Saturday, 9 July 2011

Figures and Fictions Take Two

I'm glad I had the opportunity to see this exhibition twice. There was definitely not enough time in just one visit to look at and take in all there was to take in about the images or the artists. I was interested to see if my ideas would alter with a second viewing. To be honest I don't think they did. The images I had liked/been impressed with, I admired still. The images that had left me cold, still did. The only one I think that I could read a bit better was Jo Ractliffe, but I still am of the opinion I would have liked her images better in colour, especially the Portuguese tiles.

The opening image, which I didn't write up about first time around, is a large and stunning portrait by Pieter Hugo. From the outset it challenges pre-conceived ideas about South Africa; the white are rich, the black are poor and that the races do not mix.

Pieter and Maryna Vermeulen with Timana Phosiwa 2006 Pieter Hugo

At first glance it appears to be a normal photograph of a family type group. Then you start to examine and question it, with no caption beyond the names you are allowed to make your own fictions with regards to the image, their relationship and the parallels drawn with other ideas, the association with 'Christ'  like Madonna and Child pose.

Gradually you notice the bare floor, the ragged but clean clothes of the adults, the woman has no footwear, the sofa is an old car seat. Both adults are 'damaged' the scab on the side of the womans face we are told by the curator, is a melanoma, the man has a prosthetic leg, you draw parallels with them being damaged with South Africa being a damaged country.

So who is the well fed, smartly dressed child? Have they adopted him? Do they have a child who entered a mixed race relationship and this is their grandchild? More questions. The answer is that the couple are poor and cannot afford to buy their own house or land. They rent a rundown room from the child's father in Blikkiesdorp. The child's father is a petty ex convict and the woman acts as a nanny and cares for the boy.

I found this image a great way to open the exhibition, it contains the figures that can allow you to draw your own conclusions and make up your own fictions. Now that apartheid is no longer a topic to be photographed there is a void to be filled, different stories to tell and different approaches to be taken. This exhibition goes a long way to showing how South African Photographers are going about filling that void and seeking new ways of looking at their country, where the set ideas of race and power are no longer there. Having said that I still felt the same frustration second time round that I wanted to see more images from some the series shown, especially those of Pieter Hugo and Mikhael Subotzky.

Going back to Jo Ractliffe I could start to see more detail in her work and draw more information from her photographs but she wasn't a favourite.

I still had mixed feelings about Lolo Veleko, loving the striking clothes but not sure of the poses, Terry Kurgan's park photographers still came across as mundane portraits and nothing more, despite Jose trying to tell me otherwise ;o)

Likewise Clive loved Berni Searle and her different approach and metaphors, Gareth listened intently to me trying to tell Clive what I "got" from her series and swore I was making it up...had to admit that I was but Clive had asked me to think of something I got from her imagery so I did ;o)

Serious debate also took place and when asked what had I got from this exhibition I could honestly say several things; the fact that there are many approaches to looking at things, you can use colour for documentary, most of the work on display used ambient lighting, you can mix images of slightly differing subject (ie people or no people for example David Goldblatt's Tradesmen mixes photographs of just adverts signs with those  of the tradesmen themselves) within the same series and that digital manipulation is being recognised as legitimate photography which can be displayed alongside other work in a "serious" exhibition.

I had drawn up some sheets which were along the guidelines given further along in PwDP with regards to analysing photographs, this has helped me come to the conclusion that you don't always have enough information either in the captions or within the images themselves to know if you have pinned down an exact meaning, or know for sure what the indended use was for, but that doesn't always matter as long as you can take something away from the photograph!

Once again a very worthwhile trip out and I look forward to the next.

1 comment:

  1. Good to read your re-appraisal Jan. Succinct, to the point, and informative.