Experiencing The Unknown
(by VEERA RUSTOMJI)
The field of digital imaging has expanded at an amazingly rapid speed; the artist in the photographer is met with a plethora of choices and opportunities in terms of technology and creativity. In the 2007 July/August issue of American Photo, the magazine articulated the essential need for significant advancements in the digital world; 'in photography, as in few other forms of communication, creativity and high technology are intertwined; they lead each other down the merry path toward the future of the medium. And digital technology has made that relationship more intimate than ever before.'
On the surface we may assume that Pakistani artists and photographers haven't reached this level of art which has taken the world by storm, but I would like to ask the readers to reconsider the massive amount of professional photographers hired for family events and parties. No longer do we consider capturing moments on the camera, a commercial trend but every family makes it a mandatory point to have their cameras ready, whether it is for a wedding or a graduation. Sure enough, as we click through our digital cameras (or a DSLR if you've got a dedicated Facebook fan in the family) we do not consider ourselves artists, but without realisation, we do take in to account the composition, the lighting, colours and placement. Therefore photography has to be one of the most relatable and effective forms of art today. Not only is it such an intense and sensitive mean of communication, it aspires towards showcasing nothing but the truth.
Giving the example of the inner artist in our Pakistani society, this article however reaches beyond our country to America where well-known photographer Taryn Simon reveals work, which is an essential feature of her country and culture. Her first series of photographs which received considerable recognition was a collection titled 'The Innocents' exhibited in 2003. 'The Innocents' documents the stories of individuals who served time in prison for violent crimes they did not commit, the hauntingly eerie yet somehow quirky style of the photography illustrates a very dark comedic mood from the photographs. Bright colours as well as blurred hazy lights allowed the collection to have a variation of techniques and atmospheres but the most striking feature of the collection was how normal and mundane all the innocent subjects appeared to be. Described as a photographer who ventures into the unknown forbidden lands revealing the least explored elements of human life on earth, 'The Innocents' paradoxically enough, does not provoke the viewer to feel extreme sorrow for the wrongfully accused prisoners, instead we are completely surprised by how normal and calm they appear.
"Simon photographed these men at sites that had particular significance to their illegitimate conviction: the scene of misidentification, the scene of arrest, the scene of the crime or the scene of the alibi. All of these locations hold contradictory meanings for the subjects. The scene of arrest marks the starting point of a reality based in fiction. The scene of the crime is at once arbitrary and crucial: this place, to which they have never been, changed their lives forever. In these photographs Simon confronts photography's ability to blur truth and fiction-an ambiguity that can have severe, even lethal consequences," states the photographer's website while describing the collection.
Moving on to a more international photography project which has had a large impact on her fans and anyone who has come across her collection of work, Taryn Simon's four year investment on her book A Living Man Declared Dead is a particular favourite of students and graphic designers because of the large degree of concept and functionality in terms of display and digital production of the photographs.
"Each work in A Living Man Declared Dead is comprised of three segments. On the left of each chapter are one or more large portrait panels systematically ordering a number of individuals directly related by blood. The sequence of portraits is structured to include the living ascendants and descendants of a single individual. The portraits are followed by a central text panel in which the artist constructs narratives and collects details. On the right are Simon's 'footnote images' representing fragmented pieces of the established narratives and providing photographic evidence.
The subjects Simon documents include victims of genocide in Bosnia, test rabbits infected with a lethal disease in Australia, the first woman to hijack an aircraft, and the living dead in India. Her collection is at once cohesive and arbitrary, mapping the relationships among chance, blood, and other components of fate."
It is obvious that her work is based on moving events, perhaps not action- concentrated but moments and especially people who have made a difference in this world. Take for instance the prisoners in her first collection, 'The Innocents'. As viewers we may not empathise with these strangers but after understanding their story and getting a glimpse into their lives through her picture which captures them, we understand that the subject in the photograph makes us realise something as terrible as being wrongfully convicted could happen to anyone of us.
Similarly her work on the Bosnian genocide is an extremely revealing topic for those who are not familiar of the atrocities and at the same time her work connects with those who have knowledge of the incident. The skill of revealing facets and personalities who are unknown to the world, yet who have undergone trauma which we can relate to is a way in which the artist exploits the streak of humanism present in all of us. The stiff yet calmly portrayed pictures in A Living Man Declared Dead contribute to the aspect of capturing the general public in an unusual situation. In an interview, Taryn Simon spoke about relying on the places and people for the pictures to be naturally powerful and her philosophy is quite evidently true as one experience her work as the genuine creativity stems from her original subjects and atmospheres within the photographs.