Face to Face: The Moving Portrait features a series of short, three to five minute films, or ‘moving photographs’, projected onto the gallery walls in what Oxley describes as ‘one huge moving 3D portfolio’.
Known for his candid images of the cream of the music world, his camera seems to have an uncanny power to disarm. Oxley’s previous photos have seen his subjects drop the pose, or else capturing them in prep for posing – the sweep of the hair, the squint of the eye, the leering, wide-mouthed grin before the pout.
The exhibition’s series of video portraits has a strong conceptual premise. Projected four-and-a-half metres high onto the gallery’s interior walls, these are a strange hybrid of film and photograph; more than 40 musicians of the likes of Miles Kane, Wretch 32, Liam Gallagher, Azealia Banks, Professor Green, Wretch 32, The Maccabees, Rizzle Kicks and Mark Ronson find themselves suspended up on the walls in these moving photographs, as if the moment of the snapped shutter has somehow been agonisingly prolonged.
The technique riffs on the practice of 19th century photographers, whose sitters would often have to remain still for an extended period of time whilst the exposure set onto a glass plate. Today, a photo is taken in a split second. These stars aren’t used to waiting around. But Oxley’s moving photographs exploit the moment of the photo-pose, extending the frame of portraiture to become an intense study of character in image, sound and movement – not so much a narrative, as a waiting game.
Oxley strips his sitters of the option of performance, and proceeds to coax them into their comfort zones – they’re no longer looking at themselves, they’re looking at you.
He says, ‘You film them, and then at one point they’re suddenly in their comfort-zone – that’s the sweet spot. That’s the moving photograph.’
‘Some of them were really amazing at it. They never felt the need to perform in the time I had given them. You have to be careful not to act anything out and amplify it, but you’ve also got to be careful not to glaze over.’
This is the man who captured Amy Winehouse cementing her beehive, so he knows a fair bit about getting the stars to play to his tune. In fact, one of his methods is always to work to music – that’s why the decision to play the song of the musician’s choice as part of each projection was so key.
So, three rooms in the gallery, each with four projections, all on rotation – isn’t that going to be a bit of a cacophony? Oxley sounds slightly mournful when he describes his encounters with the sound technician.
He says, ‘Initially, I wanted there to be sound ‘zones’ for each projection, but it’s a concrete building – I didn’t want there to be clash of sounds. In the end I decided to have one dedicated screen in each room, complete with sound. The projections will be on rotation throughout the gallery.’
Oxley’s arrangement of the photographs suggests a type of order descending into chaos. He says, ‘The first two hours are part of a set order I’ve created, but after then, things are going to mix up a bit as the rotation becomes un-synced. The moving photographs are going to do their own thing.
‘Sometimes I arranged things so that the moving photographs would interact with each other – I’d ask someone to look over there, as if they were looking towards the left wall in the gallery, and I’d have the other image looking back. But if you just put these images together, I found they’ll interact of their own accord.’
Oxley is not trying to find a substitute for photography, or for film. He says, ‘Nothing can replace the power of the single frame. And film is amazing, that power to create a narrative. But the “moving photograph” is a new aspect of those ways of seeing. It slows things down’.
Tom Oxley’s Face to Face: The Moving Portrait is at Londonewcastle Project Space, 28 Redchurch Street, London, E2 , from 19 October 2012 until 28 October 2012.