Un Oeil Sur La Musique

Venue: The Norman Rea Gallery
Runs: 9 May – 20 May 2011
Curator: Samia Calbayrac
Rating: ***

Rock photographer Richard Bellia’s edgy and coolly monochromatic work is on show this month at the Norman Rea Gallery, adorning the walls minimally but effectively. The French photographer has been working at capturing the highs, lows, quirks and familiar faces of the rock world for almost thirty years. The collection of thirty photographs we encounter include names such as Nirvana, Annie Lennox, Metallica, Robert Smith, Joe Strummer, Joey Ramone and many more besides.

There is a quality to Bellia’s photos that renders them very frank and intimate. The variety of ways in which he has chosen to photograph each musician seems to reveal an intriguing mix of spontaneity and meticulously tailoring. It’s the touch of someone who clearly builds a rapport with the people whom he makes his subjects; some look contentedly inscrutable, some have been caught in the midst of a very genuine facial expression, some are just being themselves to the full. Although his shots of acts on stage are technically accomplished, they are overshadowed by the pieces that bring this personal touch forward – the pieces featuring Fela Kuti, Robert Smith and Nirvana reveal this especially well. Some pieces, such as those featuring Peaches and Stiv Bators, unique angles that surprise the viewer and evoke a sense of backstory gave us a taste of the potential in Bellia’s ability to say a lot with angle, exposure and mood.

The rather small size of the prints is of course up to the artist himself entirely, but the 20×24 inch prints made for considerably more immersive viewing than the 8×16 inch ones. Curation seemed a factor that could have benefited from a somewhat more energetic or bold touch, as the presentation of the works felt somewhat swamped by the sheer amount of white wall and space which we luckily possess at the Norman Rea Gallery. However, the classic rock blaring from the speakers and the photographer himself, who was tirelessly engaging with all of his guests, added a stylish but friendly atmosphere. Although perhaps not particularly intriguing for anyone unfamiliar or uninterested in the rock world, this is nevertheless a refreshingly different set of works that definitely merit a look.

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