Hidden Sea, Hidden Land – Photomonitor Review

Earlier this year, twenty percent of the images submitted to World Press Photo were disqualified on the grounds that they had been manipulated. Just this month, an Instagram account purporting to document the treacherous journey of a young, Senegalese migrant turned out to be a marketing campaign. Needless to say the status of the photograph as a document, as evidence of “what-has-been”, is being called into question once again. However, if we can no longer rely solely on our vision as a means of obtaining information, the question whether one image contains more of the “truth” than another seems futile. What we need to start asking ourselves is how we come to define our notion(s) of the truth in the first place and, perhaps more importantly, whether it may be found in what is not there, in what we cannot see. By taking a conceptual approach to documentary photography, three recent graduates from the MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography course at London College of Communication challenge what we commonly associate with traditional reportage: the work in Hidden Sea, Hidden Land uncovers social issues by way of the unseen, and the latent.

Image by Nina Gusway

YOLK @ Nina Gusway

Yolk, a series of images by London based visual artist Nina Gusway, takes as its subject cultural anxieties about outsiders and where these might originate. In her investigation into how these feelings are transmitted, how attitudes towards the “Other” are passed on through generations, the artist photographs public play areas. Both Playground, which depicts a red slide and play system in a lush public park and Play Space, shot in a predominantly yellow, indoor play area, are highly saturated images; here, the primary colors commonly associated with children’s toys, particularly with learning, have an aggressive quality. Devoid of any human presence these spaces, in which children acquire their social skills, are rendered sinister. Indeed, Gusway observes that in these areas of learning, intent—be it a parent’s or an architect’s—is inescapable; truth, throughout her project, is presented as predetermined, and multiple.

Image by Thorsten Stobbe - Hidden Sea, Hidden Land at The Silverprint Gallery

TRANSMITTING IN THE BLIND © Thorsten Stobbe

Thorsten Stobbe’s series Transmitting in the blind, which examines an unsolved plane crash off the coast of Italy, seeks to reconstruct the event by combining “visual clues” which, in turn, give rise to (an) alternative truth(s). The artist’s quiet, disconcerting images explore the lengthy investigation that followed the crash, for which the Italian government never provided an official explanation. While images such as DC-9, which offers a partial view of reconstructed wreckage and Miniature, a photograph of a model airplane point to an official, strategic investigation, others suggest the withholding of information by government officials. Particularly Stobbe’s photograph of several empty, uniform chairs—the type used in schools, for seminars etc.—implies a lack of clarification; literally no one is being informed. The sense of loss felt by those closest to the victims is illustrated most poignantly in Pasquale, which depicts an elderly man with his back to the camera, looking out onto the open sea in which he himself is standing. His partially soaked shorts signal both a desperate need to be with those he lost, and a sense of complete helplessness.

Image by Senen Germade - Hidden Sea Hidden Land - The Silverprint Gallery

HABELAS HAINAS © Senen Germade

Finally, Senén Germade’s project Habelas Hainas explores how fiction becomes inextricable from the truth, more specifically how legends, myths and folktales contribute to the culture and, by implication, the history of a people. Germade’s rather fantastical series seamlessly blends what is real and what is imagined; every image challenges our notion of the truth and photography’s claim to it. As we lose ourselves in an image of an abandoned castle (or fort?), overgrown by moss, we cannot help but wonder: are we looking at an actual, historic ruin or a manmade film set? Where does the truth reside in a portrait of a young couple dressed in leathers and furs, their faces smeared with red clay? Particularly Germade’s cigarrón, whose uncanny mask stares back at us from inside a dense forest, sends us into a dream like state; whether we can distinguish what is real from what is imagined is suddenly no longer relevant. While the type of knowledge, or “truth” conveyed in these images cannot be found in a history book, we leave with a true sense of this unfamiliar place.

One question that remains is whether the photographs in Hidden Sea, Hidden Land would have the same effect without the accompanying wall texts. Would these images be quite as powerful? To what extent does the presence or absence of a caption determine a photograph’s status as a legitimate document? Finally, how political can a fine art photograph without a caption ultimately be?

Text by Lisa Stein
Published by Photomonitor