ART / Picture Choice: James Lingwood, curator of The Epic and the Everyday, on John Coplans's backs

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The Independent Culture
ONE OF the interesting things about John Coplans is that his photographs record a surface - the surface of the skin; and this whole exhibition is about what lies beneath the surface. You come from a room filled with large panoramic photographs - history paintings - to a room with a row of five Coplans's backs, where the idea of time is moved from the historical in society to the historical in the body. The skin is the visible sign of genealogy - the accumulation of knowledge in history.

Coplans's backs feel massive and there's a clear reference to Matisse's sculptures of backs; they have the same heaviness. There's a dialectic between the classical and the naturalistic. The cropping of the image is extremely important: what you have is a full frame of body. And you never really think of the body beyond what he's pictured.

They're about a man of 75 who only took up photography 10 years ago, dealing with the painful experience of age. They remind me of the paintings of Philip Guston. They're a tragicomic view of the world - almost farcical.

James Lingwood is co-director of Artangel and co-curator of

The Epic and the Everyday, at the Hayward Gallery, London SE1. To 29 August

(Photograph omitted)

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