Nick Hackworth

I AM CAMERA, Saatchi Gallery

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

It is high time that ownership was accorded the creative status it deserves. Much in the same way that an artist may take found objects and from them conjure an installation greater in value than the sum of its parts, Saatchi accumulates artists and arranges them into pretty patterns, hoping, too, for an increase in value. Previously it was the Young British Artists and New Neurotic Realists (whoever they are). Now it’s the turn of photographers and photo-realists. Planned well before Wolfgang Tilmans won this year’s Turner Prize with an eclectic body of quirky photos, but neatly supported by his victory, I Am A Camera announces that photography is well and truly within the fold of cutting-edge contemporary art. Ten artists are shown. All either use photography or aim for a kind of photographic realism.

The stars of the show who provide the exhibition with a clear thread are four photographers who employ the “snapshot” aesthetic to document “snapshot” content.

Richard Billingham’s harrowing portraits of the domestic life of his underprivileged parents dominate one of the rooms. The degradation depicted contrasts uneasily with the sterility of the gallery environment. In another room, Tierney Gearon, an ex-model and “Saatchi discovery”, displays a series of family snaps blown up to high-art scale. Her children frolic around, peeing, looking at dead animals and occasionally wearing spooky masks. The resulting photos are interesting and occasionally mildly disturbing. Pop art in the literal sense of that word, one might expect to find some of these images gracing forthcoming album covers. The centrepiece of the exhibition, however, is the tension between Nan Goldin’s installation — a series of photos documenting the grotty lives of her Bohemian New York friends — and Jessica Craig- Martin’s roughly cropped photos of desiccated and decaying New York socialites, which are hung opposite each other.

It is interesting that it should be the exponents of the “snap-shot” aesthetic and “snap- shot” content leading this Saatchi-sponsored charge of photography into the rarefied reaches of high art, for two reasons. First, it comes precisely at a time when the ubiquity of digital technology is democratising the process of sophisticated image-making and manipulation. It almost feels as if this championing of the crude and the random is an attempt to preserve the higher ground of art photography for artists (as opposed to the masses armed with digital cameras and Adobe Photoshop software). Second, because what we see on the tasteful white walls of the gallery are images of the quotidian activities of fairly normal people. So why is it art? Because, as Damian Hirst observed: “It’s in an art gallery, innit?”

Until 25 March. Open Thursday-Sunday, noon–6pm. Tel: 020 7624 8299