Text by Abi Mitchell
Simplicity and symmetry, the uniform frames of the eight photographic prints on show offer a peaceful resolution to a subject hard to fully appreciate emotionally, as the Last Seen series by photographer Jason Hynes describes the locations of eight missing people, capturing an absence of life within each frame.
The photographs offer a distorted, diffused reflection of life and the loss of it, each image containing empty landscapes with no signs of life anywhere, a haunting reminder of the life that has literally been lost. Last Seen is a collection of sad histories, photographic portraits of the places missing people were last seen, questioning our relationship to public space and personal encounter.
The subject matter is dealt with in a distant, un-voyeuristic manner, which is surprising given how we interpret news and consume imagery. Grey, misty skies and streets; all the photographs appear to have been taken on the same day, though actually taken years apart. This simple unifying factor gives an insight into the dedication and honesty in the artist’s work on the project, wanting each image to belong so they create strength and a place together.
Deserted streets and muted colours allow the photographs a sense of melancholy without creating a falsified version of this, it comes across with a natural awareness and brings real sentiment into the work.
Last Seen nestles quietly among the bookshelves and tables of Village Bookstore & Gallery, the ‘& Gallery’ seemingly playing an important part of the ethos and engineering of the shop. The atmosphere within was relaxed and peaceful, almost emitting a sense of respect for the works it was housing. Yet, alive with people and daily activity the shop had an energy about it, which broke as if a wave at the frame edge; this energy emphasised the calm emptiness of the image encased within. The surrounding walls and surfaces were kept fairly simple, uncluttered, seemingly so as not to detract from the hanging works.
Village itself contains a lot of photography books, magazines and ‘zines, but the exhibition didn’t feel like a token object within the space, it felt considered and appreciated, strong enough to hold its own in an unconventional gallery space. Being surrounded by books and magazines relating to all aspects of photography and contemporary art, Last Seen can find its place and become part of a wider debate on current contemporary and traditional photography.
A small publication accompanying the exhibition summed up the feeling of the show, dedicated to the missing people’s families, and with proceeds going to the Missing People charity, Last Seen is a poignant and fair exhibition, and overall project, which doesn’t seek to take advantage but portray a story and bring attention to those in need. Social documentary has a long-standing tradition and is an important part of critical art, as it allows an indirect engagement with often difficult subjects in a way that means we can begin to assimilate and understand them, which Last Seen has achieved.
Abi Mitchell is a writer based in West Yorkshire.