A Challenging Exhibition:
Last week I encountered Photographs by Jono Rotman, at Gow Langsford Gallery in auckland, with my non artistic husband.
Going to this exhibition with a non artistic person was great, we still had a very interesting discussion about the show afterwards and his (non artistic) interpretation was very valuable to me.
I believe this was a challenging exhibition to create, put forward into the public arena and also for viewers to encounter, but I enjoyed it and was slightly envies of Rotman’s experience (the fact that he was trusted to enter into a world few of us will ever see objectively or close up. This does not mean I have a desire to do the same. It simply means for me he got to experience something personally, without the influence of others).
The show contains 8 larger than life ‘portraits’ of Mongrel Mob members. This exhibition has had a lot of press since it was opened at the end of April. This press has been mostly negative towards the use of one image in particular (I will not delve into this, as that is not what I was interested in).
Rotman has created these images over a time span of 7 year and he was interested to see what happened when these men were separated from the way in which they are usually depicted or even possibly seen. The work is about portraiture and the story of these men.
What I enjoyed of this show was:
- The ability to stare at these people in a safe place
- To really look into their eye and possibly find reasons for why they live how they do.
- To maybe find their soul through the eyes.
- To also look closely at the facial tattoo’s and markings - to see or identify similarities between these, their patches and ancient Ta Moko of maori warriors.
- The images evoked a sense of Goldie/Lindauer - these men are proud men,so were our ancient Maori warriors. What either of these groups did or do in their life has an influence on how we view these portraits. It is easier to view past warrior portraits as hero’s, ones we have not personally known and with that accept their past actions.
- I saw behind the faces and the fact that Rotman experienced these people on their own territory, allowing him to make his own informed judgements, without the interference of the “press filter”.
- There were 3 standout images for me -The first was the controversial side posing Shane Rogue; This image was not the standard portrait, as it was not cut off at the chest and the subject was also not posing in a standard portraiture pose. Adding to this the dark hoodie which hid the subjects hair and created a shadow over his face, making the whites of his eyes stand out. The detail and layers on the subjects vest showed his alliances and even possibly his Whakapapa. It was by face the most menacing image to encounter. The other 2 were very confronting portraits, (Greeko Notorius & Bung Notorious ) as both men stared straight at you and with the mages so large, you felt like you were standing in front of them in life. They challenged my own gaze, while staring at them I at times had to move my eyes away, as I felt guilty of the intrusion into their personal space (but as expressed earlier, very safe to do so), but really enjoyed being able to look at this people for a period of time to see more than I would normally have seen if I had encountered them in reality.
- The portraits that didn’t look me (the viewer) in the eye were less confronting and more reminiscent of the Goldie & Lindauer style warrior.
From a technical point of view:
- The skill Rotman shows as a photographer in these works is fantastic - the strong focus on the face, with very soft blurring of everything behind this plane. Also knowing that these images were taken outside of a controlled studio environment. Using whatever light was available and a hastily erected back drop.
- The framing - the use of a frame that has a slanted interior face, created the illusion that the frame was wider than it was. This added to the visual balance of the image.
- Scale - these images needed to be large to provoke a response (both positive and negative). This does lead to question: Does this then elevate them as more important than the viewer? Certainly more overpowering and intimidating, but this reflects how they are viewed & experienced in real life
Portraiture is about the expression, the personality and the mood of the image/subject, it is about recording the individuals appearance.These images do all of that. These men are normally not the flower bearing, in touch with their feminine side men and their appearance & regalia links them to group, no different to a uniform wearing sports team. This regalia is what adds to these men’s mana and status within that group.
What this regalia does is the fact that it is reminiscent of past hurt and adversity, which is still very recent in human history.
Does wearing the same outfit as a group make a you, the person be outside the law? I don’t believe so, what it does do, it links you to a group who stand for being outside of the law. But is that how you should look at these images?
The challenge as a viewer to any image is our own personal ‘baggage’ (by this I mean knowledge, principles and our own values), it influences how we encounter and subsequently enjoy something.
Sure it can be argued that portraiture elevates a person into something special & unique and generally it does, but only for those for whom these people are important. Viewing a portrait of a person I have no personal connection to does not have the same level of emotional response, as viewing one whom I am connected to. This is something that I believe every viewer of this show needs to consider.
website references- links to images:
News paper articles relating to the controversy of this show: