Look What The Cat Dragged In – Tom Beard at Cob Gallery

‘Look What the Cat Dragged In’ is an intimate and sideways look at the work of photographer Tom Beard and what he has become known for in his so-far short but very successful career. Since the age of 17 he has been shooting portraits of celebrities in their glamourous guises, particularly including Florence and the Machine, Jamie T and Adele. In this – his first solo exhibition – he chooses to represent himself as a different kind of photographer. For in the place of Florence and the Machine we find ‘Look What the Cat Dragged In 2’- a telling title image to this exhibition of his most favoured few taken over the last nine years.

It’s an intriguing metaphor that the photographer has chosen to use. He poses as a sly predator awaiting his shot, the prey is his unassuming subjects and the viewer the surprised home-owner who asked for nothing, and receives what s/he does not desire. Beard marks his prey through his still gaze – his camera is a tool of possession, yet these are not the photographic prey most viewers hope to have captured for them. Beard is just a common cat, and his subject a pesky rat. These subject matters are sneaked into our view without our permission – they are unwanted, unexpected, in some cases unpleasant. In being such, Beard goes directly against the alluring images of his commercial career, and like a common cat, he willingly crawls along the floor in order to look his prey, intimately and almost as an equal, in the eye.

It’s a powerful anecdote for the authenticity of the artist’s work as a whole. It is a desire sought out not just in his subject matter but in his technique that is free from the superficiality of the digital and its capabilities to fool the eye through a breadth of editing methods. He airbrushes nothing, he does not crop out or add in a single thing. He doesn’t increase or decrease the exposure. These images are as dreary and gritty as life is, or as uplifting and luminescent as Spring (see ‘Love Lost’). How the artist finds it, the viewer sees it. It has an innocence of eye that is captivating. Naturally though, the work of the eye is never separated from the considerations and judgements of the mind and here the metaphor becomes a bit stretched when we think on the viewer as the house-proud cat owner.

The relationship of the viewer to the art is neither as one dimensional or disapproving as one may gather. For in the metaphor that Beard constructs, he makes the assumption that no-one wants a rat in their home – that is, no one wants to be faced with the traumas of contemporary life in Britain. But this just is not the case. The most beautiful photo in this exhibition is of that revolting rat. The second of a breathless goldfish deposited down a toilet. It’s a poignant and ironic image of a ritual we have established. We give a goldfish a respectful resting place by releasing it to expanse of the ocean as though liberating it from its bodily remains and life spent in the confines of the tank. It seems like a pleasant death because its coffin is the clean white ceramic walls of the toilet. But its not kind, its clinical – impersonal and cold-hearted. And its certainly not clean or honourable, it’s the place we deposit our personal waste – its like dogs eating the crumbs from underneath our table. This is to me the perfect picture of authenticity – it’s an illuminating look at real life.

What the Cat Dragged In at Cob Gallery, Camden until 27th October (free)

All images care of the artist and Cob Gallery.



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