I’m perching on a beer crate in the back room of a gallery, whilst people run around carrying boxes of prosecco and packs of ice.
Next to me sits Tyler Shields, also on a beer crate, looking right at home and infectiously chilled in a tuxedo, bow tie and Ray-Bans. A strong candidate for the coolest photographer in the world, he’s in town with his new all-digital exhibition, The Science of Colour, a partnership with Sony, opening tonight in Shoreditch.
It all started when ‘Sony came to me and said they had this tablet which is very vibrant and makes colours really pop.’ Upon hearing that it was waterproof, Shields immediately put it in his sink, because ‘I don’t like to promote something that doesn’t work or is just okay.’ Still functional after its bath, the tablet was loaded with images to view their vibrancy, a test it passed with flying colours.
…Shields lost vision in his left eye and one of the models burnt his feet…
‘Sony wanted to go with the Chromatic series but I said I wanted to create a whole new thing – I think they got more than they bargained for.’ After a day spent shooting in the 123°F California desert in the middle of a 70mph windstorm, during which Shields lost vision in his left eye and one of the models burnt his feet, The Science of Colour was born.
Shields states that the exhibition convinced him to stay with colour, having shot mainly black and white images prior to the Chromatic series. ‘It was exciting to go back and play with the vibrant colour, with the idea that it would be displayed on these tablets’ he says. Holi powder was employed, as in Chromatic, to achieve a sense of liberating colour and create an exciting starting point for the dynamic images.
…smashing into people, which is fun…
The exhibition also includes a ten-minute ‘making of’ film that shows Shields and Co. hiking into the desert and shooting the exhibition. The viewer also sees the impact of the 70mph winds, ‘the powder flying through the air, smashing into people, which is fun.’ Another striking image captures the female model fainting and attempting to rouse herself, whilst the winds batter sand and powder around her.
Although this exhibition isn’t as obviously controversial as some of his other work – ‘I would love to see how someone can make this controversial’ – it really highlights Shields’ dual themes of fun and freedom. ‘I wanted it to be like a fun war, everyone throwing powder and creating this kind of madness and having a great time.’ As in Chromatic, this sense of exhilarating release and excitement is evident in the images, as you’re desperate to join the reckless fun.
…In the future, digital galleries will be it…
The fact that Shields is showing these analogue images solely on a digital platform is definitely new and exciting, however something that Shields believes will be commonplace in a few years. ‘In the future, digital galleries will be it, we’ll have galleries that will be just built of screens, you can pump in the artwork, which could be ever-changing and could show a different artist every day.’
Far from distancing the viewer, Shields argues viewing artwork on tablets ‘forces intimacy, because when everything’s really big it’s not close and you don’t focus on it.’ I didn’t fully appreciate this until the exhibition, when several Sony Xperia Tablet Z devices were set up around the room, each with the whole exhibition pre-loaded. All I had to do was bagsie a tablet and flick my way through the exhibition on the touchscreen. The complaint of an exhibition being so big that walking around burns more calories than a half-hour workout – such as Lichtenstein at Tate Modern earlier this year – could well disappear. The ability to get closer to than ever before, even zoom in on the images, combined with the incredible HD quality of the Xperia Tablet Z’s screen made for some very close image inspections.
…colourful powder and graceful poses…
Images which, by the way, were stunning and beautiful, encapsulating a sense of dynamic freedom with bright colours in the middle of an empty and barren desert. One particular photograph captures five people bracing red-stained wind in a Stonehengian image, as they resisted the temptation to just roll down the hill, which does happen in the video. The combination of the wind, colourful powder and graceful poses of the models makes for an exhibition that is at once peaceful, exciting and, most of all, fun. Entirely appropriate for the man who claims ‘I probably have the most fun out of anyone I know,’ a bold statement which, having seen this exhibition and met the man, I’ll say is almost definitely true.