It is no coincidence that Jason Oddy uses photography to make his work. In picture after picture he shows us how the medium can, when sensitively handled, reveal things everyday consciousness fails to register. His subject is manmade space. The photographs he takes stand as traces of how this primordial aspect of our lives shapes us without our ever being properly aware that it is doing so.
Oddy uses a large format 5×4 inch film camera, a piece of equipment that seems tailor made for his work. Cumbersome and slow moving, it produces formally exact transcriptions of the locations he spends days and sometimes weeks in. With their stripped down aesthetic and emphasis on geometric rhythms, the pictures he makes in places such as the United Nations headquarters or ex-Soviet sanatoria, seek to take us beyond the specific sites to the ideas and forces that created them.
In spite of the work’s apparent rigour, Oddy approaches his subject in a largely instinctive way. It is a deliberate, immersive process that sees his own coordinates begin to merge with those of the places he is photographing. By the time he is ready to take a picture he has aligned himself and, by extension, his camera with the spot where the forces operating in any given space most evidently converge.
Likewise his choice of often highly charged and off-limits sites aims to make visible what might otherwise remain beneath the threshold of perception. If in everyday buildings history and ideology are only dimly discernible, then in many of the places Oddy photographs the brute mechanism of architecture is barely disguised.
At the heart of Oddy’s enquiry lies the question, how different types of architecture might imply or even produce different types of people. While the work he made in institutions such as the Pentagon or Neue Prora, a former Nazi holiday resort, suggests that above all we undergo a subjectification through architecture, then latterly he has explored how, rather than merely regulating or directing us, the built environment might engage us in other ways.
His series, Concrete Spring, is an in-depth investigation of Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer’s little-known legacy in Algeria. Built shortly after Algerian independence, two university campuses and an Olympic sports hall stand as a testament to Niemeyer’s vision for the country. With their startling angles and sweeping curves, these modernist masterpieces push concrete to its sculptural, even poetic limits. Equally they radiate the democratic, humanist values Niemeyer originally imbued them with.
Oddy embarked on this series in the wake of the Arab Spring. At that critical juncture in the region his principal goal was to produce work that would both identify and reanimate the emancipatory ambitions that have been lying dormant in Niemeyer’s Algerian projects for decades.
If it is the case that just as we inhabit architecture it also inhabits us, then in Concrete Spring Oddy has sought out places which point to the possibility of moving beyond our traditional, hierarchical relationship to manmade space. It is a body of work that intimates how architecture might give power to people rather than to institutions and, in so doing, might yet succeed in setting its inhabitants free.
Oddy’s work has been exhibited widely in both Europe and the US and is held in a number of significant collections including the Wellcome Foundation, the Elton John collection, Channel 4, Citibank Private Bank, DZ Bank, the University of Hertfordshire and the Michael Wilson collection.