Tony Raka Gallery on Jalan Raya Mas 86, Mas Bali will host “Ad Infinitum”- an exhibition of work by six photographers open daily from Friday, January 13, 2012 until February 3, 2012.
The exhibition showcases the work of five foreign and one Indonesian photographer:
Jan Tyniec: Between Artistic Photography and Straight Photography
January Tyniec describes his photographs as follows: “In my works I have been avoiding storytelling and references of scale and time in order to unravel meaning. I remain most interested in exploring the relationships between culture and nature, or document (the perception of the real) and artifice (the deception of reality). Photography allows me to create the most straightforward, yet highly personal images of water, sky, land, the lotus flower or a person within the context of landscape, beliefs and most importantly myth. My work process is very emotional and often challenging as I aim to establish a most intimate relationship and understanding of the subject.”
The notions of “avoiding storytelling” and “to create the most straightforward images” relate Tyniec’s works with “straight photography”. Like Paul Strand’s works of “straight photography” or Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s works of “New Seeing” photography, Tyniec’s photographs is the product of direct photography par excellence that exploits contrast and gradations of light and dark. Just like Strand's work, Tyniec’s works relied on the photographer’s sensitivity to maintain a balance between realistic-documentary closeness and formal-aesthetic finesse.
Unlike “straight photography”, however, Tyniec’s photographs did not seem to rely on abstract composition and sharp focus. The subjects of his pictures are fairly identifiable, and they are shown by emphasizing their hazy, unremarkable, details – a significant feature of “artistic photography” as exemplified in photography by Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen. In this respect Tyniec, with his photographs that look like paintings, is the successor of Stieglitz who states: “Photography being in the main a process in monochrome, it is on subtle gradations in tone and value that its artistic beauty so frequently depends.”
Made Wianta: Against Art Photography
Made Wianta’s use of photography in his work disclaimed any relation to art photography. Wianta treated the photographic medium with an anti-art photography attitude that reminds one of Ed Ruscha who insisting that his 1960s photobooks are “technical data like industrial photography... nothing more than snapshots” (Ruscha 1965). Through the strategy resembling “conceptual” art of the 1960s, Wianta adopted photography as a means to move beyond the object to work directly on cultural sign systems. Like Douglas Huebler and Victor Burgin, he embraced photography’s functional and anti-aesthetic character that aestheticism actively suppressed.
By employing the flat look of amateur, Wianta adopted the photographic documentation as a seemingly neutral means of presenting information. It is as if his photograph can be produced by anyone employing camera, a machine that Huebler called “dumb copying device”, especially in the era of digital technology. This neutrality, however, is deceptive or ironic, because Wianta deliberately used it to question the politics of representation and to display the representation of politics. The documentation of the rat in his amateur photograph is in no way neutral. Rather, it is symbolic: a politically charged myth.
In Wianta’s work, photograph was extracted from moving images produced by camcorder. Comprising still image, as well as the video clip which is its source material, the work merged photography and videography. It is a fusion that suggests the direction of the development of photography in the future, as camera becomes more perfectly integrate still images and moving images into one mode of recording.
Linda Connor: A Appointment with Death
Linda Connor’s photographs featuring the ancient cultural artifacts seemed to confirm Sontag's reflection on photography. Her works prompted remorse and anxiety because the subjects have aged, decayed, or no longer exists – they remind one of the inevitable threatening death. Connor’s camera recorded the shadow of ruins, the signs of biological and social life in the process of destruction, what will be lost crushed by the unbearable rolling wheel of linear time towards the end: the photographs are testimonies of our own mortality. Connor's photographs seemed to whisper a sentence ringing in Jacques Derrida's ears when he was reflecting on Jean-Francois Bonhomme’s photographs made in Athens: “We owe ourselves to death” (Derrida 2010).
At the same time, Connor’s works suggest a view against a linear theory of time within the discourse of Western modernity and Christian theology. Her photographic subjects are the sacred artifacts of Eastern religious traditions that embrace a cyclical theory of time. In the Eastern religious traditions, such as Hinduism, time does not move from the beginning towards the end in linear fashion, but in cyclical one. Death is never the end, but always a rebirth. Connor’s photographs admitted that we owe ourselves to death, while suggesting that death is not the end of the story.
