Thresholds (curated by Ciara Hickey) / Reviewed by Dorothy Hunter / 13.04.13
As the contexts in which we view images become increasingly widespread and indistinct, so too does the image’s relationship with fiction and reality shift. Nuances of “truth” find new ambiguities in the shifting foundations of documentary, art, and all of imaging’s overlapping states; each image becomes one of many, and many image types in one.
Alongside this growth in contextual generality is the capacity of photography to lead or be lead: whilst referencing and on the cusp of truth, it creates new realities in which the photographer and camera are complicit.
Thresholds at Belfast Exposed explores this age-old and dynamic uncertainty. Bringing together five bodies of work, each series is based on specific subjects whilst addressing an ambiguous place in reality.
The show begins with images from Stephen Gill’s Hackney Wick, showing a soft-focused East London car boot sale, bleached and hued in a way that’s reminiscent of 1970s Kodak prints. With nondescript characters, white hatchbacks parked in ditches and cheap prints stacked against a skip, these photographs have no set place in time, each person or object a tool in the image’s construction of false and non-narrative nostalgia.
Eleven Blow-Ups works more actively with the concept of unreality; many depths of field and image qualities are combined to create montages that are fluid at first glance but jarring in their intricacies. Sampling the media images of recent worldwide conflicts, Sophie Ristelhueber’s non-specific photographs show a generic destruction.
Explicitly referencing Susan Sontag’s theories of war imagery overexposure, Eleven Blow-Ups shows not only our inherent detachment from such images, but also the removal of information through enlargement, amalgamation and a new image context: heads are removed by image boundaries, and no cultural signifiers exist. With no article text to lead us we must take the images for what they are and are not.
Whilst Eleven Blow-Ups combines areas, time and lessened actuality, Index of Time explores one influenced space, and the impact of historic and contemporary fantasy. The project began as a collaborative documentary surrounding a cave in the Czech Republic, with the site’s folklore impressing upon the images created. Peter Watkins and Tereza Zelenkova’s work became a photo-centric montage of image and text, forming a collection of fallible research.
The large black and white cave images are dramatically lit, for either site visitor or image viewer. A number of smaller images show things placed into and pulled out of context: a skull on a rock platform contrasts with human markings on wet walls, and an axe sits on a forensic white background. Both the images and the place itself hold their own constructions, and the relationship between the two remains undefined and complicated further by an accompanying fictional text.
Index of Time utilises the same process of addition and removal as the presentation of the cave itself, enriching yet unhinging the subjects presented. As with all photographs, our relationship sits not with the actual subject, but with the images and the spaces in between. We can only supplement what we see with our own references.
Thresholds then becomes an exploration of the bridge between immediately visual and “known” information, with the straddling of the individualistic and general lying at its core. Whilst contained within the singular gallery environment, the work’s references to reportage, natural history and communal past give Thresholds the cross-pollination of a shared and open platform: we look toward a universal, yet concurrently specific and non-specific context of photography.
Belfast Exposed, The Exchange Place, 23 Donegall Street, Belfast, BT1 2FF