Future classics: two important photographs by Anahit Hayrapetyan

Anahit Hayrapetyan. Funeral of Andranik Margaryan. 2007. type C photograph. © Anahit Hayrapetyan

While some of the most remarkable work done in the photographic medium is without a doubt by press photographers (from Robert Capa to Sebastian Salgado and Annie Leibovitz), their place amidst museum collections is not necessarily guaranteed. The primary issue lies in the simple fact that the agenda of the press photographer is documentation and reportage. Few photographers working in the field have the time or the means to articulate more complex ideas that engage with theoretical or formal frameworks, which has increasingly become a pre-requisite for gallery representation. Yet, the documentary photographer is in a way the supreme professional, liable to make choices and decisions on a spot. Their responsibilities – both ethical and moral – are often greater and graver. In the face of much post-modern or post-structural criticism and theory in regards to the photographic image, the documentarian has to preserve a belief in the idea that their work purports to represent some sense of truth. This is a conundrum which can only be resolved with a profound understanding of craft, a clearly articulated individual approach and an awareness of wider discourses surrounding photography.

Recently Lusadaran’s collections were enriched by two type C photographs by one of the most prominent documentary photographers working in Armenia, Anahit Hayrapetyan. Born in 1981 in Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh), Hayrapetyan came to photography after deciding to abandon a career in IT. She was a student of noted photojournalist Ruben Mangasaryan, whose workshops between 2005 and 2008 were an important milestone in the history of the medium in this country, engendering an entire generation of talented practitioners. Hayrapetyan has since gone on to work for www.eurasianet.org, is a participant of numerous international exhibitions and a winner of a number of prestigious awards. Most recently, she was awarded Lusadaran’s first prize for photography for her 2011 image ‘Corridor. Metsamor nuclear station’, which was included in the exhibition ‘Industrial Symphony: photography and the post-industrial age’.

Anahit Hayrapetyan. Chrism blessing, Armenia. 2006-2008. type C photograph. © Anahit Hayrapetyan

The initial influence of Mangasaryan’s painterly vision was apparent in Hayrapetyan’s early portfolios. Her works made between 2006 and 2009 straddled an edge between documentation and almost expressionist experimentation with the image. The two photographs donated by Hayrapetyan to Lusadaran represent the height of this experimental phase in her career, before she turned to a more detached mode of objective photography. While newer works like ‘Corridor…’ (also in Lusadaran’s collection) focus on context and absence, the subject is very much front and centre in photographs such as ‘Funeral of Andranik Margaryan’ 2007 and ‘Chrism blessing’ 2006-08.

In both images the photographer relates the experience and significance of the depicted events by capturing the atmosphere and the mood – a hallmark of her work in general. Hayrapetian displays a mastery of compositional devices which are used adroitly for visual punctuation and as a form textual shorthand. The high angles flatten the space and create tense spatial relationships between the various pictorial elements. A sense of ambiguity and mystery permeates these scenes of religious mysticism and death. Despite their extraordinary expressive power, the photographs remain ambiguous and open-ended. The viewer is compelled to meditate and make their own deductions regarding the intricate network of emotions and ideas which are evoked but never enforced in Hayrapetyan’s photographs (especially in the absence of captions).

This gift will significantly expand our burgeoning collection of contemporary Armenian photography, which remains in part, strongly committed to the best traditions of objective documentation and social relevance.

Glenn Sloggett: ‘A white trash love story’. Review

 

THE POETRY OF JUNK

Sloggett. Even the name has strange phonetic reverences that call to mind associations of the discarded and the refused. Perhaps it’s the roots – slog and get – a process of slow, careful gleaning that throw me into a tangential reverie in front of the works by Melbourne’s photo-poet of the unloved.

Before you think that I have slipped and fell into a psychobubble, let me assure you that the formal rigour and conceptual consistency of Glen Sloggett’s exploration of his urban environment is devoid of the kind of cheap, hard-hitting sentimentality that plagues so much of so-called autobiographical mode of contemporary photography.

Yet, the photographs in his latest show are indeed deeply personal, emotionally felt experiences of the energies contained in material objects and banal everyday situations. If Sloggett’s previous series such as ‘Cheaper and Deeper’, contained a more pronounced critique of alienation inherent in the suburban culture, the works shown as part of the ‘A white trash (lost) love story’ series at the Stills Gallery, Sydney in February are devoid of such sharp, merciless outlook.

The style and format of the photographs is the same as in Sloggett’s earlier works: the images are large (80x80cm), square, printed with an abandunt white border, compositions luck obvious artistry, recalling snapshots, yet exhibit overwhelming detail. Colour is vibrant, almost kitschy in this case hinting at the hidden melodramatic subtext behind much of the imagery. People are conspicuous by their absence. Thus, for the photographer, every element found on the streets becomes a kind of a still-life: an almost dead memento for an event that is about to pass into obscurity.  As the artist himself stated ‘no matter where I go, I always find places and environments that are in the process of falling down…I want to capture the last signs of optimism before inevitable disrepair.’

What is touching about these recent works is the evidence of the lone presence of the artist, made obvious by the intrusive camera flash. The startling harshness of the flash, forcefully singles out ubiquitous elements like a graffiti on a wall or a discarded piece of cardboard, from their everyday context. It is almost as if the photographer wants to exhume the loneliness contained in these unloved things and let the audience find a reflection of their own trashy love story. As such, the series becomes almost cathartic. Indeed, by concentrating on things discarded and refused by society, Sloggett asks us to pause and contemplate on the passage of time, mortality but also the extremely touching pleas for communication and connection (like the scrawl in wet concrete which says ‘U R ALONE’) that we tend to overlook in the rush flow of our daily lives.
The strength of Sloggett’s images lies in the photographer’s ability to retain the presence of these objects and environments, while simultaneously transforming them into metaphors.

Sloggett, who won the prestigious John and Margaret Baker fellowship for an emerging artist in 2001, has been widely exhibited in Australia as well being included in surveys of Australian photography overseas. He is also represented in major museum collections such as the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Despite this relative prominence on the art scene, the photographer continues to work in a factory manufacturing plastic vacuum moldings on the outskirts of suburban Melbourne, remaining vitally connected to the environment that feeds his art.

Glenn Sloggett’s one man show ‘A white trash love story’ was held at the Stills Gallery, Sydney, between February 1-25, 2012.

VG