Lonnie Graham: The Paradox of Photographic Portrait
Lonnie Graham's portraits are the attempts to steal the fleeting moods and expressions from individual subjects. More than just documentation, his portraits show the efforts of the photographer to reveal something about the personalities of the subjects. These efforts are never neutral, because they require the primacy of the photographer. The photographer should “read” or interpret the personality of the subject. For, as Henri Cartier-Bresson (1951) says, “The sitter is suspicious of the objectivity of the camera while what the photographer is after is an acute psychological study of the sitter.”
Graham’s photographic portraits surreptitiously declare the traces of the persons or personalities they portrayed: the portrait as an analogue of the original subject. However, this analog is constantly interrupted by the anonymity of the subject. Viewers, especially in Indonesia, where portraits of the President and the Vice President and political leaders are so easily found in public spaces, would immediately confront a series of questions: Who are the foreign individuals in these portraits? What did they do and what are they doing? Why did the photographer take their pictures? And so on. Paradoxically, Graham’s portraits reveal and conceal identity at the same time. The paradox is reinforced by the absence of setting, context or framework within which to understand the subject.
In Graham's portraits, facts about persons and their personalities are displayed as “fictions”, which requires viewers to complete the stories to make the portraits meaningful. The suggestive forces of the “fictions” rely on the strength of involvement of the photographer. Rather than revealing the subject, Graham’s works expose the intimacy shared by the photographer with his sitter.
Vladik Monroe: The Doublefold Self-referential Art
Vladik Monroe’s works are self-referential in two senses of the term. His works are self- referential because they made reference to existing artworks, especially the ones that have acquired “iconic” status in the history of art. Monroe “borrowed” or reworked, among others, the famous image of Marilyn Monroe. In this sense, his works are “appropriation” art.
Since the 1970s, inspired by the conceptual notions induced by Marchel Duchamp in the 1910s, many postmodernist artists have employed the strategy of “appropriation” to question the nature of “art”, authorship and originality. As Douglas Crimp observes, postmodernist artists like Sherrie Levine, Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince created appropriationist works unmasked the notion of originality in art photography as a myth. They “have addressed photography’s claims to originality, showing those claims for the fiction they are, showing photography to be always a representation, always-already-seen. Their images are purloined, confiscated, appropriated, stolen. In their work, the original cannot be located, is always deferred; even the self which might have generated an original is shown to be itself a copy” (Crimp 1980).
Monroe’s works are also self-referential because they made reference to the artist himself: they are self-portraits. Like Cindy Sherman in the 1980s, Monroe played the roles of the characters in the artworks he appropriated. The results are ironic self- portraits: portraits that concealed, obscured or distorted his own identity, or revealed the “dark side” of his self-hidden from public view. In Monroe’s self-portraits, the original self cannot be located, is always deferred. Destabilizing the notion of one’s “essence” or one’s “true self”, including essentialist assumptions about masculinity and femininity, his works demonstrate the nature of the self as “copy” or, at best, “alien.”
Joel Singer: Photomontage in the Digital Age
Joel Singer began making photomontages in the 1980s. Photomontage involves cutting, pasting, and matching images to create a new work of art. The art has roots since photography’s inception in the 19th century. Alexander Rodchenko, in his works during the Russian Revolution, was one of the influential photographers who worked with photomontage.
Singer refers to his works as “Photage” (photo collages). His use of the term presumably derives from the distinction between “collage” and “montage”. Collage and montage involve the same process of combining cut and torn pieces from one or more photographs. The difference is that, in montage, the final assemblage of materials is rephotographed, so the copies may be produced (Hirsch and Valentino, 2001). After Singer adapted cut and paste techniques to computer in the 1990s, which of course enabled him to copy the end product digitally, his works can be called “montage” or “photomontage.”
Located at the intersection between photography and digital art, Singer’s works show the level of photographic assemblage that traditional collage and/or photomontage almost impossible to achieve. Various imageries in his works penetrated each other. Singer also utilized multiplicity and repetition of digital images to visually describe, for example, the sequence of movement. However, he seemed to maintain some characteristics of traditional collage. In his works, there is an impression that no attempt is made to hide the fact that the image is actually an assemblage created from a variety of source materials.
Rather than pursuing the creation of seamless montage, Singer concerns with the efforts to express his thoughts, which do not exist to be photographed. With digital photomontage, Singer demonstrates that photography, a medium that is technically tied to the real, can be used as a perfect vehicle to move beyond reality.
Exhibition notes courtesy of Arif Bagus Prasetyo who is a curator, alumnus of the IWP University of Iowa
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