October 18 – November 14, 2008
In document O'Born Contemporary is featuring four artists: Dominic Nahr, Michelle Sank, Wei Leng Tay and Edward Gajdel. Together they represent the cornerstones of historical practices in documenting the worlds in which we live.
Dominic Nahr is a young photojournalist currently traveling around the globe with the altruistic hope of enlightening both his world view and that of others: his objective is to show us unfolding actions that must not be allowed to go unremarked or forgotten. In his series When Brothers Fight he takes us into the complex arena of daily life in Palestine. Whether Nahr is photographing young men in military training manouevres, the lifeless bodies of those who have died and those who mourn them, or a man simply floating in the waters of the Gaza Strip in a rare moment of freedom from the claustrophobia of living in a war zone, he does so with a strong and unwavering gaze that is intent on telling the viewer a certain and unflinching narrative about civil unrest and the crimes inflicted in the pursuit of protecting physical and psychological borders. Nahr places himself in harm's way and at risk. He does so not to acquire glory for himself but because he hopes that by recording the evidence of violent actions and the resulting anguish that these events will not needlessly be repeated. His ethical stance is made all the more remarkable by his youth and ambition to change the world by showing us the complexities of life elsewhere.
Michelle Sank is known for her work in photographing young adults in states of compromised living circumstances. Sank's photographs are reminiscent of social documentary in that they speak of the possibility of change or of hope for the future lives of the people in the various societies that she chooses to portray. The images selected for this exhibition are from a series commissioned by the Belfast Exposed Gallery in Ireland. On first viewing the portraits in Teenagers Belfast appear to be uncomplicated portraits of self-styled young men and women in unremarkable settings. Sank uses the strife-laden legacies of Irish soil as the departure point for photographing these young Irish nationals: she has chosen to place them in neutral terrain unmarked by references to religious differences but there is no way to predict or ensure that these deeply rooted and contentious issues in Irish culture will remain at rest. Sank is a methodical photographer who composes her images carefully - the subjects are at ease standing still in a world that has not always been peaceful and her images give us hope that peace will be maintained by these individuals who are poised at the brink as well as posed for the camera.
Wei Leng Tay is an emerging Chinese photographer who is interested in how our inner lives are made visible through the places in which we live. In Hong Kong Living her camera gives the viewer an inside view of urban life above the streets of Hong Kong, one of the world's most congested and busy cities and a city that is currently in a state of political and economic flux. Whether we are drawn into Tay's picture frame by the dramatically staged lighting that sets the scene or the furniture and the detritus of daily living that surrounds the players, it is the actions of the people themselves, the silent but alert relationship between subject and photographer that hold our attention. We remain aware that we are seeing into what are ordinarily private moments, whether it is a family dinner in progress, smoking a cigarette, talking on the phone while the TV plays in the background, or sitting quietly above the crowded streets and neighbourhoods of the city in a moment of repose. Ultimately we see what a Chinese photographer sees as she looks within her own homeland for the familiar, the daily ritual recognized and frozen in time by those who have chosen to participate in these revelatory glances. In seeing inside these closed doors we see the ways in which we are different as well as the ways in which we are similar - it's as if we have walked into the middle of a thought, or of a conversation in a play spoken in a universal sign language of human actions and gestures.
Edward Gajdel has spent most of his career photographing celebrities. He is a genius at distilling the harried and complicated lives of celebrities, their handlers, and all of the baggage that fame entails into extraordinarily beautiful portraits that speak of an essence of their human character. His subjects radiate ease at being who they are in the presence of his camera. For decades Gajdel's work has taken us through the gamut: the beautiful and glamorous, the famous, the notorious, the elegant and the fashionable. In recent years he has taken this same alchemical skill and donated his efforts to charities and fundraisers benefiting mental health, homelessness, and child-centred issues. Gajdel has made new work especially for this exhibition. In this series of black and white large-scale Polaroid photographs he has turned the camera inward, reflecting on his own journey and celebrating those who have passed through his life in both body and spirit. The photographs he has made represent the beginnings of an archive of inanimate objects - the objects are specific to those who have borne a spiritual affect and had an effect on Gajdel's life. These objects speak to photographer and viewer alike, they are universally understood in the same way that one does not need to know all of the signs and symbols in 17th century still life paintings to understand that they are paintings about perfection and the eventual demise that is embedded within being human, and being mortal.
- P Elaine Sharpe – June 2008