New Documents – Photography as Social Reality

Brighton Photo Biennial
New Documents
02.10 – 14.11.2010

Executive Director Helen Cadwaller and Curator Martin Parr, underline the specific aspect of the fourth edition of theBrighton Photo Biennial as the locally focussed international event. The biennial is taking place in five closely located venues with five differing titles, exhibiting wide range of photographic practices and positioning them as social documents. Including abstract works (Stephen Gill) as well as politically motivated photographic series (Suzanne Opton), Parr expands the reception of photography as social document to a larger scale – than that of photo journalistic practices.
New Documents refer to a priori condition of photography as document of time-space-encounter whilst is composed of site-located commissions and concept-driven, socially-conscious productions. Following, not all photography on show are recent –
Parr also spans half a century, inviting in images by Billy Monk and Oumar Ly, from 60’s of Cape Town and Senegal, respectively. Not only producing another reception of ‘newness’ in relation to time of production and time of circulation, Parr also brings together a wide-selection photographic input: by established photographers to young names, from North to South America, Far East to South Africa.
New Documents by commissioning five photographers for the specificity of Brighton, conditions the outcome of selected practices to organically relate to the conceptual framework of the biennial in the way in which, the photography to emerge will have a social realm; moreover productions with associative value. The commissions are framed under two titles. Strange and Familiar: three views of Brighton, at the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, hosts Alex (&Carmen) Soth, Stephen Gill and Rinko Kawauchi. The title resembles an appropriation of Jean Luc Nancy’s argument on body – life is strangeness preceded by familiarity, in a way in which the conceptual approach to the socialness of photographic delivery is marked within the tension of strange and familiar, and in the core of the distribution of the commonalities shared by their receivers. Soth, due to the struggle he has been through at UK customs, chooses to involve his daughter, Carmen, to accompany him throughout the streets of Brighton&Hove, capturing humorous, irregular details of the daily. Gill, follows rather a labour intensive approach and like an archaeologist he excavates the memory of the city via used objects and found material – such as false eyelashes, fish tails, juxtaposing them onto the images of Brighton, composing frozenness within recency of the city. Kawauchi, on the other hand, is carried away by the scenery of birds accumulating in the skyscape, hence documents the flocking in sunset, imagining tales taking place above the ground. Kawauchi also presents a gathering of photographs akin to her known practice, taken within the vicinity of the relationship of subject and object of common places. Queer Brighton, hosted at Lighthouse, displays works by Molly Landreth and Zoe Strauss, who both visited Brighton during the pride week to document LGBTQ culture at its becoming. Contrasting with Jamie Wyld’s articulated intentions in the catalogue, the exhibition functions as an allegory of such ‘marginalities’ with a definitive articulation formed of portraits (Landreth) and snapshots of the gatherings (Strauss).
New Ways of Looking, at the old Co-op Department store, brings various photographic practices, together. The venue, quite regular in Biennial culture – formerly-functioning-now-abandoned-soon-to-be-transformed site, provides a decent installation, and to each artist own space of exhibit. Entering the venue by selection of works on the façade display, orientates the viewer on what to expect, as well as strive to see more. Viviane Sassen’s two series Flamboya and Moshi bring a fresh breath to portraiture and photographic composition whilst specifying its content matter on the concept of the other and its reception, critically marking the dominant Western gaze and its impact. Suzanne Opton’s series, Soldiers, and Many Wars, are conceptual-driven, politically marked, aesthetically plain, theatrical and art history-referential, for which she portrays soldiers served in Iraq and Afganistan war. The first series, emerged as a billboard project, is composed of close-up portraits of soldiers leaning their heads on the ground –a gesture of vulnerability, whereas the latter series display soldiers sheltered in cloth within their emotional turmoil. Another politically marked contribution is from Paris, where Mohamed Bourouissa portrays the potentiality at stake (social encounters, not-yet-taken place circumstances) in the periphery. Oscar Fernando Gomez’s series are a compilation of photographic documentation of instances he has been in the view of through the window of his taxi. Working as a full time driver, Gomez brings out a socialscape of Mexico where the inside-outside conditioning is multiplied by the reflections on the rear window, brought in-frame. Two major examples of social documentary come from Billy Monk and Oumar Ly. Monk’s portraits of night clubbers solemnly communicate with the community texture depicted by Ly, displaying an exquisite work on portraiture within context. The photographers exhibiting are the first hand witnesses of the cities, social contexts they live in to which they respond under the influence. Dhruv Malhotra’s outcome of sleepless nights brings together (un)usual locations of finding sleep outdoors, in India. Alejandro Chaskielberg’s The High Tide is an irregular documentation of communities residing in the Parana River Delta. His aesthetic reproduction of the subjectivities revolves around duration, resignifying the socially deterritorialized identities. Esteban Pastorino Diaz, documents architectural output –as well as sensual impact, of Francisco Salomone, who has extensively built slaughterhouses and cemeteries in provincial towns in 30s and 40s of Argentina. The built-in places are carried to their image in night-time-long-exposures, where Diaz monumentalises imagery alike its source. Whereas, Wout Berger’s depiction of contaminated nature resources as the source of his imagery for an abstraction and Ju Duoqi’s Museum of Vegetables as mere re-compositions of milestone images of art and popular media history, with vegetables stand for social documents whilst the subject of the document is not the humankind.
The Biennial not only investigates newness in the practice of documentation but also in its display. The House of Vernacular, offers conceiving images in specified constellations of place. Hosting mostly images from archives (Archive of Modern Conflict – fancy aeroplane interiors of 60’s and 70’s African dictators, man wearing hats in Bogota and University of Brighton Design Archives- British Litter bins) and private collections (Titus Riedl) as well as individual practices (Lee To Sang – baby portraits). The whole setting is a valuable intention, though not fully complying its purpose, in a way in which the intention of spatialisation of photographic encounter via site-located experience becomes mere decoration conveying experience.
Within the conceptual approach and interesting gathering of photographic works, the biennial triggers a discussion around exhibiting photography free of frame. Announcing itself as the first to fulfil this condition, the exhibited works appear on three sizes printed by – also sponsored by, HP digital printers. This choice besides provocative and new, is challenging hence some of the selected works rather demand analogue printing; some need their own size than its appropriated one; some require stable construction around them to keep them unwrinkled and self-standing.
The Biennial, takes a leap towards the reception of social document not as a mere representation but also as presentation of encounters, realising around the idea of newness.

Brighton Photo Biennial Catalogue with introduction by Helen Cadwaller and contributions by Martin Parr. Jamie Wyld, Jonathan Swain, Juliette Buss.
Blurb, 120 pages, with color, £ 25, -, ISBN 9781903796443