Walking down Piccadilly, one might not so easily spot Ely House on Dover Street, just across from the Ritz. However, within that magnificent building there is an oasis of great beauty: Mallett, one of the oldest antiques dealers in the world. Opening the Shutters, an unexpected collaboration between Jules Wright, founder of the Wapping Project Bankside, and Mallett, brings together the work of seven high-brow photographers such as Paolo Roversi, Mitra Tabrizian, Thomas Zanon-Larcher, Edgar Martins, Elina Brotherus, Peter Marlow, and Jacqueline Hassink.
Set against the poetic backdrop of the 18th century townhouse accommodating the finest examples of furniture and works of art primarily from the 18th century and Regency periods, the photographs speak the emotions, experiences and lives of people whether they are in the shots or not. It is difficult to say whether or not they would have the same effect in a more sterile environment, but who is to say.
As one enters the building through Mallett’s double doors there is a fire roaring in the foyer that extends into a long, well-lit corridor. Above the fireplace, Italian photographer Thomas Zanon-Larcher’s photograph of English actress Charlotte Rampling (2010) is positioned. Rampling is sitting deep in thought with her right hand on her forehead. The shade of her scarlet rouge is made more prominent by the darkness of the background, and the crimson tone of her jacket. The grand front room exhibits the work of another Italian photographer Paolo Roversi. Hanging high on the walls of the room, the muse of Roversi’s photographs is the renowned model Guinevere van Seenus. Photographs of Guinevere from 1996 and 2004 show us that every time the shutter closes and reopens a new person emerges – a libertine with a cigarette, a young woman in a red Yves-Saint-Laurent dress, a courageous female intellectual in an unbuttoned white blouse in a setting reminiscent of early Orientalist photographs…
Back out in the long, ivory-coloured corridor Peter Marlow, the international photo-journalist, is to be found. The archival pigment print photographs (2011) reflect a wide selection of English cathedrals built in different times including St. Paul’s, Canterbury, Oxford, and York. The entire length of the corridor leading up to the stately staircase is adorned with luminescent photographs of these wonders of religious architecture. It is a grim notion to ponder how many workers passed during the construction of such monumental, grandiose buildings.
The first floor landing is dedicated to the work of Iranian photographer Mitra Tabrizian, whose work was last exhibited in London in 2012 at the Victoria and Albert Museum within the body of Light from the Middle East. The photograph titled, The Long Wait (2005-2006) draws one into that blue moment of yearning to return home. This work was also awarded the Royal Academy Rose Award for Photography in 2013. If you should see the exhibition, you will surely find yourself lost in the emotion of Tabrizian’s three photographs.
The work of Finnish photographer Elina Brotherus, known as one of the most accomplished photography and video artists of her generation, is exhibited on the first floor corridor. One of the works that many visitors find truly striking is Model Study 6 (2004). This intricate photograph comprises an old mirror propped against a wall, reflecting a female figure. If you turn away from Brotherus’ work and move into the room opposite, you will find two works by Portugal-born Edgar Martins. Taken in Star City, Russia Astronaut dressing room (2013) and Pressurised suit by Soyuz training module at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre (2013) are two examples of a new photographic series the artist is still working on and will take on an international touring exhibition. Recreational space travel is of course only available to the richest of people today, but these photos suggest the question of whether and, if so, when it will also be an option for the majority. Or, rather, will certain pleasures and knowledge forever be reserved for the hands, eyes and minds of the few.
Dutch visual artist Jacqueline Hassink’s work is exhibited in the Grey Room. First exhibited in the UK at the Wapping Project Bankside in 2012, the series View, Kyoto comprises detailed yet perspective-wise uncluttered photographs taken from inside Buddhist Temples in Kyoto that look out onto some of the most spectacular traditional Japanese gardens. The photographs draw attention to the invisible line between indoors and outdoors as much as to the inner and outer of the person.
Opening the Shutters is a most international and spectacular array of photographic work including some of the most renowned artists of our time. If you should be walking down Piccadilly, don’t forget to turn into Dover Street for the opportunity to see the shutters open and close through time, and space.
Credits: Installation views, courtesy Mallett