Photo Critiques

Buttons for Eyes – Priya Kambli

Recently, I’ve been looking a lot into theories of photography for sure, and also photomontage works. I used to have this narrow vision of photography of Bresson’s decisive moment, praising Magnumphotos as God, and that was it for me for photography. Blindly ignoring what a big world is out there for making work with images. Maybe it was a good thing, so to just focus on one type of photography or maybe it was a bad thing, because there are so so so much more other possibilities with photography.

What changed me was, I got tired and bored of decisive moments. They are yes, decisive moments, of what claims to be moment of “truths”. Yet theories of photography opened up the question of photography as a medium. I mean, really opened up how I view and understand this medium. And photomontage, is one way of working with images that I feel I’d like to have a taste on. Similarly to decisive moments, there are already materials to work with (former, with what’s happening around the world; latter, with archival images and other materials).

Most immigrants exist in two worlds, the world of memories and visual connections of their growing up and the new realities of living in a culture where all is not familiar. This search for what is home, for the roots of that connect them to the most primal self is the main theme of Priya Kambli’s work.

“Buttons for Eyes” talks about loss, memory and identity (I guess I have a subconscious love for identity and loss, because of the work I’m drawn to). Kambli physically manipulates old family photographs and then rephotographs the altered artefacts. She uses light and flour as manipulative elements to add layers for starting a dialogue about cultural differences and global similarities.

© Priya Kambli, from the series ‘Buttons for Eyes, 2017- ; Source @ Lenscratch

She works with archival images which allows her to connect the past with the present, to bring forward memories, and to reimagine them adorned with tokens of the everyday – in a sense, making these memories physical. The way in which she maintains the photographs is akin to how Indian housewives tend to their kitchen deities – hence the use of flour. The meticulous patterns crafted on it symbolises the “Indianity” of her past identity (literally these patterns of flour can be blown away in seconds) – imprinted onto a physical form that she is re-creating for the present.

Much of the work talks about the separation and the exchange of cultural differences and similarities between herself and her sister, whom chose to stay in India whereas she immigrated to the US after their parents passed away.

There’s a final layer of narrative to this work which comes from the title “Button for Eyes.” It comes from a question her mother used to ask, “Do you have eyes or buttons for eyes?” Her mother’s concern was about Kambli’s inability to see trivial objects right in front of her, but also about our collective inability to see well enough to navigate the world. “It is a question laced with parental fear,” she says. Which goes back to, are we ignorant to these cultural differences and global similarities in the world? The laced patterns on the images may also symbolises not only the ignorant we ourselves may have, but those that derives from the parental fear in order to protect their children.

References: https://www.bjp-online.com/2019/10/female-in-focus-buttons-for-eyes/

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Photography

Masahisa Fukase

The renowned Japanese photography work “Ravens” by Fukase has recently has his “Family” book reprinted by UK publisher MACK. Family has always been a topic that’s close to my heart. Knowingly that the “Ravens” work was really an antidote of the aftermath of his wife and muse Yoko leaving him, bringing him to use “ravens” as a symbolism to characterised his solitude of loneliness, pain and sorrow, the work “Family” is somewhat a different visually narrated work.

The cover and the design made my very first impression of the book. The design of the cover was very much similar to the Chinese 族譜, a documented scroll of written names of the ancestors and family branches in the entire history of e.g. the Chans. The 33 plates images (all done by dry plate technique) are studio portraitures of his immediate and relative families beginning and closing with the house that he lived in.

 

They are, in fact, no ordinary portraitures. In all the plates, his wife Yoko stands out the most, even when in group photographs where all face backwards. From the review by Jorg Colberg, he mentioned that “she is allowed to only wear what I learned is a traditional undergarment for women (koshimaki). In effect, she is naked, and it is only said garment and her long flowing hair that allows for some form of modesty.” For me the work speaks a lot about the masculinity power and how women and females are positioned in Japanese families. According to Colberg, the work also talks about cruelty and the relationship between Fukase and his father. Without knowing the history of him being terrified of his father since young, I guess personally I wouldn’t be able to nitpick this from reading the image (plate 29) alone. I do wish I can read Japanese to understand the synopsis written in his website to have a better view of his family history and the work.

What I really agree with Colberg is that “…what attracts me to this body of work, to this book, is that it resists the kind of resolution of so many other family projects where differences are acknowledged, and people might go their own ways, but it’s all good. Often enough, life just will not conform. Here, that narrative is missing, and there is just an assembly of fragmented ideas and aspects, some which are fighting each other… Sometimes, it’s good when things are not too spelled out.”

I think sometimes you don’t need to be extremely knowledgeable in the art history or skilled in visual literacy to be able to feel the the work. I guess this is the reason why this work is another masterpiece of his. The emotions, the conflicts and the tensions happenings within and portrayed in these family photographs can be felt and understood even though I’m some stranger and no family connection of his. For me, that is a timeless piece of work.

 

Side note: Towards the end of his artistic life, he also made another work called Bukubuku (means bubbling), which is his self-portraits when bathing in water, showing his solitude and isolation of the world once again through this visual diary of himself.

An excerpt of the work and article published by FOAM.

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