Everyday Selves @ Belfast Exposed (review)

October 26 – December 21 2012
Review by Ciara O'Halloran

Self –portraiture and voyeurism share many of the same traits. The photographer has the power to decide what can be seen and what is hidden from the frame. Since the development of the digital camera and the advancements in online technology self-portraiture had exploded as a means of self-representation online. These images create a visual diary of emotions and significant moments in time. Gerry Badger (The Genius of Photography) said that this diaristic mode is one of the most important developments in photography in the 20th century. 

Everyday Selves, Belfast Exposed. Photo by Ciara O'Halloran

Everyday Selves is a contemporary photography show at Belfast Exposed that presents the work of four photographers working within the realm of self-representation. Lorraine Burrell works with self-portraiture, her images are very striking and reflect the chaos and challenges that are encountered in domesticity. Wolfram Hahn and Gabriela Herman have created portraits that represent how people display themselves online. This act of taking solitary images online has increased dramatically over recent years with the development of social networking sites, photo sharing and Internet forums. Lisa Ohlweiler works with self-portraiture too, documenting herself in different domestic settings in obscure and unsettling ways.

Hahn’s images are staged portraits of people in the act of self-portraiture for the purpose of presenting themselves online. The portraits show us what we can’t see from the small crop used that represents them on their online profiles. Some 1 billion people use the social networking giant Facebook alone! If Facebook was a country, it would be 3rd largest in the world, ranking above America. Hahn’s images resonate with me poignantly. The images portray a certain vulnerability and loneliness of these people that we can see from the images but the resulting image taken by the individual often won’t have the same impact online. This act of self-representation of our dual selves online is a new phenomenon. We can live different lives online, never displaying our real truth and identity. Visually, these images are very interesting; full of colour and well composed using strategic lighting to convey to the viewer what is happening.

Crushable, from the series "Bloggers", Gabriela Herman (2011)

Similarly, Herman relies on lighting to carry off her portraits of nighttime bloggers. I found these images very engaging; I was drawn straight in to the image, and to the bloggers face. These images are reflective of how a lot of us spend our time online, usually in the evening. Perhaps, some of you are reading this now in much the same way. Like Hahn, these images show how in reality our dual self lives, alone in solitary and darkness. The images are somewhat voyeuristic; the photographer has invited us in to this private and intimate space but our presence is not felt by the blogger in the image, they are continuing in their online quest without the knowledge of our gaze.

Jack, Wolfram Hahn (2010)

I had the opportunity to listen to Burrell speak about her work in the show at Belfast Exposed. She talked about how she was more interested in the sculptural aspect of her photography, which is evident in her images. She originally trained in sculpture before progressing to experiment with moving image and then to photography. Her photographs demonstrate the surrealism of domestic life. Her images are colourful and playful and one could think that in these photographs she is mimicking a child, we can read humour in these images, but Burrell speaks of a darker side to them and refers to them as a means of escapism.

Everyday Selves, Belfast Exposed. Photo by Ciara O'Halloran

Contrasting these somewhat vibrant and fun images we have Ohlweiler’s disquieting images. Ohlweiler is the only photographer in the show to meet the viewers’ gaze in a quite unsettling image of her lying awkwardly and unnaturally between the floor and the sofa in the living room of house she once lived in. Comparably, Ohlweiler and Burrell’s photographs are a performance rather than a still image. You get the sense that the images belong to something bigger that just the single image on the wall; there is a narrative that can be followed throughout each of the photographer’s series.

Everyday Selves, Belfast Exposed. Photo by Ciara O'Halloran

This show engages with the everyday self, the struggle of domesticity, our online identities and how we cope with the influx of these images. The show has momentarily blurred the boundaries between our physical self and self that is represent online. Each online user that engages with a social networking site is creating a new digital heritage and culture. They follow different codes and rituals than in everyday life and as result have developed an alter ego that is presented online, and not recognized in the physical world. Burrell speaks of the feeling of embarrassment while engaging with self-portraiture and hides her face from the viewer, whereas in the other images it seems that the face alone is the only part of the body they feel comfortable displaying online, saving their bodies for the real world, they don’t need these things for virtual life.

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