by Michael Bennett
David Whittaker: Stonelight. The Jam Factory, main gallery, until November 3rd.
Two years ago, Lancashire farmer David Whittaker started taking photographs of his local area. Although most of the images in his exhibition in The Jam Factory on Hollybush Row come from the Cornwall area, they still have a sense of local knowledge; hidden and unnoticed natural beauty recorded for distant audiences. The exhibition is small, a single room of pictures, and didn't take long to investigate. Along one wall are pictures of stones, presumably to promote Whittaker's forthcoming book 'Stonelight'. But it was the wider landscape pictures, which drew my attention much more.
One of Whittaker's strong points is his use of light. Some of the best pictures are taken towards the sun with objects such as rock formations (or more interestingly, abandoned bikes) in the foreground. Many of the best show the Cornish coast, especially when the stony ocean background is given real texture. Textures are a strong suit, and apparently innocuous objects like rusted metal fence posts and timber are shown to be beautiful.
Textures, however, are not enough to make the images of pebbles more interesting than they sound. Apart from anything else, photographing pebbles is hardly a very new idea, and has been done far more interestingly elsewhere. In general, Whittaker's work is not very original and is often cliché or predictable, even when it is beautiful. The worst and best pictures both illustrate this. Respectively, the first shows a set of barrels lined up against a wall, whereas the second is entitled 'Buddha and Disciple' and shows a seated Buddha statue with a frog perched in his hands looking up at his face. Gimmicky, yes, but you can’t help laughing and it certainly does stand out from the rest of the collection.
The room next door displays the art of Geoff Clifford, and is perhaps more interesting than the main exhibit. Clifford's line is in large canvases of abstract curves in colourful shapes and loose patterns. His work fits in excellently with Whittaker's coastal theme, and his colourful and stylised pebbles were much more exciting than the real thing next door.
All in all the exhibition is hardly sensational, but is certainly worth dropping in for a coffee and a wander round if you find yourself nearby with enough time. Few people will not enjoy the calming landscapes currently on offer at the Jam Factory.