A Perfect Sentence explores the shifting terrain of documentary photography: our drive for attention, the complexity of being seen and our anxiety of being overlooked. Commissioned and produced by Forma with eight partners, A Perfect Sentence is Oliver Frank Chanarin’s first UK solo exhibition and will see multiple presentations across the country, public acquisitions, a digital platform and a publication.
Join us for the premiere at The Museum of Making, Derby on Thursday 16 March 2023, as part of the photography biennial FORMAT23.
Throughout 2022, Chanarin undertook multiple journeys across the UK, often finding himself on the margins – from suburban fetish groups, to carnival troupes in community halls, to gender activists protesting in the streets. His analogue camera became a tool for social exchange. Collaborative photoshoots gave way to chance encounters with strangers and friends, missteps and wilful attempts at getting lost in the world. The resulting photographs capture a subjective and intimate record of a nation in transition.
A Perfect Sentence evolved during a peculiar and unsettling time, when Brexit polarised the country, Covid-19 forced people into isolation and the public’s consciousness of identity politics heightened. This juncture coincided with the disbanding of Chanarin’s artistic partnership – the internationally acclaimed duo Broomberg & Chanarin – whose collaboration came to an end after working together for over twenty years. In response to these events, Chanarin took a cue from August Sander’s collective portrait of German society, People of the 20th Century (1927-64) and turned to the vernacular of documentary photography.
I wasn’t sure how to be a photographer anymore; how to take pictures in this new paradigm; how to approach people in the street, in their homes, in their communities; and what is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
I felt unmoored, like a planet that had lost its moon, and I knew the answer was to go back to the impulse that drew me to photography in the first place. Encounters with strangers; the beautiful accidental moments that come with getting lost in the world with a camera.
A Perfect Sentence is shaped by many spoken and unspoken exchanges. I’ve tried to make these encounters healthy and inspiring but the ‘perfect’ here is aspirational because every human interaction is fraught, especially when a camera is involved.
In the making I got to be fearless, to seek out one good image in a fog of ten bad ones. They unfold according to my own invisible and intuitive syntax. This is a document of the real, yet a shadow of disbelief binds everything.
During the year-long production, Chanarin took over 2750 analogue colour negatives, which he hand-printed in the darkroom to produce hundreds of unique, c-type prints. The final artwork includes 300 images, many of which resemble photographs in development. Experiments with exposure, cropping and colour filtration are made visible through the artist’s cursive notations. The letters and numbers annotating the surfaces alert the viewer to the inherent subjectivity of image making.
A selection of photographs from A Perfect Sentence will premiere at The Museum of Making, Derby on 16 March – 3 September 2023, as part of FORMAT23, the UK’s leading international photography biennial. Chanarin’s narrative-driven artist texts accompany the photographic installation – poetic prose that fuses fact, fiction and recollection. A Perfect Sentence will see the launch of a digital platform, and the book of A Perfect Sentence will also be published in June 2023 by Loose Joints.
Partnering with Forma to commission and produce A Perfect Sentence across the UK are: Artes Mundi, Cardiff; KARST, Plymouth; Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London Corporation; Norfolk Museums Service (Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, Norwich, and Time and Tide Museum, Great Yarmouth); originalprojects;, Great Yarmouth; QUAD, FORMAT International Photography festival and Derby Museums, Derby; and Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Wolverhampton.
The production is supported by A Perfect Sentence’s co-commission and co-production partners, and has been made possible through generous funding from Arts Council England and Outset Partners. 72 photographs will be gifted to six national collections, thanks to an Acquisition Commission grant from Art Fund. In addition, National Lottery through Arts Council Wales, Kick The Dust and City of London have supported the productions in Wales, Great Yarmouth and London respectively.