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'Blackwater River, Robbie Lawrence' Review - Webber Gallery

2nd October - 21st October 2019

FREE Entry


A year into Trump’s presidency, Scottish photographer Robbie Lawrence travelled to the Lowland area of southern Georgia, USA. Near the estuary of the Ogeechee River, a community struggles with the impact of global warming, and this project delves into themes of race, class and the environment relating to that area. Lawrence spent three weeks there with writer Sala Patterson, observing the community whilst attempting to make sense of the place through photography and writing. The resulting work is Lawrence’s exhibition, Blackwater River.

Robbie Lawrence, Untitled, 2017. Image courtesy of Webber Gallery's Website

Punctuating the whitewashed walls of the Webber Gallery, Lawrence’s work draws the wanderer through an exploration of tone, light and colour. Simultaneously vivid and subtle, Lawrence’s work is characterised by rich colour breaking free from figures painted by shadow. He is indebted to the Dutch Masters and the Scottish lighting of his upbringing. With Derain and the Fauves constantly at play in his mind, the vibrancy of his work is no surprise.

Ambiguity is central to Lawrence’s portraits, of which he proposes, "suggestion is a powerful way of conveying a message." Claiming his reticence as a photographer, Laurence seeks to make his subject comfortable, to the extent that they forget the photographer's presence. He identifies the resulting works as ‘anti-portraits.’ An elderly woman is silhouetted in a church, her face highlighted by reflected light as the sun streams through windows behind her. Another is indistinct, an undulating melange of colour and cleaver play of tone; perhaps it is a puddle, or the river surface disturbed by fallen leaves. Richly coloured works complement monochrome images, all imbued with a numinous quality.

Robbie Lawrence, Untitled, 2017. Image courtesy of Webber Gallery's Website

Challenging cliché dialogues of gun violence and avoiding sensationalist (and obvious) depictions of the area, the images focus on nature and individuals. Patterson comments that her expectation of the heavily pro-gun community was challenged by the collective care for nature and worry about global warming. Many of the images are focused on nature, and Lawrence talks of the alluring beauty of the area. Such area seem forgotten by the world, but are already witnessing the devastating effects of climate change.

Nestled in the streets of Fitzrovia, the exhibition is easily accessible and timely. It provides a visual vocabulary for narratives of climate change and an alternative angle on dialogues of gun violence. Make sure to look through the monograph, which grounds a relatively abstract body of work. Lawrence’s photography is aesthetically powerful and stylistically important, challenging a tendency towards minimalism and neutrality in current photography.

Edited by Alexia McDonald, Digital Editor

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