Tom Wood, Men and Women @Thomas Erben

JTF (just the facts): A total of 36 color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the single room gallery space. The works on view are a mix of gelatin silver and c-prints, taken between 1975 and 2012. All of the prints come in three sizes: 12×16, 16×24, and 24×35 (there is one outlier print sized 15×15), in aggregate editions of 7+2AP (a few prints are available in editions of 12+1AP or 15+1AP). Apparently, a monograph of Men and Women will be released by Steidl later this year (here). (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: The British photographer Tom Wood is having a bit of a revival of late. With a recent series of gallery shows and museum retrospectives in the UK and Europe and a new book coming from Steidl, Wood is being more clearly recognized as one the early pioneers of British color (along with Paul Graham and Martin Parr). This broad show brings together work from the better part of thirty years, providing ample evidence for Wood’s eye for color as well as his consistent interest in the everyday lives of the inhabitants of New Brighton, just across the river Mersey from Liverpool.

It’s clear from the works on view here that not only was Wood making color pictures as early as the mid 1970s, there are plenty of examples where color was the driving force behind his compositional decisions: an older woman peers out from behind a lace curtain door window, framed by the bright blue bars of stained glass, the “mother of the cleverest boy in England” wears a bright orange blazer that is exactly matched by the poster board behind her, and two sassy young women with feathered hair perch provocatively on the hood of a shiny red car, with the back end of a lemon yellow trunk intruding from the side. Wall colors, subway tiles, matching shirts, an orange coat here, some red pants there, color was clearly a integral part of how Wood was seeing and framing his surroundings.

Wood also had a street photographer’s eye for the serendipitous moment. He captures a whisper between girlfriends, an illicit handoff between street corner hustlers, and a man pointing to his chin in the pub, presumably remembering where he was punched in the face. Fleeting tender gestures abound: a boy touches his father’s hair, a mother shelters her child underneath her white sweater, and a woman takes a summertime rest in the heather. Wood alternates between an energetic snapshot aesthetic and something slower and more formal, nimbly matching his methods to the circumstances on the ground.

Part of what makes these photographs so successful is their relaxed ease; Wood was clearly a known quantity in his community and his subjects were comfortable with his camera. That he could move easily from shirtless lads in the streets to old women with their shopping bags and capture the swagger of one and the weary shuffle of the other shows his breadth as careful observer. This show makes a quietly compelling case for Wood’s rediscovery, reestablishing his position in the larger sweep of recent British photography.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced based on size. The 12×16 prints are $2400 each, the 16×24 prints are $3000 each, and the 24×35 prints are $4200 each.  Wood’s prints have been inconsistently available in the secondary markets in recent years. Prices for those lots that have come up for sale have ranged from roughly $1000 to $4000.

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Read more about: Tom Wood, Thomas Erben Gallery, Steidl

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