Richard Simpkin and Simone Lueck: Richard & Famous – Reviewed

Les Roberts takes in the Open Eye Gallery’s latest exhibition and finds, for some, 15 minutes of fame could never be enough…

I’m no fan of the celebrity culture that continually attacks the senses, be it through the celebrity-stalking that passes for tabloid journalism these days, or the endless streams of ‘celebrity’ game shows and programmes that take over our TV schedules.

I no more want to see an X-Factor reject trying to cop off with Playboy models on live television than I do a former Olympic athlete blow a cockroach from her nose (though that was strangely compelling in a bum-clenching kind of way).

So it’s safe to say that I entered the Richard and Famous exhibition at the Open Eye Gallery with a few reservations, but they were pretty much dispelled as soon as I walked through the door.

The first thing that struck me was the layout of the exhibition which resembles the display shown on a graphic equaliser, highlighting the frequency, and infrequency, of Richard Simpkins’ brushes with celebrity.

Then the celebrities catch your eye: there’s Simpkin in the back of a box van with INXS, there’s Elton John, Nelson Mandela, Audrey Hepburn, Johnny Cash, Brian Wilson, Stan Lee, Mr T, Jerry Seinfeld,  Hulk Hogan, David and Victoria Beckham, Bono, Michael Stipe, Al Pacino, Oprah Winfrey, Tiger Woods…the list goes on!

And then you notice Simpkin himself and realise just how big a part of his life this has been, as we see the fresh faced teenager posing next to Boris Becker in 1989, making his way through adulthood and to the edge of middle age.

This has been a labour of love for him for 24 years now and as soon as it reaches 25 he’ll be hanging up his Polaroid, which will be a shame as this exhibition gives an amazing insight into the explosion of celebrity culture over the last quarter century.

“Popular culture dictates that we should all aspire to celebrity status, yet Simpkins’ exhibition deconstructs the myth behind celebrity”

Popular culture dictates that we should all aspire to celebrity status, yet Simpkins’ exhibition deconstructs the myth behind celebrity. Its unassuming protagonist steals a kiss from Kylie, shares a beer with Heath Ledger and confirms that the Beckham’s are actually waxwork dummies.

The exhibition chronicles, in its own unique way, the end of one century and the beginning of another, highlighting the famous faces, the fashions and the Facebook poses (you know the camera angle I’m talking about) that we are all familiar with.

The next part of the exhibition gives us another take on celebrity as Simone Lueck’s The Once and Future Queens gives us celebrity photo-shoots with a twist…the subjects are not famous and they’re older than the culture of celebrity will permit.

Lueck placed an ad on the community website Craigslist that read: “seeking fabulous, striking, interesting older woman to pose as a glamorous movie star for photo series. Please submit a photo and describe how you would pose as a glamorous movie star. There is no pay, but images will be provided. All types will be considered. Thank you!”

All of the women pictured provided their own costumes and make-up, and the photographs, while glamorous, have a sense of melancholy about them as the women’s sense of self and what could have been is glaringly apparent.

As Simpkins’ photos chart the passing of the years through the fashions and the famous faces of the era, not to mention through Simpkins’ own changing appearance, Lueck’s photographs throw a stark light on the ageing process, identity, self-image, gender and sexuality.

It certainly did for me anyway as, although I know I’m not speaking for everyone, I’m simply not used to seeing women of this age in pictures or poses like this and, as much as I don’t want to admit it, there is something unsettling about it.

And I’m not sure exactly what that says about me!

Moving upstairs (quiet at the back) and we have the archive exhibition of Painted Photographs from the collection of Martin Parr.

Parr’s collection gives another view of the celebrity culture, as the photographs show publicity shots of iconic actors, musicians and sports stars marked up for reproduction in newspapers and magazines in the days before airbrushed Photoshop shoots.

So we have pictures of John Lennon with Yoko Ono cropped out (how many Beatles fans wish this could have been a reality?), while Marilyn Monroe and Marlena Dietrich look like caricatures, such are the crop marks on the photographs.

If Simpkins’ pictures show us the public face of celebrity, then Parr’s show us the public image, and Lueck’s shows us that the potential is there in all of us.

Les Roberts

Exhibition continues until March 18th

Images: Main: Pierce Brosnan 1995. From the series Richard and Famous 1989 – 2011. © Richard Simpkin

Above: From the series The Once and Future Queens 2009. 
© Simone Lueck. Images courtesy of Open Eye Gallery 

Posted on 27/01/2012 by thedoublenegative