Photographers on the defining events of our time

‘The Horizon is Moving Nearer’, at the Portuguese Centre of Photography, uses different forms of media to evalute key issues of the age

Pictures of Trump as five different races
Nancy Burson, Trump as Five Different Races (2016)
(Image credit: Courtesy the artist © Nancy Burson)

Eight artists have considered the multiple global crises of our era, including emergencies from Covid-19 to anti-Black violence, in a new exhibition. ‘The Horizon is Moving Nearer’, at the Portuguese Centre of Photography in Porto, juxtaposes different forms of media including film and imagery to look at topics as diverse as toxic masculinity, eco-fascism, cyber-security and Trump. 

‘In one way or another they are all operating at the limits of contemporary documentary practice insofar as their projects transcend conventional narrative approaches,’ says curator Tim Clark. ‘Instead they embrace experimental structures for building a photographic body of work – non-linear storytelling and fragmentation are two devices that have been foregrounded, for instance. Questions of authorship, realism and truth, as well as the ways in which photographs are used and function as documents also come to bear too.’

Pixellated picture of Boris Johnson next to plays on the word Brexit

(Image credit: Courtesy the artist © Simon Roberts)

A black gun against a red background

Above, Simon Roberts, The Brexshit Times, (2021).  Below, Salvatore Vitale, How to Secure a Country (2014-19). 

(Image credit: Courtesy the artist © Salvatore Vitale)

The artists Lisa Barnard, Poulomi Basu, Nancy Burson, Maxime Matthys, Gideon Mendel, Simon Roberts, Salvatore Vitale and Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa consider topics without attempting to resolve them, instead making links between the wider atmosphere and specific events.

When placing these events in context, they are able to evaluate them in a way which bypasses the natural limitations usually inherent in their mediums. ‘For my part, I want to use images as a means of understanding certain mechanisms and processes that not only reproduce structural inequality or different injustices, but make them so everyday that those processes are rendered ‘natural’ or invisible,’ adds Clark. ‘I also think we can also conceive of installation as a natural extension of story-telling.’

Three people sat a table with their faces scatched out

Maxime Matthys 2091: The Ministry of Privacy (2019).

(Image credit: Courtesy the artist © Maxime Matthys)

The works explore issues through multiple perspectives in a bid to express the complexity of the issues, arriving, ultimately, at positive conclusions – expressed both in a belief in the overriding power of human compassion and in the power of art to transform our thinking. ‘Sometimes I feel that more straightforward modes of documentary can fail us,’ says Clark. ‘Or at least those overly-literal and descriptive approaches tend to reduce or oversimplify vast and interconnected issues (such as those that are broached in the show) to spectacle or something that’s too neatly packaged or aestheticised.’

It could be argued that the artistic strategies here are a more accurate reflection of the true nature of today’s societies and troubled times we live in – the chaos and contradictions. In many ways then, ‘The Horizon is Moving Nearer’ is a story of stories that seeks to articulate links across the roots of various, interconnected forms of oppression. ‘That’s why you see a lot of a deep layering going on’, says Clark. ‘The emphasis is placed on the viewer and their perception - in order to make them do some work.’

A man and a woman standing in water up to their waist

Gideon Mendel Submerged Portraits from Deluge (2018). 

(Image credit: Courtesy the artist © Gideon Mendel)


‘The Horizon is Moving Nearer’, until 20 June 2021 at the Portuguese Centre of Photography


Largo Amor de Perdição
4050-008 Porto


Hannah Silver is the Art, Culture, Watches & Jewellery Editor of Wallpaper*. Since joining in 2019, she has overseen offbeat design trends and in-depth profiles, and written extensively across the worlds of culture and luxury. She enjoys meeting artists and designers, viewing exhibitions and conducting interviews on her frequent travels.