This review was published in April 2017 in the Cuckoo Review here.
Down an unobtrusive cobbled alley just off the quayside, picked out by its red wooden detailing, sits the Side Photographic Gallery. The only one of its kind in the U.K, the Side Gallery focuses on humanist documentary photography; exhibiting a diverse range of work which focuses on people’s lives and landscapes, telling marginalised stories from all over the world.
Part of the artistic Amber Collective, which bought both sides of the alleyway in 1975, the Side Gallery has been graced by world-famous names such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Liz Hingley. The gallery’s importance on the photographic scene was certified in 1978, when Henri Cartier-Bresson marked his 70thbirthday through a retrospective of his work at the Side Gallery.
The Side Gallery is beautifully executed; worn red-wooden floors cosy the clean white walls of the two-floor exhibition space. Recently reopened, the site also features a bookshop and study space downstairs, with access to the digital Amber Side Collection.
The current exhibition, Murray Ballard’s The Prospect of Immortality, is on loan from the Impressions Gallery until 30th April 2017. It’s a chilling insight into the field of ‘cryonics’ – the process of freezing a human body on the cusp of death in the hope that future scientific advances will restore the life of the then ‘unfrozen’ subject.
In 1962, Robert Ettinger published a book of the same name, which gave birth to the idea. Half a century later, Murray Ballard has spent ten years compiling a series of documentary photographs exploring the practice that Ettinger instigated. Travelling to the 200 or so patients stored in liquid nitrogen worldwide, Ballard’s lens visits the small cryonic communities dedicated to Ettinger’s practice. From the English seaside retirement town of Peacehaven, through futuristic laboratories in Arizona, to unnerving scientific warrens in Moscow, Ballard’s camera captures the determined and applied fear of death that pervades the communities.
The photographs are chilling; a combination of individuals and machinery dominate alien landscapes which float in a bizarrely liminal space between the futuristic and the archaic. The Matrix comes to mind just as easily as Frankenstein, as we view huge tanks of liquid nitrogen and other freezing equipment stationed in the decaying setting of an elderly Russian’s living room. In one, a frozen body hangs upside down in a sleeping bag; in another, a specialist prepares a dead body for freezing, mixing the individual’s blood with antifreeze.
The unnerving hybridity of medieval medical theory and ultra-modern science is encapsulated in the exhibition’s display of the vintage comics, which fictionally explore ideas of the same nature. On a separate wall, thumbnail images document all 200 of the men, women, children and pets currently embalmed in liquid nitrogen – the images resonated in the back of my mind for the rest of the day.