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Spitting: Photographs by Andrew Bruce & Anna Fox

Exhibition preview

IN THE lead-up to the UK General Election in May, James Hyman Gallery is presenting Spitting: Photographs by Andrew Bruce & Anna Fox.

An exhibition of never-before seen photographs by acclaimed British documentary photographer Anna Fox and rising star Andrew Bruce, it will be on display from April 22 to May 8, 2015.

One of the most popular television programmes of the 1980s and 1990s, watched by an audience of 15 million people at its peak, Spitting Image was a British satirical show featuring puppet caricatures of prominent celebrities of the time, including international politicians and the British Royal Family, among others.

The series was cancelled in 1996, but remains a seminal piece of British television.

It has recently been announced that a brand new six-part series, entitled Newzoids and featuring modern-day personalities such as Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Russell Brand, will air in 2015.

On the termination of the original series, James Hyman began to acquire some of the most important puppets used in the show for his private art collection, the Hyman Collection. A life-long fan of Spitting Image, Hyman believes that the life-size puppets should continue to be seen and enjoyed, and is delighted to be collaborating with photographers Fox and Bruce to bring these politicians back into the public eye in this important election year.

Echoing the garish photographs made by Spitting Image creators Peter Fluck and Roger Law before Martin Lambie-Nairn approached them to suggest adapting their creations for television, Fox and Bruce spent weeks in the studio working with a selection of the original puppets, crafting these ominous images. Photographed either against brightly coloured neon backdrops or shrouded by darkness, each image depicts a former Tory party member.

Rendered in extraordinary detail on large format film, at times stripped of their clothing, every mark on the latex or foam is made visible and accentuated, including signs of wear, fragility and decay. Presented in this way, the puppets become evocative emblems of a past era and a faded power. There is an awkward tension in these photographs between the puppets as depiction of people, as cultural icons and also as crumbling modern artifacts.

Key works in the exhibition include Margaret Thatcher, her predecessor Edward Heath and successor John Major, and cabinet ministers Cecil Parkinson, Norman Tebbit, Michael Heseltine, Leon Brittan and Douglas Hurd.

Fox and Bruce said: “Once we had them out of their packing cases, lying on the studio floor, the puppets looked broken, aged, decrepit and lacking any glimmer of life. The orange latex protruded pathetically from underneath their clothing as we re-arranged them on the stand. At one point, Norman Tebbit’s head came off as if he was being decapitated by some unknown force. The glamour faded, the sheen gone. Failed characters abandoned in storage…

Spitting Image was a great show that was made, in the wake of Python, at a time when humour really could be outrageous. These puppets, imbued with satire, represented our most significant politicians at their worst… Now, like all political fortunes, we are left with the remnants of a different age.”

James Hyman said: “When I mentioned these puppets to the wonderful British photographer, Anna Fox, she was immediately excited by this crazy purchase and we discussed the possibility that she might photograph them. So I’m delighted that after a gap of some years the opportunity arose for her and Andrew Bruce to collaborate on these exciting new pictures.

“For me these new photographs, often on an enormous scale, are about more than recording appearance, although they do that in extraordinary detail, but are also about the expendability of politicians. We are shown that beneath the veneer there is fragility, underneath the power-dressing there is vulnerability. These photographs remind me of right-wing politician Enoch Powell’s assertion that “all political careers end in failure.”

Hyman continued: “One of my favourite pictures shows the puppets dumped in a pile on the floor as though ready to be swept away as garbage. But whilst it may be true that these puppets have lost some of their shine, through Spitting Image and now these remarkable photographs, these politicians have achieved a form of immortality.”

James Hyman Gallery, 16 Savile Row, London, W1S 3PL