21 | look for it.

My last post which took great inspiration from the late John Berger was the first stepping stone into looking at observational work.

Be it the selfie, portraiture, or even truisms, there is something to be said how a view on a object can render it completely vulnerable. It can be done with a smile, a laugh or even silence and is ultimately held in the space between the observer and the observed.

Observations in short, deal with the balance of power; who’s opinion, exclamation or involvement takes precedent. Furthermore, once you have established who holds the most weight, how do you deal or negotiate its importance? This line of thinking is what makes critical theory and critical work frustratingly intriguing.

A while back I talked about my interest in afro-minimalism and why my interests were rooted in arguably narcissistic values. There is nothing wrong in wanting to see yourself represented, be on the grounds of race, gender, sexuality or religious belief. It’s through these representations that we are able to make sense of ourselves and in turn give back our ideas, our time and imagination.

Theatre has taught me much about observation. An actor can be viewed as an interpreter, creating or divising potential outlooks for a singular word, sound or movement. The actor does so to generate a response, but one that distinguishes them from the character at hand.

As much as I’ve enjoyed acting and respect the craft dearly, I think my interest is due in part to a sub-conscious fear of having to represent myself. In a play, for example, you are protected by a script, lighting and costume. Beneath it all is you the actor, but your world is cushioned by the cloak of ‘performance’. Take the actor out of a performance space and they are left to face their own reality. I cannot be the only one who detests questions that ask you to explain who you are in less than 180 characters, worse still, in an audition or job interview- why should we pick you?

Those questions are a testament to your ability to act as your own defence lawyer. You have to make a case as to why you in all your splendor and downfalls are not only interesting, but why your observations about yourself are far more intriguing than somebody else’s self-evaluation. Like Dorian Gray, it prompts you to come face-to-face with your past and what that says about your future.

As scared as I am, I think it’s important to come to terms with how you view yourself. Observations in art, media and consumerism are perhaps stronger than ever. Tony Gum, Christine Sun Kim, Isaiah Lopez and David Uzochukwu are shining examples of what being open in your opinion and sight can do. Photography distills a single moment and marks a specific place, a specific time and a specific outlook and these artists have taken speech, colour and sound to make critical observations of their own personal environment.

The photos above were taken a while back as part of a friend’s shoot. Off the cuff he asked me to take part in his One in 7 Billion series – celebrating young international students. Siavash, who is now based in Amsterdam, curated an incredible catalogue in which the subject had to come face-to-face with their own vulnerability. The set up was perfectly curated to direct your focus on the subject.

To be a subject means to hand over yourself to someone else’s vision. You give them something to see, something to read into or interpret and they in return give you their understanding. How you interpret their interpretation is what fuels a fundamental dialogue about ‘being’, living and creating. Observation and addressing observation will undoubtedly be a great facet within contemporary art, leaving me with only the sad irony that I have chosen to publish what I believe to be the best or at least the most flattering representations of Siavash’s observations.

To see more of Siavash Manesh, check out his website and instagram.




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