BY Joseph Jackson in Reviews | 06 MAR 95
Featured in
Issue 21

Nick Waplington

BY Joseph Jackson in Reviews | 06 MAR 95

Nick Waplington's latest works have the letter-box dimensions of a Cinemascope movie: panoramic stills that merge together into a big screen road movie every time the naked and shaven-headed figure of Waplington pops up. They look like sinister reworkings of the pre-school picture book Where's Wally: there's Nick peering above a heap of rubble beside Ceausescu's palace in Bucharest, and there he is again wearing a surgeon's mask beside a bombed out building in Hiroshima.

In the introduction to the catalogue, Marianne Wiggins makes a neat point out of a bad pun by stressing that the pictures are Pan-oramas, referring to Nietzche's favourite goat-legged God. The suffix 'rama', which appears in 50's neologisms like 'Odorama', is curiously appropriate. The term suggests not simply something exciting, but also smacks of sensationalism and showmanship. 'Other Edens' is a tour of the world in the sense that the Temptation on the Mount was a tour of the world. Or, better still, it's Satan's temptation of Christ as staged by a carnival company. Like the Spencer Tracy film Dante's Inferno, in which hell is recreated by a huckstering carnival barker, Nick Waplington's naked figure oversees the proceedings, leering out of the hell holes or stirring the sulphur beneath innocent idylls.

In Camera Lucida Roland Barthes suggests that a good photograph always has a kind of visual over bite; a moment of excess that tears through the print and sinks its teeth into the viewer. He terms this moment the 'punctum'. Often a small element, the punctum could conceivably be overlooked; instead, it is unmissable. Only a photograph can have a punctum, because a photograph is the trace of a real moment; but a moment that did not exist until the composition was brought into focus by the camera's lens. Waplington's works have a strange relation to pure photography: the way they exercise their effects is specific to the medium, but they go beyond Barthes' principles.

Due to their scale, the panoramas in 'Other Edens' contain multiple punctums, but far from being minute points that snag the viewer's eye, they are great spiky quills - the visual equivalent of a carnival barker's tricks. They are at once glaring, insidious and lewd: the very things that make the punter crumble. These pictures are big. In fact, Waplington has deliberately designed an exhibition so big that the book of the show would fall still-born onto the coffee table, signalling that he's got ambitions beyond photography. The decision to produce a gallery event rather than a publishing event says a lot about the way he views his work. The exhibition is a declaration of intent: he's an artist working in photography, but not tied to the medium. What he delivers is something entirely photographic but, at the same time, warped. What was once a unique quality of the photograph becomes a cheap effect, though the cheap effect is unconscionably seductive.