside of the live context was the legend that is John Cooper Clarke whose deconstruction of the aesthetics of poetry-stripping it back revealing its starkness whilst making it accessible- is similar to the one that Evans was pursuing with his photography.

What, in essence, he then achieved was the ability to debunk the cosmetic ideologies of celebrity-hair and make up artists were banned from sessions unless the artist specifically insisted, although many kowtowed went along with this prefix trusting Evans’s instincts- striving to reveal not only the person behind the image but also the commonality behind the elevated status of their iconic doppelganger. He recognised there was an extremely hard working person maintaining the façade of celebrity and this is the image he sought out in his photographs. His approach could be traced back to the forensic photography, so real and without unnecessary glamour, which had captivated and inspired him so strongly from his early teens onwards.

His list of clients is highly impressive and includes luminaries such as Joe Strummer, Iggy Pop- a book of their session was released by Canongate publishing–Massive Attack, Tricky, Bjork, Morrissey, Chrissie Hynde, John Paul Gaultier, John Galliano as well as the last official session by Dusty Springfield.

His most famous client though was undoubtedly David Bowie and his portrait of the former Thin White Duke and space age storm-trooping glam messiah Ziggy Stardust is allegedly one of the great man’s favourites of himself. It is the latter image which always stands out in his gallery space- it also hangs pride of space in Bowie’s New York office- as it shows him in grim messianic elder statesmanlike repose with, for once, his eyes the same colour, a deep penetrating blue, and a sense of the real and often forgotten David Jones who has made a career of creating masks to hide behind.

Moving on from celebrity culture Evans then embarked on the ”ËœTouch’ project which has culminated in his latest upcoming exhibition. Originally, however, his subject matter began in Russia using a small digital camera and involved a Russian tour guide. He realised by asking her to place his hand in the frame that this was somehow a visual equivalent of measuring personal space as well as a means of placing himself within his own pictures.

As if in contrast to the over privileged he had photographed before Evans then concentrated on the less fortunate sections of society as epitomised by the homeless and Big Issue sellers. The idea was both anthropological and highly effective and has led to the ultimate stripping down of façade in his new exhibition Touch Reveal wherein the subject removes the last vestige of camouflage, their clothing, whilst surrendering their personal space and placing their trust in the artist by allowing the only object into the photograph to be Evans’s arm for which each model selects a role or position most comfortable to them.

This is the first time Evans has used naked subjects and the photographs-shown in the Institute from August 1- will reveal how each model reacted in different ways to both being naked and Evans’s hand being in the photograph with them as their only prop. This time there was no real protection of personal space or props to hide behind and the images will not be revealed until a private viewing solely for the participants- of which I am one- so they can react to each others reactions to their collective common situation in private, before it goes on show to the public.

Alongside this exhibition The Institute is also hosting several multi-sensual experiences with each of the senses ”“touch, taste, smell, sound and sight- being incorporated in some unique fashion. It will also be hosting nightly midnight screenings of the film Evans made in conjunction with the National Theatre and includes around 30 A-list stars including Daniel Craig, Ewan McGregor, Michael Sheen , Derek Jacobi, Samuel L.Jackson and a sleazed up Oliver Reed in one of his very last performances. Stripped of props and a script the film shows the stars wearing only their natural charisma as they hazily appear into shot and just as woozily float Aout again. It is a remarkably effective piece of work shot through with humour, pathos, simplicity and more than a healthy dose of filth.

The Institute looks set then to be one of the places to hang out during the Fringe in 2012. It also has the added advantage of being close enough to the centre of the action to make you feel you are still involved but also far enough away to gain a much needed respite from the ever marauding hordes who populate the city’s streets at this manic time of year.

The Institute -14 Roseneath Street Marchmont, Edinburgh . 11am -1pm during the Festival.
Touch Reveal opens to the public as from Sunday August 5th and runs until October 14th.
”ËœThe Audition’ will be screened every night at Midnight during the duration of the Festival.
Other events will be announced daily.
All photographs courtesy of Gavin Evans.

All words by David Marren. You can read more by David on LTW here. David also blogs at thequotidiantimes.

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