Text by Georgina Wright
The second edition of Liverpool’s international photography festival, Look/13, explores the subject of identity with the central question ‘Who do you think you are?’ The festival’s programme explores the manner by which we construct images of identity, subjectivity and the self. A poignant question particularly for photography, which has been used in multiple ways to investigate the image of the human subject, something which in recent years has permeated quotidian life and accordingly provoked active debate within the field. With venues dispersed throughout the city including The Bluecoat, Walker Art Gallery, Open Eye Gallery, Exhibition Research Centre, Victoria Gallery and Museum, Museum of Liverpool and Wolstenholme Creative Space, each reflects a distinctive interpretation to questions surrounding identity showing both works from emerging contemporary artists and historic archival works.
Firstly, the Bluecoat presents the work of two highly influential photographers August Sander (1876-1964), whose controlled precision creates particularly sensitive portraits producing a comprehensive and evocative documentation of 1920’s and 1930’s Germany and Weegee (1899-1968), whose unambiguous images reflect the stark reality of the American Dream, both of whose conflicting approaches reflect the spirit of the entire Look/13 festival. Also at the Bluecoat is I exist (In Some Way), an exhibition of the work of twelve artists exploring self-image and identity in the contemporary Arab world.
Additionally, Open Eye Gallery shows two distinct aspects on identity. Works by French photographer Charles Fréger demonstrate a somewhat unadorned portrayal of cultural stereotypes concerning history and folklore and consequently interrogate the credibility of the photographic image whilst also exploring the nature of male identity, initiation to adulthood and the sense of belonging. By contrast the elusive work of Eva Stenram reflects the self in relation to the other, highlighting the hostility that remains between the self and the representation of one’s self. Strenram’s manipulated images feature the backdrop as the main feature, once the backdrop falls in front of the model (negating objectification of the body), the viewer becomes distinctly aware of their role as the voyeur.
The Walker Art Gallery hosts three exhibitions, including a major project, produced in collaboration with the BBC, entitled ALIVE: In the Face of Death by renowned photographer Rankin. These works present the glaring reality of mortality in a touching tribute to survivors of terminal illness and near death experiences. Also at the Walker Art Gallery is Double Take byKeith Medley featuring portraits of Merseyside residents from the 1960’s. Each sitter was shot twice in the same glass plate creating an uncanny duo once more questioning self-reflection and representation. Finally Every Man and Woman is a Star, a show by Tom Wood and Martin Parr, completes the Walker’s exhibitions. The collection includes the Merseyside works of both photographers as well as Parr’s little known Irish scenes, and investigates the styles of these influential artists.
Lastly, The Victoria Gallery and Museum presents the brilliant documentary photography of Hong-Kong based artist Kurt Tong in The Queen, The Chairman and I. A project that combines objects from the photographer’s family history as well his own photographs, writings, an installation featuring Super-8 films and a working Chinese tearoom. Although presenting a very personal visual story of his Chinese ancestry to share with his daughters, Kurt Tong’s work is relevant and emotionally applicable to many, questioning individuality, identity and nationality. His muted images create a movie-set of life and evoke a highly emotional response, questioning value and importance. In particular Kurt Tong’s beautiful and thought provoking images depict a collective sense of humanity and as he expressed, emphasizes the notion that we are the “same people under the same sky.”
Look/13: Liverpool International Photography Festival lasts until 15 June 2013.
Georgina Wright is a writer based in Liverpool.