Photography Reviews

Two People – Sean Lee

Photography can of course be about documenting what’s in front of us, the pslit moment that happened right in front of our eyes, but it can also serve as a medium to create spaces for conversations, for connections for intimacy.

Two people is an ongoing body of photographic work by Singapore photographer Sean Lee as part of his artistic oeuvre exploring the theme of family and kinship in an Asian context. Lee used photography as a device for breaking the silence in understanding his family better. The number ‘two’ is of particular significance to him as it represents a symbiotic partnership bound by love but also fraught with tension.

© Sean Lee, from the series ‘Two People’; Source @ Landscape Stories

In an interview with Landscape Stories magazine, he described “I have been routinely choreographing performances and situations between my father, my mother, and me, since 2010. I used to think I knew what I was doing with the making of these images, but as time passed I became less certain. At times they seem to speak to me about the dreams and nightmares of childhood. Most of the time, however, they make me wonder about the strangeness of being a human organism and the mystery of being a family, of being a part of a lineage. I continue to photograph my parents because they are the only people who occur to me without my own choosing.”

The work focuses on the relationship between his parents to explore larger themes of love, tension, interdependency and sacrifice. Tentative and moving, these gentle frames of domestic life beckon at us to slow down and contemplate upon the concept of family and ephemeral nature of existence.

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Photography Reviews

Mundane – Salma Abedin Prithi

Bangladesh artist, Salma Abedin Prithi, looks into the gruesome and dehumanising social violence that occurs on the everyday newspaper such as a man is beaten by his neighbours after complaining their music is too loud. A mother is murdered by a local mob suspecting her of kidnapping while she visits a school to inquire about admissions. A child is lynched by thirteen men after being accused of stealing a bicycle.

She stages these stories with her friends and family to reconstruct the psychological experience there was with beautiful harsh black and white staged images. The performative space created between the artist and the actor/ress allows improvisation to push further the participatory act of the actor’s interpretation of the story which are captured and emotionally felt by audience when looking through the images.

In an interview with Lensculture, she described, “The performances in my photographs were quite organic as I did not arrange any rehearsal, script, storyboard, or any other illustration. I need an intimate environment, and preferably accidental moments, to explore the unexpected, which often works better than a planned approach.”

© Salma Abedin Prithi, from the series ‘Mundane’; Source @ Salma Abedin Prithi

Prithi has created a body of work made up of nearly fifty images, split into two distinct streams that work in conversation with one another. Black and white photographs, harshly lit and capriciously surreal are paired with waxed photographs extracted from newspapers, collaged with textual erasures, sourced from the same. She explained that, “many of my photos are taken inside the same room, as these real events were connected to a common place and its morphology. Secondly, I tried to transform real newspaper photos and texts to an ambiguous poetry on such violence, to protest against the mundanity of everyday news.” 

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Drawing the Event – Hirofumi Isoya

Another Japanese Artist, Hirofumi Isoya, who was one of the finalist at The Reference Asia shared his series Drawing the Event where he re-examines the consistency in recognition and the linear temporal axis through creating works. Most of the subject matters are familiar in our daily lives and how he manages to capture and record these fragments of life moments is what intrigue me the most with this series.

© Hirofumi Isoya, from the series ‘Drawing the Event’; Source @ The Reference Asia
Coins from the great powers are pressed against a palm as intensely as it becomes congested. The five rings are naturally reminiscent of the Olympic Games. This work, however, clearly presents the more essential subject that money is more stiff and tougher.

These works mostly capture details of subjects, and reflect scenes and sensations that his body catches before he comprehend the whole circumstances. 

The colour of the images are decreased to sepia tone while one side of the frame remains a colour of the original photo. In the interview with The Reference Asia, he mentioned, “While a frame is generally considered as an additional matter to a photographic work, I rather consider my work has an image stuck on a frame which is a sculptural object. I aim to present multiple relationships including the presentness of the colored frame, the spared space between the photograph and the frame created by the process of manipulation, and the viewers’ thinking and disturbances about the outside of the frame which you pointed out.”

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Photography Reviews

The Unforgetting – Peter Watkins

I’ve read much about this book The Unforgetting by Peter Watkins, from Tim Clark at 1000 Words and Brad Feuerhelm at ASX to being mentioned by a few as top favourites of photobooks 2019, to be honest, I didn’t quite get it at first other than the captivating cold black and white images of object assemblages and memorabilia. As Tim Clark mentioned, “the work is spared of sentimentality: objects are catalogued and composed in a manner that evokes early scientific photography or evidence gathered at a crime scene.”

The work is based on the history of his own family marked by the suicide of his mother when he was nine years old. The heart of the artist’s project is his reconciliation to that loss, through an examination of their shared German heritage.

“This is a work that explores the machinations of memory in relation to the experience of trauma,” says Watkins. “The culmination of several years work, The Unforgetting is a series made up of remnants, as well as the associated notions of time, recollection and impermanence, all bound up in the objects, places, photographs, and narrative structures circulated within the family.”

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Self Portrait (2011), an image that pictures the artist stripped from the waist up and seated on a hard wooden chair. His face is cast down, fist clenched, shoulders hunched. Numerous large circles scar his smooth skin: the legacy of cupping, a well-known Chinese treatment for depression. Source @ 1000 Words

© Peter Watkins, from the book ‘The Unforgetting’; Source @ Peter Watkins

What really inspired me about this work was that the work has taken several different iterations since he began in 2010. He started out quite differently, with more of a documentary approach, visited the place where his mother had died, and filmed the village where she grew up, and interviews with family members. “What I came to realise was that everything seemed too literal to me, it was too sad and too sentimental and obvious somehow. I noticed from the filmed interviews that my family’s recollections had somehow blurred and merged into a kind of unified narrative as if the passage of time had stripped away any sense of complexity and subjectivity from each individual’s experience.”

“I didn’t want the project to feel sentimental in the way that projects about this subject so often tend to feel. It was about finding a balance between thinking and feeling. e.g. the Super 8 canisters contain home movies of my mother and her family on holiday. Instead of using those kind of seductive Super 8 images, which carry an unavoidable nostalgia, I came to think of that one picture as a way of conflating all [of the others] into one single, mysterious image that resists that kind of sentimentality. It’s an important part of the work, that resistance to the obvious or the overtly emotive.” he says.

References:

https://fotoroom.co/the-unforgetting-peter-watkins/

http://www.1000wordsmag.com/peter-watkins%E2%80%A8/

https://www.bjp-online.com/2017/06/show-peter-watkins-the-unforgetting-at-the-webber-gallery/

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/mar/13/peter-watkins-photography-ghostly-reflection-on-grief-and-loss

https://americansuburbx.com/2015/02/peter-watkins-the-pain-of-loss-is-a-motherfucker.html

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