Review of Peter Fraser at Tate St Ives

Entering photographer Peter Fraser’s retrospective exhibition at the Tate St Ives is like holding a magnifying glass up to everyday life. Like a Master painter, Fraser pays great attention to composition, colour, light and shadows. His subjects are ordinary objects; a book, a shell, a statue, that have played a part or simply been a witness to his everyday life. Fraser was greatly inspired by Powers of Ten, a film by Charles & Ray Eames in 1977. The film shows how a scene is lost from view when magnified several times to the power of ten and how the small particles that make up our daily existence can also seem complex and vast in their own way, when magnified by the power of ten. The three galleries devoted to this retrospective spanning 30 years of Fraser’s photographic career show a variety of works from past exhibitions, including his powerful and evocative City in the Mind 2012. This series of photographs, which took Fraser five years to create, focus on aspects of Fraser’s own city, London. The series was shown at the Brancolini Grimaldi gallery last year, to great acclaim.

The same ‘modesty and quiet poetry of everyday life’ is also present in the work of William Scott (1913-89) the modernist painter with whom Fraser shares this Tate St Ives exhibition – though the galleries are separate. Like Fraser, Scott devoted many of his paintings, particularly in the earlier part of his career, to still lives. Like Fraser, he contemplated the importance of objects in the world that define and are defined by human existence. Ironically, in the second part of his career, Scott chose to explore abstraction, painting spaces and forms rather than closing in on details, as Fraser does, with the help of a sharp camera focus. Both artist, though separated by exactly 40 years, visited and were inspired by Cornwall. For Fraser, the result is the 12 day Journey (1984) series, some photographs of which are included in the exhibition. Fraser was greatly inspired by William Eggleston (b.1939) – he worked with the American photographer shortly after his visit to Cornwall, exploring the possibilities of colour photography, which was still in its early stages.

The retrospective also includes works from some of Fraser published series: Two Blue Buckets (1988) Deep Blue (1997) Lost for Words (2012) Material (2002) and The Nazraeli Monograph(2008). What characterises the photographic ‘moments’ or still lives captured in Fraser’s photographs is their silence – it is as if a protagonist has stepped out of the room and we are left to focus intently on the lonely, cut-off objects which bear traces of human activity. Untitled 2006 that is featured on the promotional material for Fraser’s exhibition is a photograph of a mystifying object – a Styrofoam cup pierced haphazardly with cocktail sticks. The object, which Fraser discovered in the back room of a Welsh church, fascinated him. It stands out as an isolated symbol of human activity and presents the viewer with a mysteriously shaped object, made by man but also strangely ‘otherworldly’.

Sophie Kazan

Peter Fraser, 26 January until 6 May, Tate St Ives, Porthmeor Beach, St Ives, Cornwall, TR26 1TG.


1. Peter Fraser, Untitled (Nazraeli), 2006. © Peter Fraser. Courtest Tate St Ives.
2. Peter Fraser, Untitled (Chandelier) 2006. © Peter Fraser. Courtest Tate St Ives.
3. Peter Fraser, Easton near Wells 1988. © Peter Fraser. Courtest Tate St Ives.
4. Peter Fraser, Untitled (Colour Pencils) 2006. © Peter Fraser. Courtest Tate St Ives.