I am hoping that last weekend’s trip to Brighton is going to bring me out of my creative funk, and start me moving forward again. It should do, as there was so much to see, and such good interaction with other students. 38 student and four OCA tutors met up for a weekend of exhibitions and opinion sharing, and I met old friends again, and made some new ones too.
The theme of the Biennale this year was Beyond the Bias – Reshaping the Image. It purported to
focus on identity and understanding our personal and projected image as influenced by the pervasive genre of fashion and style photography. …. Identity and representation are explored in relation to the wider context of mass-representation; where self-image and attitude are often co-opted. (bpb16 catalogue, p. 1)
It is worth keeping that in mind, because many of the exhibitions appeared to have little to do with fashion, although to be fair, there were quite a number I did not see. The weekend began on Saturday morning at the Reimagine exhibit at the University of Brighton Galleries. This was one of the non-style based series, which took the work of two photographers working on the same idea and putting them side by side. It was not entirely clear what the collaborative idea was, but Bharat Sikka (from India) and Olivia Arthur (from the UK) worked together to explore the public and private presentation of self-image in relation to the body, gender, sexuality and fantasy. I suspect the Arthur and Sikka had agreed to visit each other’s community, but there were many more images of scenes from the UK than of India. I had the impression that Arthur got fed up with trying to photograph the Indian half of the project and reverted to the UK to complete the required number of images. Both photographers worked on similar large format cameras, but Arthur’s work was mostly in black and white, while Sikka’s work was colour.
Our tutor, Jesse, asked us to consider how the size, proportions and layout of the exhibition affected our understanding, and suggested that we think about three issues:
- how does photography enforce or question stereotypes?
- what effect does the collaboration’s similarities and differences have on our understanding?
- does the overall exhibit adjust our perspective on the subject?
At first viewing, I preferred Sikka’s colour images. They had an intimate honesty and understanding that seemed absent from Arthur’s work. Arthur’s work seemed very observational and Outside, and seemed to have more of a feel of an assignment rather than a subject close to the photographer’s heart. The images came in a mixture of sizes and presentations, which may have been deliberate to echo the assortment of different ideas that the exhibit was exploring.
It was not until the end that that any explanation was given for the images we saw. A small dark booth was showing a rolling video of quotes, which apparently accompanied some of the images, but which were not specifically tied to any individual picture. I didn’t have time to watch this in the group session, but came back later and sat through all of it. It was most enlightening, and explained that the images were all about individuality in gender, sexuality and its expression within a community which is quite often boxed under the LGBT label. Going back through the exhibit with that in mind gave a different reading of it – there was much more of a sense of individual decision-making about where the sitters stood on the subject of gender and sexuality, and the myriad of ways there are of expressing this, ranging from the skinhead in a tutu to others where there was no external clues at all. One of the images from the show, of a fluffy unicorn’s head stuck to a wall like a trophy seemed to sum up the exhibition to me – it was about people creating a world where one could be anything one wanted to be, and just because a unicorn does not normally exist, there is no reason why one cannot make it exist if one feels strongly enough about it.
Comparing it to the next exhibit we saw, the Dandy Lion Project, the subjects of Reimagine were trying not to be defined by labels, whereas for the people in the Dandy Lion project, the label and being part of a specific group was an important part of their personae.