Archive for the ‘Magnum Photography’ tag
Olivia Arthur’s photobook Jeddah Diary is a fascinating insight into the role of women in Saudi society. Photographed over a period of two years, Arthur reveals aspects of this culture which usually remain hidden from the West and indeed within Saudi Arabia as well. In that regard, the first image immediately sets the tone for the rest of the book. It shows a huge wall built next to a swimming pool of a private property. In the accompanying text Arthur writes: ‘The first thing I saw in Saudi were the big empty roads and houses with impossibly high walls. Everything seemed to be happening somewhere else, out of sight, behind closed doors.’ In the book Arthur thus metaphorically climbed behind this wall to depict lives that would otherwise remain out of sight.
In the first instance, Arthur photographs women, sometimes by themselves, sometimes in a group with other women who mostly wear variations of the abaya, the black cloth that covers the body, and the hijab which covers the face. In these photographs, their individuality is signified by various fashion accessories that are visible: sunglasses, handbags, or perhaps the shoes. The marginalized role of women is dramatically symbolized in a photograph that shows the packaging of an inflatable swimming pool. The package design, aimed at a Western market, depicts a white middle class couple happily playing with their children. Yet on the shelf of a Saudi store, the woman (bikini-clad one must assume) has been painted over with thick black paint. The recent scandal in which all women featured in an Ikea catalogue were digitally erased is part of this complex discourse.
Beneath the veneer of strict laws that seek to socially and physically separate men and women, Arthur equally represents a culture that creatively adapts to these laws. As the accompanying text explains, one photograph shows the digits of a phone number flashing in the window of a car. Whenever the male driver passes a car driven by a woman, the digits light up, encouraging total strangers to call the number and meet up. Behind the tall walls of private properties, Arthur is thus witness to parties and social gatherings were women wear Western-style clothes for a night out, dance and socialize with their friends from both genders. The colourful lights from a disco ball and the bare legs of a woman dancing stand in complete contrast to the mythical conception that these things do not exist in this culture.
Arthur’s role as photographer becomes that of an agent: switching between a medium format and a small format camera (depending on the accessibility of the subject), she frequents exclusive parties, girls’ bedrooms, social gatherings or private beaches. Inasmuch as Arthur reveals elements that would otherwise remain hidden, she is extremely careful in protecting people’s identities. While photographing sometimes-spontaneous reactions and perhaps revealing a little too much of a subject’s face, a number of photographs are actually re-photographed at a slight angle.
Similar to Jorma Puranen’s series Shadows and Reflections, the light reflecting on the surface of the re-photographed print neatly disguises the female subject’s face. Yet here the subjects are not hidden or metaphorically painted over, but rather, their physical presence and their individualistic identify constitute the very subject of the photograph. III Originally published on photomonitor.co.uk.
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Alessandra Sanguinetti’s photographs, recently on display in the London print room of the esteemed photography agency Magnum, seek to capture the elusive process commonly referred to as ‘coming of age’. The first six photographs in the exhibition are from a series called ‘Sweet Expectations’ in which Sanguinetti photographed young children in diverse locations including Brooklyn, Mexico City and Buenos Aires. The representation of the Americas is related to Sanguinetti’s own upbringing – born in New York though mainly brought up in Argentina. The children standing in front of Sanguinetti’s camera thus trace the photographer’s cross-cultural background split in-between the Northern and Southern hemispheres.
Although Sanguinetti’s subjects are young children, the small black and white photographs equally tell a story about a photographer in search of her own childhood. Perhaps as a result of this quasi self-representation, in ‘Sweet Expectations’ the children are depicted like adults. Photographed from an empathetically low vantage point, Sanguinetti’s young subjects turn into icons. In ‘Child, Mexico, 1993′ for instance, a boy is wearing a suit, his clothing and the classical architecture in the background to the photograph stand in contrast to his young age. The boy’s gaze beyond the frame of the photograph alludes to his aspirations, his desires, or as the title of the series suggests, his expectations for the future. Despite the hopefulness of the image, the boy’s hands, partially clenched into fists, perhaps suggests that his life journey is fraught with difficulties. Nearly two decades after the image was taken, one cannot help but wonder what happened to this boy (and all the other children) Sanguinetti has photographed.
Sanguinetti’s characteristically low and empathic vantage point is also discernable in a more recent body of work in which she photographed a small farming community in Argentina. The project focuses on two girls, Guille and Belinda, who Sanguinetti intermittently photographed since 1998, as they grow into young women. The original title of the series ‘On the Sixth Day’ is a reference to the Book of Genesis which proclaims that on the sixth day of creation “God commands the land to bring forth living creatures”. In this series, Sanguinetti’s photographs seek to capture the relationship between man and the animal world. Although Sanguinetti emphasizes a harmonious relationship with humans and fauna, the photographs also depict an environment that is deeply affected by a harsh climate, remoteness and poverty. Sanguinetti finds beauty in this sphere though it is the bleakness of a socially and economically impoverished environment that prevails.
Even though the majority of the exhibition focuses on Guille’s and Belinda’s surroundings in the remote farmlands of Argentina, paradoxically, the photographs reveal very little about Guille and Belinda themselves. As a result of this conceptual and narrative ambiguity, not only does the community photographed by Sanguinetti appear isolated, the various subjects within this community also appear isolated from each other. The photographs tell a story about a lonely and harsh world punctuated by the presence of the photographer. Representations of major landmarks in Guille’s and Belinda’s lives (such as a birthday signified by a cake) become lost in the grand, sometimes beautiful yet also equally surreal representation of their surroundings.
Alessandra Sanguinetti: The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and the Enigmatic Meaning of their Dreams is available as a book. Other recommendations can be found in our online bookshop.