Tuesday, 7 August 2012

On Reality, Gear Fetishism and Photography as Communication

Black Bulb 2, 2009 © Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs


For us 80's born young whippersnappers at Foam Lab, I thought the exhibition which would most resonate with me surely would be Rico & Michael's multimedia slugfest in Foam 3H upstairs, Double Extension Beauty Tubes, an installation in which one is battered with a fast cycle of various portraits of young people from different subcultures, shown on ten iPads arranged in a circle in a dark room, and accompanied by popular music from said subcultures.

Book Cam, 2011 © Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs

It was however not that exhibition, but Onorato and Krebs's Light of Other Days which most appealed to me. Onorato & Krebs are something of a mysterious couple. The merit of their work is not always immediately evident. But as I considered their photographs and read about them more, a number of things dawned on me.

Cameraman 2, Polaroid, 2005 © Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs

Though they make no use of Photoshop or other digital trickery, they express the extent to which light can be captured in ways that produce imagery which may seem manipulated to us. On the other hand, they can capture things just the way they are, and have them seem more unreal than ever. Many photos in their book The Great Unreal exemplify this by expressing that what is perceived as reality has not become (by grace of digital manipulation), but has in fact always been relative. This doesn't go to say that all is relative, as the tired post-modern moan too often sounds, but it does remind us that things may be made to appear as such. This resonates with me because it is a reality that I am (or rather, force myself to be) aware of every second of the day as I am peppered with various manipulated media, such as re-touched billboards, biased news, auto-tuned music and whatnot.

Also, their images are not their ends, they are their means. The means by which they communicate, as has become commonplace in a society which uploads 3000 photos to Facebook every second. As a part of a visually developed generation, this feel intuitive to me. The assemblage of photos in the first room of their exhibition in Foam is seemingly random, but invokes the associative and layered nature of thought as expressed by artists who think in streams of images. Just like the combinations and links between thoughts made in one's mind may seem hard to explain to others, the cluster of photographs of plastic knights armor alongside undefinable shapes and food sculptures make a intuitive kind of sense when thought of as a reflection of a visual thought process.

Rotation 1, 2011 © Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs

Taiyo and Niko also seem to want to strip their art of unnecessary ballast. They mock gear fetishism which so often pervades new photography as seen in their book As Long As It Photographs / It Must Be A Camera. Turtles, stacks of tomes on photography theory, woodworked totems, Onorato and Krebs seem to view photography purely as the capture of light, thus anything that can be made to capture light would seem appropriate as a camera. Their use of direct positives mirrors this sentiment; to capture the light as directly as possible. The new Nokia cellphones may come with 42 megapixel cameras, the latest Canon 5D Mark III may baffle one in so many new and inventive ways, but there in the second room of the exhibition sits a turtle shell turned into camera to remind you: as long as it photographs, it must be a camera.

In the same way the whole exhibition is there to remind us: even though we may sometimes think everything has already been done, we have not by far reached the outer limits of what photography is, does or can be. And I hope we won't any time soon.

Foam Lab 2012

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