Is the concept behind David Bailey's 'Alive at Night' exhibition a marketing promotion for yet another mobile phone or a serious attempt at a photographic exhibition, shot entirely on a mobile phone?
Having previously tested the first two phones to reach the 5Mp threshold, I've discovered large megapixel phone cameras have shown interpolation patterning signs, similar to results with 'Genuine Fractals'. It appeared these devices were upscaling the image to output at the next big number to impress the consumer. So I was keen to see the images produced by the legendary David Bailey, in low light to boot! Risky, knowing how noisy phone cameras can be in such circumstances.
The exhibition venue, Old Dairy, Bloomsbury, seemed out of place in the residential location with throngs of smartly dressed people drinking on the gravel drive and black tied doorman behind black velvet ropes, ensuring exclusivity. The main hall was even more like a night club: black walled, low lighting, funky dance music and a lot of people socialising. Luckily, the marketing slogans adorning the walls told me I was in the right place.
A small room off the main hall had some images hanging, but these where from a selected group of night workers, who didn't make the list for a David Bailey portrait, but whose story had been included.
Individually lit images, printed fairly small, didn't appear to show much in the way of interpolation, even the low light quality seemed decent - good news. The compositions were creative, subject matter was also interesting. Some held snapshot qualities, while others had clearly considered the composition to produce engaging photographs.
I chose to return during the public viewing hours to see Bailey's mobile phone work again. The venue was now deftly silent and pitch black. I walked to the first image. About five feet from the image I stood on a floor sensor which lit the picture. The floor sensor made it difficult to get a close look at the image - if I moved I was cast back into blackness, searching for the right pressure point like a blind tap dancer. Finally, employing the only other person in the exhibition, I managed to get close to an image.
I found distance was effective at diverting attention from the signs of interpolation, some images lacked sharpness, close-ups seemed better. There was some luminescence noise, but not nearly as much as I expected. In fact, the interpolation was far less visible than expected. Explaining to my press gang what I was looking for, the response was: "But that gives it a nice amateurish look
." So, David Bailey has achieved an amateurish look! But the composition and subject placement clearly bore the hallmarks of David Bailey. Quite a pleasing juxtaposition.
Words by Jolyan Turrall