Seamus Nicolson



Not on display

Seamus Nicolson born 1971
Photograph, colour, on paper on aluminium
Support: 1012 × 1545 mm
Purchased 2001


Seamus Nicolson’s work focuses almost exclusively on night-time scenes of the urban environment. Ori depicts a young man dressed in club clothing, silver trousers and wings, red bomber jacket and boots. He is seen urinating against a wall in the street level parking area beneath a block of offices in Clerkenwell, London. There is no one else in sight and no cars; in the early hours of the morning the city is deserted. Artificial light from streetlamps spills in from either side of the image, casting long, dramatic shadows and creating a homogenising, monochrome effect. The subject was inspired by an incident when the artist and a friend were on the way home from a costume party. Nicolson recreated the event, with his friend in the original costume, but using a different location. The stark geometry of the tiled building and the atmospheric lighting render extraordinary beauty to what would be an otherwise unremarkable scene. The subject relates to Nicolson’s early work in which he documented scenes from London nightclubs and raves, work which was influenced by German photographer Andreas Gursky (born 1955).

Nicolson treats the location as a stage for his character. Recreating observed moments, rather than documenting real events, has become a central feature of Nicolson’s work. He stages his photographs; working with friends and acquaintances, he places them in urban settings and situations, for the most part in London. He plays on his awareness of their mannerisms and their ‘look’. Often images will come to mind when he observes them in a particular action. Nicolson shoots each scene a number of times to test details of pose, lighting and composition. This interest in staging scenes of inner-city youth culture locates Nicolson’s work, in the context of new British photography, alongside that of Hannah Starkey and Sarah Jones. His focus on metropolitan locations, transformed by night, is likewise shared by Dan Holdsworth (born 1974) and Rut Blees Luxemburg (born 1967). The concentration on night scenes is a continuation of his early interest in party culture and hedonism, in the way that people are transformed both physically and mentally by a night out on the town. He is also interested in the transformation that occurs in the city environment at night-time, in the way in which it takes on an entirely different aspect as well as being populated by a different community and cast of characters. While some of his work highlights the rave subculture and the underground dance and clubland scene that first arose during Thatcherism and has persisted to become a forceful presence in the city, though still beyond the scope of the mainstream. More generally his work addresses marginalised youth culture and transgression.

The elaborate costume worn in the photograph testifies to the consumer power of the young man. He is not a disenfranchised youth, but more likely an urban professional whose out-of-hours identity contrasts with his daytime persona. The work speaks of a sophisticated, fashion aware personality, a consumer of magazines such as ID, Dazed and Confused or The Face. The character exudes a carefree ownership of the city at night, but also a certain vulnerability, dominated as he is by the architecture.

Further Reading:
Christoph Grunenberg and Max Hollein, Shopping: A Century of Art and Consumer Culture, exhibition catalogue, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, Tate Liverpool, 2002
Air Guitar : Art reconsidering Rock Music, exhibition catalogue, Milton Keynes Gallery, 2002
Arielle Pelenc and Simon Morrissey, Remix: Images Photographiques, exhibition catalogue, Musée de Beaux Arts, Nantes 1998

Tanya Barson,
February 2003

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Display caption

Like Jason, also shown here, Ori is a reconstruction of a previously-observed moment, not a documentary record of a real instant in time. Working from an extensive mental catalogue of locations and potential characters, Nicolson poses friends and acquaintances in night-time scenes to make images that are full of narrative possibility and resonance. The setting here is a stage for the character of Ori, who is transgressive in both his dress and actions, and yet rendered slightly vulnerable by the overwhelmingly urban architecture. The formality of the composition, with its receding perspective and ambient lighting, evoke precedents in renaissance painting.

Gallery label, September 2004

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