Margaret Salmon @ Tramway

Margaret Salmon's works so far are the subject of a large scale retrospective at Tramway in Glasgow, as they present an exhibition of the previous 20 years of her experimental film practice alongside elements of her working archive

Review by Colm Peare | 02 Mar 2018

Documentary weaves together strands of the maker’s experience and strands of their subject’s reality into a single plane; it is both portraiture and self-portraiture. In Tramway’s survey of Margaret Salmon’s work (Circle), pieces taken from across a career reveal the concerns that continually make residence in her work.

There is an interest in the necessity of both the ethnographic and the poetic in our comprehension of others and the way documentary can be used to tightly mesh these two modes. For both, observation is the process that allows us to reach towards understanding. In Peggy, observation reclaims its disciplinary meaning of customarily attending to something: it observes observance. A voice cracked by time repeatedly gives thanks by singing Amazing Grace as we watch a woman engage in the worn mundanity of the everyday.

Observation is a cousin of obedience and Salmon’s characteristic respect manifests itself in the way the work pays heed to theory without it becoming an intolerable pressure on the portraits she creates. There is a respect too for her subjects and the closeness she must gain to see them. There is a palpable sense of the self-consciousness that comes married to intimacy; her presence is tangible and there is no claim to objectivity.

Style permeates the work and there is a conflicted awareness that every framed shot is also an act of omission that ties the work more tightly to its maker; in P.S. a man says to his wife, “You have not been honest”, repeating it for such a time that it stretches towards the unbearable. Salmon’s works contain an inner cadence that resonates with both the experiential and the imaginative, yoking together images that are ordinary and available. They recur and recur and are unfailingly observed until suddenly there is a slip into a sharp clarity, a simple awareness.

Tramway, Glasgow, until 18 Mar, free