The intricate relationship between photographers and their subjects/objects
|You see me, I see you By Audrey Tan|
In this time and age, anyone equipped with an imaging device could be a photographer. We take selfies, or photographs of others with our cellphones; we take snapshots of parties or landscapes we want to remember. As photographers, we find inspiration from within (memory and imagination), or externally, a muse in the form of a situation, subject, or object.
The exhibition You see me, I see you demonstrates a line of photographic inquiry into the technical aspects of portraiture, representation, and presentation. It examines what the photographer and photographed, sees. The exhibition could also be described as an exercise defining how the photographer inspires the model, and vice versa.
The range of images presented in this exhibition showed an in-depth exploration of technical aspects of filmic portraiture. The artist had experimented with the decisive moment of releasing a double portrait blurring the line between model and photographer; proven her competency printing photographs masterfully with a show of exposure test prints; and layered photographic collages. In these ways, the artist has pushed technical limits of film-based photography (versus digital photography) beyond how they are conventionally, and commercially used; she had insisted on not using digital manipulation. Instead, she relied on tactile means to achieve the visual composites: multiple (print) exposures, or a photograph of a physically cut photograph, or a photograph of a print and a projected image. Each series carries something new and some continuity from before. Though this is not immediately apparent form the way the works were organised in the space. By experimenting and pushing the form of her photographs, Audrey’s photography borders on theatricalities, performance art, and installation art.
A photographer from a really good blog describes photography as:
symbols that collectively represent and remind us of our loved ones and our experiences. They don’t need to be sharp on a screen or technically perfect, they only need to be clear in our minds and emotionally meaningful.
Photographs serve as symbols, notations we make in this visual world. As symbols, they are laden with personal, societal, culture and context specific meanings. Photographs could serve as a repository for our fond memories. Photographs tell the world how we want to be seen, and how we see. A photograph’s poor technical execution, such as an out of focus image, could still be valued because of the personal meaning invested by the photographer, model and viewer. This is examined in one of Audrey’s video work showing her painstakingly process of photographing a blow up doll in a studio setting, and the resulting ‘blurred’ image shown on a television monitor, and a large inkjet print in the extreme corner of the gallery. The blurred image is unspectacular on visual counts. As a recollection of how the photographer sees and works, it is worth pondering the means and ends photography serves. Additionally, this work also exemplifies the rhetoric of the male gaze in feminist theory. By this, the viewer is (almost) always assumed to be male, and any female representation is objectified: the male watches while the female is watched. This work perhaps highlights the aesthetics power play we so often see in advertising photography. According to John Berger, because the female model is often put on display and they are influenced by stereotypes put on display, they could be conditioned to view themselves as objects (of desire) too. The female model is seen as a sex symbol, and sex sells. By choosing a blow up doll, an object rather than a human model, the aesthetic stereotype is abruptly disrupted for the viewer.
The photographic image is perhaps the most malleable popular art form today, especially in ways of presenting it. It could be printed analogously or digitally, projected, strung to create moving images (in Audrey’s case, an experiment with Super 8 film), or even re-created as a holographic projection. In the cut out series by Audrey, she examines the minimal surface an image can still be deemed a portrait, or a photograph at all.
The intensity and singularity of exploration by the artist might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Some viewers might prefer a broader, diverse body of work and interests than a deconstruction of en-gendered ways of seeing. From a cursory glance, it is easy to mistaken the works as repetitive and monologic in nature. In the age of Instagram and Facebook where we are bombarded with different types of photographs, other viewers may favour such concentration and purposeful investigation into how and why we see photographic portraits the way we do, and why we are so obsessed with our self-image and the image of others around us. Only by so doing, we become might become better photographers and readers.
Curated by Yanda
Substation Gallery, 29 May to 1 June 2014