Photography exhibitions captured at the RBSA Gallery: Lachlan Monaghan and Olivia Swinscoe

Olivia Swinscoe NWA

Lachlan Monaghan Backstage & Olivia Swinscoe Next Wave Associate

Both solo exhibitions are on display until Saturday 21 March 2020 on the ground floor of the RBSA gallery. Admission is free. Lachlan Monaghan has a free artist talk Saturday 21 March at 2pm.

Lachlan Monaghan has captured the intricate and intimate moments behind the scenes of the Birmingham Royal Ballet in this solo photography exhibition. As a dancer touring with the company, Monaghan has developed his practice and highlights the unique and unusual things performers do before a show.

Not only does every photo immerse you in the scene captured, whether it’s gazing at a performer sleeping in an interval or feeling like you are intruding on someone deep in thought. The technical beauty in these photographs is breath-taking in their own way. Stage lighting is harsh and often unforgiving, but Monaghan has incorporated this so cleverly into these photos. The effect that leaves us with is a photograph that looks almost painted in some areas. Where Monaghan has cancelled out noise levels from highly contrasted lighting, details on the dancers look like careful brushstrokes.

Lachlan Monaghan

What is most striking from this exhibit is the contrast between art and reality. The support of stagehands and dressers, as captured in the photo Yvette, are important and vital roles for such productions, but usually unseen by the audience. In the photograph Celine, we see the performer stretching before curtain-up, wearing a beautiful and detailed costume, with a plain (but very comfortable looking) Superman jumper over the top. It’s vitally important for ballet dancers to keep their bodies warm, even after they’re in costume. The contrast here sparks a sense of familiarity, something that we – as spectators – can relate to.

Many people who view this exhibition may not share the same experiences of professional dancers, however, seeing the ‘unpolished’ and personal instances remind us of the reality behind the beauty we see on stage. The tender and intimate moments displayed, such as performers taking a quick nap, or waiting in the wings for their cue, don’t alienate us like we’d expect. We feel invited there. Monaghan has cleverly encapsulated what it feels to be a part of a touring company. Staying true to his interest of capturing moments in life that cannot be recreated, we truly get a glimpse into life backstage at the Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Lachlan Monghan

Olivia Swinscoe’s work, displayed alongside Monaghan on the ground floor, gives us a glimpse into a very different world. Here we see women of Myanmar, a small snapshot of a large community. What is most striking about these photographs is the use of colour and texture, in the individual images and when viewed as a collection.

In the photo Cigar, a portrait of a woman from Yangon, shades of green and purple perfectly compliment the face we see. Although rather contrasting colours, the composition of the photograph with the intricate textures and piercing gaze, the palette only seems to pull our focus to the woman in the portrait. I’d like to write more about this captivating portrait, but words don’t quite do it justice. This is a photo to be seen in person.

Elderly woman smoking a cigar in Myanmar

Olivia Swinscoe NWA

There’s an interesting history behind the gold coils the women of Myanmar wear around their necks, arms, and shins, and many myths too. It’s a traditional practice, sometimes viewed with controversy, and the meaning of it all depends on who you ask.

Olivia Swinscoe NWA

The bright and warm palettes draw the viewer’s attention, Swinscoe captures the women in full vibrancy. In contrast, the only photograph to feature a man is a palette of greys and muted colours. The piece is just as striking as the rest. Pigeons looks like a snapshot from a film, you can almost see the picture in motion. The muted grey palette of the photograph is juxtaposed against the rest of Swinscoe’s work displayed. We can see the difference between the bright jewel colours of the silks used to weave scarves that helps to sustain the communities, and the more mundane, everyday civic view of cities like Yangon, often not photographed by tourists. This piece, particularly when placed beside the other photographs, quickly became a favourite of mine.

Both solo exhibitions are on display until Saturday 21 March 2020 on the ground floor of the RBSA gallery. Admission is free. Lachlan Monaghan has a free artist talk Saturday 21 March at 2pm.

By Bethany Wood

Read more from Bethany at their blog and Twitter.

About Us

The Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (RBSA) is an artist-led charity which supports artists and promotes engagement with the visual arts through a range of exhibitions, events and workshops.

The RBSA runs an exhibition venue – the RBSA Gallery – in Birmingham’s historic Jewellery Quarter, a short walk from the city centre. The gallery is open 7 days a week and admission to all our exhibitions is free.

Find out how to reach the RBSA Gallery here.

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