Photography Reviews

Stranger – Olivia Arthur

 

Magnum photographer Olivia Arthur‘s work “Stranger” is about Dubai, connecting its past and its present days. While she was researching for this project during her artist residency in Dubai, she found out about a shipwreck incident in Dubai in 1961 and lots of people died. One of the families believed that his son never died from the incident and that he is still alive in present days. Using this story as an inspiration, Stranger is about telling the city of Dubai through this imaginative character – what if he’s still alive now, how and what would he see?

Although she was trying to see it from the point of view of this character, the book encapsulated a feeling which is universal for outsiders coming to the place – a sense of isolation and loneliness as well as strangeness to the things that happen and exist in the city. From the book, she also collected quotes and extracts of conversations that she heard. For the final words of the book, she extracted from what she found out from the divers – that people were in their life-vest and pockets full of gold – to use as a metaphor for a city that draws people in with its promises of riches and full of workers on all levels of society, saving something for a life elsewhere.

The design of the book was also carefully thought out to represent “Stranger”. The book was printed entirely on transparent paper creating these new double or sometimes triple compilation images which gives a sense of confusion from the layering of the past with the present. This somehow matches what Olivia imaged the survivor would feel when walking around the city.

image courtesy to Olivia Arthur

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Photography Reviews

The Discrete Channel with Noise – Claire Strand

 

This series by Clare Strand is a simple and a brilliant analogy about communications in this era. How information nowadays can be miscommunicated and misinterpreted – be it positive or negative, whether deliberate or accidental – has an ever-increasing and overwhelming effect on our everyday life. These failures of communication can lead to minor confusion, fantastic revelation or global outrage, depending when and where they occur. Her inspiration came from the film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In the 1971 film adaptation, Mike Teavee says: “You photograph something then the photograph is split up into millions of tiny pieces and they go whizzing through the air, then down to your TV set when they are all put together in the right order.” However, what Mike fails to foresee are the complications and disruptions that can occur in the act of transmission. When Mike transports himself via Wonka Vision he is indeed broken into a million pieces, but when put back together again he is a 10th of his original size.

Strand asked her husband, Gordon MacDonald, to select images from her archive and create a grid. They became this human machine for transmitting information of an image from one person to another. From there, he would communicate the sequence of numbers depicting the tonal code (ranging from 1-10) of each photographic element on the grid and Strand would then paint the code on the corresponding large-scale grid she had drawn up in her studio. This method was actually forseed by George H. Eckhardt during the pre-internet age where he discussed the potential for transmitting a coded photograph via telegraph to produce an accurate representation of the original image.

This work reminds us the very physics of photography and what it used to be – chemicals, papers, chemistry and shapes. And how using such primitive methods can translate to visual representations about issues happening nowadays.

References:

https://www.bjp-online.com/2018/04/clare-strand-looks-at-misinterpretation-of-information-in-the-digital-age/

http://www.cpif.net/en/Programme/the-discrete-channel-with-noise

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Photography Reviews

Dialogues with Solitudes – Dave Heath

 

I came across Dave Heath’s work when I was reading The Photographer’s Gallery newsletter about images and wellbeing. To me, photography and heath has always been closely linked as many artists and photographers I know have used photography as a channel to release their emotional turmoil, and to use it a a therapy to make sense of the world. Dave Heath, an American photographer who was abandoned by his parents at the age of four, had a difficult childhood and spent his years in orphanages and foster homes. At fifteen, a photo essay in Life on a young orphan in Seattle, “Bad Boy’s Story” by Ralph Crane, was to have a decisive impact on his future: “I immediately recognised myself in this story and photography as my means of expression.” Photography became a way for him to enter the world, it was not a matter of choice, but a necessity.

His work “Dialogues with Solitudes” captures moments of individuals in their solitudes and vulnerabilities. Although photographs are taken at a distance, the work has an opposing effect of tenderness and sensitivity as if the photographer was standing next to the subject hugging each and every one of them. “There is a range of care within the frames. What is further striking about this viewpoint of alienation is that not only that Heath took portraits of extreme empathy, but that when doing so, he nearly always managed to avoid eye contact with his subject. What could be construed as voyeuristic is instead in the very rare case of Heath about the empathy needed to let his subjects be themselves without his intervention.”

A lot of the photographs were crops of the original frame, all of which was done afterwards in the darkroom, plus editing to low key visual forms showing the isolation and loneliness of individuals, magnifying each and everyone’s emotions and expressions.  It was his intention that “almost all of his photographs give no indication of location, date, or action – Dave Heath sought to translate an intimate experience of the world, something lived and felt: tension, in the city streets, between the constrained proximity of bodies and the isolation of individuals, as if they had lost their sense of self. He focused on isolated figures in crowds, and filled his frame with their “absent to the world” presences.”

His work reminds me of the recently published work by Christopher Anderson’s APPROXIMATE JOY, which is also capturing portraits of people from Shenzhen and Shanghai and their China dream. Similar approach but giving off totally different vibe. One is sensitivity and care, the other is ethereal and fantasy.

References:

https://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibition/dave-heath-dialogues-solitudes

https://www.le-bal.fr/en/2018/06/dave-heath-dialogues-solitudes

https://www.americansuburbx.com/2018/11/david-heath-dialogues-with-solitudes.html

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