Inside Almeida at Kettle’s Yard

Jenn Ellis 19 October 2009

Jenn Ellis reviews Helena Almeida’s Cambridge show and discovers a breath of fresh air in contemporary photography 

As Cambridge welcomes a flurry of new students, Kettle’s Yard follows suit and welcomes Portuguese photographer Helena Almeida to England. Celebrated in her own country and abroad, her career has been rapidly expanding. After being exhibited in New York, Madrid and the Venice Biennale twice, Cambridge is next to step in line.

True to the contemporary artist ethos, Almeida’s work covers a wide range of media such as film, canvas and photography. The latter, however, is where her particular genius lies. Kettle’s Yard emphasises this and primarily exhibits a series of large-scale black and white photographs that depict the artist in various angular poses.

A primary temptation may be to describe these images as self-portraits. Almeida, however, firmly and explicitly quashes this initial inclination. She explains that using her own body is the way she can have most control over the photographs she takes. If she is the model, the body in front of the camera can respond directly to the mind behind the camera. This close connection is therefore the key to her being able to perfectly manipulate and construct her images.

Almeida manipulates her body, outfit and studio space to construct an image that expresses the complex relationship an artist has with his or her work. She carefully positions her legs to create lines that draw the spectator’s attention to a particular section of the image. Dressed entirely in black, she shifts her body so as to create depth where the lines meet. The shoes she wears may be on or off, either following the field of vision laid out for us or breaking it. The chair in her studio space may be near her or far away. By constructing scenes with continuous and discontinuous lines and shapes, Almeida captures how an artist’s interaction with his or her work oscillates between states of cohesion and complete disconnection.

It is this aspect of careful construction that gives Almeida’s work particular power and importance.

Photography is a medium that has been rapidly developing over the past few decades. With the introduction of digital SLRs and Photoshop, more people than ever before are calling themselves photographers.Almeida’s work reminds us, however, that the significance of the images you capture does not depend upon the cost of your camera or the media tools you use later.

It depends rather on what you frame and how you frame it.Capturing a photograph is more than modern technology; it is a question of balancing objects within your field of vision so that they come together to mean something.

Critics may describe the careful construction of each image as being traditional. Almeida’s work, however, is anything but vested in the past. It shows us that contrary to current trends, complex and abstract concepts can be expressed not only by brash dynamic movement or collections of multiple objects.Almeida’s work proves that contemporary expression can and does lie in the carefully poised and minimal.

‘Helena Almeida: Inside Me’ continues until the 15th of November 2009 at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge.

Jenn Ellis