Tuesday, October 11, 2011

In camera and in public

CCP's latest exhibition charts scary territory: the disruption of the "contract" that exists between the camera/photographer and their subject. This is a juicy subject for our time, as we become increasingly anxious about where we can take pictures and of whom -- or even when and where we are able to use devices like phones that have the potential to make photographs.

So the exhibition asks the question: what does it mean to take someone's picture without them knowing? Across a series of at times extraordinary pictures, we are given the chance to think about what it means to allow our photograph to be taken, and what it might mean to have our picture taken unawares. The effect of this, in the evidence of the pictures, is complex and varied.

In Bill Henson's magnificent photographs of people in crowds Untitled 1980/82, the effect is melancholic poetry -- the magical rich blacks and silvery greys of the prints are cut through with the loneliness, boredome and distraction of the subjects. In Cherine Fahd's pictures of habituees of her local park (the homeless, the addled, the stoned...), taken from the safety of her sixth-floor apartment, the effect is something much more ambivalent. Each of the pictures in the series The sleepers 2005/08 sits on the edges of photographic propriety, which is an uncomfortable and challenging place to be situated by a photographer. Among the most striking of the pictures in the show are a series of surveillance photographs taken by ASIO officers between 1949/80: because they were taken covertly by intelligence operatives, the photographs -- often showing benign subjects such as a man entering a doorway or a group of men chatting in a street -- somehow become suspicious. (If you search hard in the photographs of street marches, you'll spot one of Melbourne's best-known photographers, but we can't reveal her name...)

The money shot in the exhibition, though, are the images from Kohei Yochiyuki's infamous series The park 1971/79 which document public sex acts in Tokyo parks and the endeavours of voyeurs to look and touch. In these pictures, the photographer, the voyeurs, the performers -- themselves often unaware of the voyeurs circulating around them -- and us as viewers are all drawn into a murky web of who has the right to look at whom and under what terms. Its confronting and weirdly titillating at the same time.

No comments:

Post a Comment