Essays:

> Franklyn Rodgers and Marcia Michael, at Autograph ABP

Erica Payet / Franklyn Rodgers and Marcia Michael, at Autograph ABP

May 2018

 

Autograph ABP is presenting two simultaneous photography exhibitions, both taking the portrait of the artist’s mother as point of departure, and the black mother as subject of enquiry. On the ground floor, Franklyn Rodgers presents monumental close-ups of the faces of his mother and her circle of close friends. On the second floor, the more intimate work of Marcia Michael consists of two different series taking her mother’s body as a site for exploring the mother-daughter relationship.

It is possible to go beyond the hackneyed idea that the face is a window to the sitter’s character, alluded to in the claim that Rodgers’ portraits reveal the “strength, resilience, fortitude” of the women they represent. The series is presented as an appeal to recognise their humanity and acknowledge the complexity of their life experience: “recognition” is put forth as the central project of this series, as a moral and ethical process far removed from its opposite, which I would argue is a negative counterpoint in this work, namely the machine operation of facial-recognition software now pervading our lives. This work departs from the most intimate (the pores on the surface of the skin, the relationship of a son to his mother, the private circle of one’s closest friends), but thrusts us into a deeply communal, civic space, with the large-scale works demonstrating and claiming the power and history of these women.

One way of interpreting this work could be that it comments on the very topical issue of privacy: human beings before the law and surveillance technology are scrutinised, observed and categorised through the medium of photography, while Rodgers’ project of artistic portraiture opposes a resistance against these oppressive forces and stems instead from the life-long relationship of filial love and meticulous observation, for a truer recognition.

The public dimension and political appeal alluded to in Rodgers’ series is not so salient in Marcia Michael’s exhibition, shown in an upstairs space, in a much more intimate, window-less room, which does not open up onto the street as the previous one did. Michael’s work seems to be the presentation of an ongoing process of, and about, memory. The daughter (the artist) not only looks at her mother but includes herself in the picture, and their two beings intermingle in an exclusive relationship, as hinted by the title I Am Now You – Mother.

Michael’s use of juxtaposition, collage, and a variety of scales and media (photography, wallpaper, neon and video)—reminiscent of Esther Teichmann’s style, for example—aptly evokes the elaboration of an archive from disparate life fragments. The work strikes by its dark, profound and quiet intimacy, the soundtrack of which is the fragile voice of the mother emanating from the five-screen video. The artist visually develops concepts such as the scar as sign, or the land and primeval vegetation as the fabric of family history. These signs need to be deciphered, subtly calling the viewer to immerse and engage with this human experience.

 – reviewed for Photomonitor by Erica Payet, May 2018

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Franklyn Rodgers: Devotion – A Portrait of Loretta and  Marcia Michael: I Am Now You – Mother  exhibitions continue at Autograph ABP, London, until 7 July 2018. Full details on Autograph’s website