Monday, 10 September 2012

The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia, Melbourne Museum – 22 August 2012

Living in the country you need to take every opportunity to see decent museums and galleries. Last time I visited my brother there was an Impressionist exhibition in the National Gallery of Victoria. This time around the Melbourne Museum had borrowed a superb range of Mesopotamian artefacts from the British Museum.

The displays that struck me most were the wall carvings. I’ve seen similar before in pictures but never really thought about them in great detail – they often seemed like random collections of images – a kind of early ‘Where’s Wally?”designed to make the commissioner feel good about themselves. However the interpretive displays brought them to life – in particular they way they act almost like a comic strip to tell a story.

Two stick in my mind – the first is a lion hunt which is (if my memory serves) a series of four panels arranged one above the other with a primary image at each end (so about 8 primary images in total) which tells the story of the hunt and the death of the lion from beginning to end. As with Chinese scrolls there is no central viewpoint and so no use of perspective.

This lack of perspective is carried into the very large wall panel featuring the battle of Til-Tuba which is – to the untrained eye – very confusing. The original artist has made life easier for his viewers by providing little captions around the image to help them pick out the key incidents. Although it lacks ‘realism’ in the modern western sense, the lack of perspective gives a very good impression of the confusion and carnage which must have reigned on the battlefield at the time.

So what does this have to do with photography? I’m not quite sure but I’m developing a growing suspicion that the single-viewpoint nature of photography is a significant challenge to telling a story.

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