Mix and match
Dennis Gilbert: Modern Equations At Photofusion, 17a Electric Lane, London SW9, until 11 September
Just above the colourful bustle of Brixton market, the Photofusion gallery is showing an altogether calmer, but no less colourful, collection of images sifted from the archive of renowned architectural photographer Dennis Gilbert. The title, 'Modern Equations', already gives the clue that this is about juxtaposition or equivalence, not just single images.
One of the first lessons in colour theory shows how the perception of colour is dependent on background or adjacent colour fields. While exploiting this, Gilbert has taken the further step of applying the adjacency principle to the aesthetic and spatial quality of the images. Juxtaposing photographic prints in unequal pairs, or sometimes a triptych format, gives a new reading to familiar buildings or fragments.
As the architect Bernhard Blauel observes in the accompanying catalogue: 'Images from a wide spectrum of periods and styles are matched and juxtaposed. There is no chronological structure or regional order, no claim of completeness. The resulting combinations far exceed the summary of their constituent parts.' When the individual parts have been selected in such a considered and even essential way, to catch the quality of light, space and colour, the combinations of them are especially striking (if that's not too strong a word for the subtlety of the choices). Inevitably, this sophisticated form of collage involves a level of abstraction and an unashamedly aesthetic eye - this is not about signs of use in the physical sense.
A particular example, where a vermilion reflected light falls beside a blue wall in Steven Holl's Chapel of St Ignatius, set against the busy grid of primary colours used in the stairwell of Richard Rogers' Lloyd's building (pictured), could be seen as an echo of that earlier Dutch spirit of neo-plasticism - especially as described by Norbert Lynton in The Modern World: 'Against the discords and accents of daily life, [Mondrian] erected objects of controlled expression within which tensions and oppositions could be harmoniously contained.' Blauel is clearly happy to see his work treated in this way - the juxtaposition of an interior passageway in the Realnames offices, gleaming red, with great spatial depth, set next to a domestic-scale green-glass corridor from the Leerdam house by Kruunenberg Van der Erve. Complementary colours, deep versus shallow space, horizontal and vertical contrast - yet the result is strangely reminiscent of the metaphysical atmosphere in film-maker David Lynch's Twin Peaks.
Most architects would surely be pleased, if not flattered, to see their work used in this way; after all, haven't most of them used paired slides in their lectures? The format here resembles this, with the vertical dimension remaining constant (albeit on a much smaller scale). This is fine for a book, but could perhaps be larger for an exhibition.
But as it is, there is not quite enough wall space at Photofusion to include all the prints in the catalogue. Beautifully produced and hand-bound, this must be a collector's item.
David Wild is an architect in London