‘HUH?’: An exhibition of darkroom prints by Thady Trá at Gallery Asna

The shape of things

James Waller is an Australian born artist and poet based in West Cork. Through this column James explores the world of art, introducing the reader to major works of art and artists and reflecting on what makes them so engaging.

James offers a range of studio-based courses for children and adults in Classical painting, drawing and printmaking at Clonakilty School of Painting. See www.paintingschool.
for details.

In Thady Trá’s  third successive exhibition at Gallery Asna, titled ‘Huh?’ the young photographer reveals, to those who have been following his work, a shift in creative emphasis: from concerns of composition and quietude, to an interest in narrative and drama; from subjects of a local nature to those of international import. The composer is still present, of course, but what emerges most strongly in ‘Huh?’ is the storyteller: the photographer as documentarian; the photo-journalist who captures, in successive images the drama, whether that be the quiet, but tragic closure of a local store, or a noisy climate protest in the centre of London. 

Trá divides his exhibition into four parts: images from the ‘Oily Money Out’ protests in London, a series from a trip to Germany, a collection devoted to Ireland, and a special series documenting the closure of Atkins in Clonakilty. If the exhibition suffers at all it is from too many images. Hung from pegs, in double rows on four walls, it is difficult to initially focus on any one print. Better spacing and fewer photographs would have enhanced the exhibition as a whole. In saying this if over-abundance is one’s only complaint, then it’s a good complaint to have.

What is most compelling in this body of work, and what might have been explored more in its presentation, is the contrast between a narrative told through images of absence (photographs of empty shelves and vacant aisles), and a narrative told through images of dramatic presence (police confronting, and at times yelling at and stepping over, protesters). Images of absence typify the Atkins series, whilst images of dramatic presence are most compelling in the ‘Oily Money Out’ series; it is the contrast between the two that I would like to dwell on here.

There is something quite daring in photographs such as ‘Bare’ and ‘Empty Shelves.’ Unremarkable on their own, they combine with others to tell the story of a greatly loved store’s untimely closure, the threat of which has faced many iconic businesses in West Cork over the last year. The corollary to ‘Bare’ (literally an image of empty shelves) is a poignant photograph of the Atkins team at the store entrance on the day of farewell. Atkins had goods to sell; that was the business, but it was always the people who sold them who drew the customers back time and again. A friendly word, some knowledgeable advice, time graciously given: these were the hallmarks of the Atkins team who, through their own personal qualities, made the store integral to the community. Trá has captured something of this simply by being present, by opening his shutter and capturing the last hurrah. 

Trá’s images from ‘Oily Money Out,’ a week of climate actions and workshops in London last year, contrast markedly with the Atkins series. The narrative is international, high profile, loud and dramatic, where the Atkins series is local, low profile, quiet and subdued. Having said this, quietude may also be found in a crowd and Trá has a keen enough eye to see it. One stand-out for me is an image of an elderly man wrapped up in a coat and beanie, on his knees, grasping a banner. His expression, in the midst of the crowd, is forlorn, almost one of despair. One gets the feeling that he has tuned out of the noise and clamour around him; that he is far away, somewhere perhaps in the past. His expression is inscrutable; a note of loss and abandonment in the middle of a maelstrom. There are other memorable works from this series: ‘Fossil Free London’ with its banner, police and protesters arrayed together, feels iconic, as does a work which captures the moment when a policeman roars at a protester. Such images can only be captured when the shutter is constantly at work, when the photographer’s eye is constantly watching; these images are a testament to Trá’s commitment.

Thady Trá’s ‘Atkins’ series and ‘Oily Money Out’ series reveal an artist whose finger is on the pulse of what is vital to community, both on the micro level and the macro; both in the local sphere and the international. His work reflects his spirit; one of passionate enquiry into the world around him. ‘Huh?’ taken together is a vibrant, if eclectic body of work, by a young photographer with talent to burn. A little more finesse on his presentation and greater focus in his curation can only enhance what is always engaging work.

WCP Staff

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