Above: An example of Grayson Perry's recent series of pots which mock the stock photograph. Credit: Oscopic.
In a recent series of ceramic pots on display at Victoria Miro gallery Grayson Perry has taken on the theme of the photo cliche and the stock photo. In place of collaged photography, his pots show only blank outlines of images with the subject matter titles written in: colourful graffiti; skyline of a famous city; laughing diverse friendship group; Instagram influencer; mature trees; snow-topped mountains; angry political graffiti; characterful homeless person; woman ostentatiously reading a book; bright orange sun; cafe lifestyle; fashion shoot; young father teaching a child to ride a bicycle ... Perry reminds us that the stock photo is very often a dead image: it is notable for being strikingly familiar, well-worn, over-used. It is often so over-used and familiar that the placeholder titles are really all we need to comprehend precisely the image that would be displayed--any reader knows immediately the image cliche that is being referred to. In Perry's pieces only the title-description is offered and the viewer is left to fill-in or assume the actual photo. A titular placeholder takes over from the stock photo so that a series of montages are cleverly created with text only. With stock photography the image content is so blandly predictable that the photo becomes inert imagery--devoid of the specificity and detail which would bring it alive. The picture is something that has been seen many times before and reveals nothing to the viewer beyond this quality of being an expected refrain. On Perry's pots a placeholder takes over from the stock photo so that a series of montages are created in which the viewer is invited to, as it were, add their own images. These could be literally pasted into place. Perry's ceramics reveal the extent to which many common photo-images are drawn from a stock of photo-subjects that have been emptied-out of meaning and exist as ciphers: beyond the convenience of such pictures there is nothing but photo-banality. As Perry shows us, the stock image is often superfluous, unnecessary, redundant--a waste of space.
(25 November 2019)