Have we intentionally set out to deceive you?
Where were these pictures taken? Is the year 1936? The location Nipomo, California? It would be entirely understandable for you to believe this was the case.
But, with just a little deeper analysis, you become aware that this is in fact a fashion story (the credits give this away). Within fashion, we have that luxury of creating a fantasy, an illusion that we wish you to believe in, whether that is because this fantasy promotes a lifestyle that you wish to associate with or whether there is something within the “Art” of these images that draws your attention into a much more complex thought process of your own.
In asking the question “Were these photographs taken in 1936?”, we are drawing a direct comparison to the work of Dorothea Lange, who at the time along with Walker Evans was documenting America and the great depression for the FSA. The difference being that her pictures to the best of her ability were her truth, they are technically factual and a historical record, where as this project is a work of fiction. It is also a work that does two things. Firstly it draws inspiration and pays homage to the “Masters” of photography of this period, heavily drawing on the influence of American photographers of this time, we mention Lange and Evans, but there are also strong references to our admiration of the work of Paul Strand and fast forwarding a generation there can be no doubt that Richard Avedon surfaces somewhere within these pictures.
One can question originality in all things photographic and also all things termed as “Art”, but specifically there is a much deeper question we ask within these photographs and that is a question of truth.
Dorothea Lange did not wish to take images with a perceived imagination of what the final image would look like, because she felt that this in itself would be a lie. She wanted to keep a completely open mind as to what she may encounter and what her lens might capture, as she believed this would be nearer the truth of reality when she recorded this moment.
We are already manipulating the true identity of the work you see before you, as we have chosen to show you our pictures in black and white. As photographers we have personally, always seen this as the medium of choice to create drama, theatre and fantasy. The origins of the photographic medium have evolved from the silver halide process and therefore by erasing the colour from these pictures it is much easier to try to convince you of a truth that is not.
My first realization of the potential for the photographic process to manipulate the truth, in fact did not come from the theatre of fashion, which has a genuine argument for doing so, but from the theatre of War. My linguistic education of translating the photographic image began in 1989, this happened to also co-inside with the 150th anniversary of the discovery of the photographic process by Fox-Talbot and Daguerre. In our eyes there is no difference from trying to comprehend the written word or spoken dialect of Arabic or Mandarin Chinese than there is to being able to deeply associate yourself with the visual message hidden within the depths of a photographic plate.
The most famous incidence of this deception being the Robert Capa photograph, “Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano” September 5, 1936, which is now widely believed to have been staged. Another instance of this deception is in the famous image “Raising the flag over the Reichstag” 1945. Here the actual image was doctored to show “Georgian” fighters on the rooftops to please Stalin and also one of the fighters was wearing two watches which were later removed as it was inconceivable that members of the Red Army could be involved in looting.
This brings us to the title of our fashion story, “The Eye of the Beholder” which has been abbreviated from the famous quote “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, because we ask you to make your own mind up about these pictures. Is it acceptable to try to intellectualize a fashion story in this way and ask of the viewer so many questions? Even though this is a fantasy what truths do lie within these pictures?
We have specifically cast a blind man in this project, then intentionally brought him into the photographic studio to be photographed. Going against the grain of what Strand, Kertesz, Ben Shahn or Gary Winogrand recorded, suggesting a photograph of a blind person is perfection of this truth as their face cannot lie (If they are unaware of the cameras presence).
For our production, Richard, our subject is aware that a camera lens is pointing at him, therefore his face can not tell the truth of his mind, as we have interrupted his thought process by alerting him to this fact, but as close as it is possible to reality he is still unaware of his surroundings and asks us, “What am I wearing?”, “What Camera are you using?”.
It was so important to record the “Truth” that Walker Evans collaborated on a 3 year project with James Agee “Many are called” using a hidden camera on the New York subway to document reality of the moment on the face of the people.
We went one step further with our “deception” by also asking our subjects to close their eyes so they were unaware of the moment we captured their image and made our black gentleman be moved to tears, so he was blinded not only by emotion but also by the physical act of crying.
This brings us to the conclusion of our explanation of this work, leaving you to discern your own truth from these images, who do you find beautiful? What beauty can you find within all living beings? Must we admit the camera always lies?
In this case a harmless re-enactment of our deepest admiration for the knowledge we have gained from these historical images, but the truth be known the camera can always lie and deceive for political and controlling purposes.
Finally, the significance of the snake within these images draws a direct correlation to images Avedon took in the American Midwest or that of Nastassja Kinski, this encapsulates the historical timeframe of our project. His images are possibly nothing more than a documentary record and a composition of the most photogenic beauty.
But within our images the serpent does much more, it really does quantify the question “The eye of the beholder?”. Human nature often sees the snake as an enemy of man and throughout biblical history the role of the serpent as a symbolical form of deception and cunning, always ready to strike the venomous blow.