Text and pict.: Jaya L.
Yogyakarta- To convey a critic to a subject does not require to directly point out what is wrong. Ferit Kuyas, a Swiss photographer, presented critics eloquently in seven photographs themed “City of ambition” on the photography exhibition “Foreign-Familiar” held on 19 March to 19 April 2012 at the Gallery I of the Langgeng Art Foundation, Yogyakarta.
The seven photographs were shot at the city Chongqing, one of the five biggest cities in China, recorded the view of the city traversed by two great rivers with the background of sky scrapers, fly-over and bridge constructions in the morning. Accurately captured at the foreground are one or two people in their activities. A vague hint of fog gives soft color to the photographs, giving an impression of a calm and cold atmosphere. The nuance we usually get in the mountains in the morning.
The photographic image presented is very beautiful, yet it wasn’t the city scenic beauty that Ferit Kuyas wishes to convey. Chongqing is a city with a high level of air pollution, like Jakarta. The sky is always grey and to be able to directly see stars in the evening sky is impossible. The thin fog in the photograph series is pollution haze covering the whole Chongqing City. For Ferit Kuyas, it is improper if he directly pointed out the problems in a location and questioning whether or not it is still humane for dwellings. With his photograph series he kept distance and surrender the interpretation to the audience.
Different to Ferit Kuyas, whose photographs presented every details captured with precision and accuracy, Laurence Leblanc presented a series of photographs with all its objects seem blur. The ten monochromatic photographs titled “Rithy, Chéa, Kim Sour et Les Autres” presented by the French photographer recorded the images of children in Cambodia post Khmer Rouge massacre. The photographs captured blurry figures, sometimes only silhouettes, yet it can be identified as the figures and silhouettes of children. With the hazy photographic images Laurence Leblanc questions how these Cambodian children would survive with the burden of memories on the massacre that will be remembered everyday.
Other than the two photographers mentioned above, also exhibited the works of seven other photographers. In terms of work, it could be said that there are nearly no similarities connecting the nine photographers, other than their using of photographs as a medium in creating artwork. Each of these photographers work with different ways, style and approach. The only similarities they have is that they’re Westerners who had lived or is living and working in Asia, or creating works on Asia.
The exhibition, organized by the Goethe Institute in cooperation with Langgeng Art Foundation and Institute Français Indonesia, is a part of a tour exhibition. Yogyakarta is the third city visited after Bangkok and Manila. In the Foreign-Familiar exhibition, curator Wolfgang Bellwinkel, a photographer himself, invites the audience to see the intersection between foreignness and familiarity. Trying to see how a photographer sense and describing the culture and society where he lives, while at the same time he’s considered as a stranger but also familiar, also often as a outsiders.
Photography is commonly considered to be something objective, having a high degree of originality, because a camera is an inanimate object and has distinctive distance with its object. The “other” in photography is often neglected. The photographer’s subjectivity as a living being with autonomous mind, for example when choosing the picture angles and include or exclude objects to be captured by the camera, is often negated. This is like marginalizing the possibilities of photography as an objective record for a real actual moment and at the same time an interpretation on the reality.
The choice to exhibit the works of Western photographers who had lived and worked in Asia is a way to show that photography is laden with subjectivity. The closeness between these Western photographers and their environment is expected to produce photography works different to the current stereotypical photography works on Asia.
The works of Peter Steinhauer, an American photographer, in the series titled “Reflections of Chaos and Calm”, partially presented the stereotypical photographic images of Asia. The photos captured in China, Vietnam and Burma depicted the romantic images of Asia in the Western point of view. Wolfgang Bellwinkel said that when he finished school and decided to visit Asia, in his imagination, and most Europeans’, Asia is like what’s being captured by Peter Steinhauer in several photos in the series.
To give a juxtaposing images, put on opposite of the series of photographs mentioned above is a series of photographs titled “Bangkok Twilight” the work of Nick Nostotz, a German photographer who since 1993 lives in Bangkok, Thailand. In this photograph series Nick Nostitz presents a recording of events in the hard and gloomy night life of Bangkok, Thailand. Prostitution, drugs, guns, dead bodies and blood are starkly presented. This photo series could be considered to give the most disturbing images in this exhibition.
Another interesting photograph series and “deceiving” in this exhibition is the work of a Swiss photographer, Graziella Antonini, titled “Voyage Imaginaire au Japon”. The twelve heavily Japanese nuanced photographs in the series were not shot in Japan. The photo series was made by Graziella Antonini by capturing stereotypical Japanese objects she saw in Swiss before she even visited Japan. This photo series is an excellent example on how photographic image can be deceptive. The exhibition curator chose this photograph series because he saw it to be stronger than the series of photos that was later made in Japan.
Bruno Quinquet, a French photographer, also presents a Japanese image in his photograph series titled “Salaryman Project”. Corresponding to the title, Bruno Quinquet captured the stereotypical images of a Japanese office worker man, often known as salaryman, for 3 years in 72 photographs. Each month is represented by 2 photographs. But in this exhibition, only 24 photos of the 12 set were displayed with each set representing one month.
The other three photographers, each present a series of photographs to be exhibited, are: Marrigje De Maar from the Netherlands with photographs series titled “Home”, Olivier Pin-Fat from United Kingdom with photographs series titled “Space-In-Between” and Wolfgang Bellwinkel with photographs series titled “Babel”.
Stereotypical images, aside of the foreign-familiar issues, that became the basic concept of this exhibition, seems to be intentionally presented to highlight the term stereotype itself, not to avoid it. This could be clearly seen by the presentation of the works of Peter Steinhauer, Graziella Antonini and Bruno Quinquet where we can clearly see the stereotypical images of Asia. The interesting point of this exhibition is the choice of works from photographers with different style and approach in creating photographs so we could observe the possibilities in photography. Moreover, the photographs have different sizes as the work presentation requires them, which makes this exhibition interesting and not monotonous like the common photography exhibition where usually all photographs are of the same size.