Gillian Wearing RA, Lily Cole, 2009. C-type photograph Photo: John BodkinThis gallery, hung by Richard Wilson and Eileen Cooper, is largely devoted to photographic work. In the old days, reactionary opinion would have been horrified at the presumptuous advent of photography in the hallowed portals of the Royal Academy. But now it seems absolutely right to acknowledge the forceful presence of photographic media in art practice. And the gallery is a live with arresting images: a smiling girl who flies through a room, a dead figure lying in a car, a decapitated head surrounded by votive candles and a severed fish dumped summarily in a sink.
Gradually, however, the more restrained images assert their power. Nadav Kander’s chromogenic colour print showsmale bathers in Yibin in the Sichuan province of China. Standing very still, they appear to be gazing towards an anonymous industrial complex in the distance. We also become aware of the threat posed by an enormous rock hanging over them, but they seem oblivious of any danger. Equally mysterious is Gavin Turk’s self-portrait as Andy Warhol. Throughout his career Turk has represented himself in the guise of famous figures, and here he wears a Camouflage Fright Wig, after Andy’s own self portrait.
But the bold geometry of the camouflage threatens to overwhelm any likeness. Macabre images do reassert themselves. The figure in Gillian Wearing’s photograph wears a damaged doll’s face as a mask. And Cornelia Parker’s Metal Detector Finds shows lead toy soldiers and an American Indian that were unearthed in North Carolina and then reburied by the artist in Battle, near Hastings. They float in blackness and presumably cannot hear the drum beaten by Jock McFadyen’s sculpture elsewhere in the room.