City Gallery City Gallery

Nigel Yates, ‘Exhibition by Christine Webster’, Listener, 30 April 1994

Christine Webster’s working formula employs a deliberate sense of overkill and drama.

Compositionally there’s nothing new here. The dark curtained background is repeated ad infinitum. So are the full-frontal poses of the subjects, devices that many photographers from the wedding variety up have used for more than a hundred years. Hardly a carnival atmosphere, really. What differentiates Webster’s work from the classic crop—apart from provocative use of symbolism and nudity—is the extreme magnitude of enlargement wrung from the original 24 x 36mm negative.

The original colour prints may have been copied onto a larger film to avoid the excessive grin from too massive an enlargement of the original negative. However, this creates further problems in the form of increased contrast and colour shift, especially noticeable in the differing skin tones in successive photos featuring the same model.

Two of the lifesize prints seem to be out of focus, surprising considering the prestige of the work. A more traditional worker would have chosen a much larger format camera to start with, and aimed for finer print quality in the stage, but would have failed to achieve the gritty images seen here.

Christine Webster, ‘Missed the Point’, letter to the Listener [date]

Is this a review of an art show? Or what? (Exhibitions: Black Carnival, review by Nigel Yates, 30 April)

As I was never approached by the reviewer, I would like to set a few things straight. I have not used 35mm format, as stated. I worked using a large-format camera and went to great effort to achieve the deprocessed effect. The ‘excessive grain from too massive an enlargement’ is achieved through colour laser as part of a four-part process deliberately aimed at breaking down the image in order to produce renaissance colours and texture yet with a 1990s computer look.

I also went to a lot of trouble to get ‘the differing skin tones’—I use colour to differentiate characters and moods. Out-of-focusness and movement are other devices that I have used on and off over the years, quite intentionally, often to create a more ephemeral and fleeting image. I am not trying to adhere to set conventions of photography—I merely use photography as a medium to achieve my desired effect.

It is sad for me that the only review in such a nationwide publication is, quite frankly, of a ‘camera club’ mentality. Must photography still be read in these terms? These sorts of misinterpretations are so disheartening and make me wonder why artists bother to stay in this country at all. It would be far more interesting to read about the ideas and concepts underlying the work and not just about the type of camera and film used.

Really Listener—this is disappointing!