the exhibition earlier in the year, I wanted to speak a bit to the vulnerable process of producing more revealing personal work with no client or editor brief to hide behind. A world away from the usual sign-seal-shoot-deliver schedule of freelance photography and directing, but bottled at the same source.
I was genuinely floored by the number of you who turned out for my exhibition in May. That so many of you would fly interstate and internationally to see my work in the flesh truly blew my mind. Both the exhibition and the photo essay book were knee-jerk reactions to a media landscape tortured by the shifting goalposts of engagement and the shifting boundaries of truth. Just now, in a proposal
document, I laboured the necessity of “a renewed sense of optimism in a disillusioned world, saturated with unstimulating commercial content and impersonal mass media”. I agonised a while in the same vein in my book’s foreword:
“At any age, our introspective search for these criteria becomes distorted by mixed messages of media and opinionated peers. Visual pop culture provokes insecurities in very personal ideals such as beauty and body image, and we shed our identities in order to identify with some arbitrary group defined by appearance or uninformed rage – or perhaps, we succumb to
stereotypes and unrealistic aesthetic demands. Somewhere in the crossfire of perceived perfection, we become trapped in this adopted social skin, shouting silently into the void to nobody in particular about our reluctant acceptance of the skin-deep in favour of character and intelligence and self-expression”.
Last year, my go-to small talk was primarily about distinguishing between what is personal and what is private in an invasive digital universe – to carve out the beneficial function of the web from its frivolities. Now, I’m preaching tactile experiences that incite a clarity that can only come with removing yourself from the deafening chatter of every individual and entity with an opinion, vying for your overcast attention.
That is what I wanted for my exhibition. Being present. Among others, sure – but merely being aware of the collective and its common goal of overcoming that tendency to reach for a distraction when the task at hand is less than smooth sailing. There’s only one photograph in your field of vision. Study it. My curation of my unseen photographic works was not about colourful documentary photos that most have come to associate with my social media accounts.
Not even a commentary on print versus digital. They were frames and installations you could get lost in. They certainly would not have the same effect as one of 100 other digital files on a screen.
“It was actually really conceptual…”. An editor sitting across from me at a press lunch chose her words about my show very deliberately, but delivered them in the same tone as an American might review their first try of vegemite and avocado toast – pleasantly surprised that they didn’t dry retch. (But also, if you don’t like vegemite and avo toast, we can’t be friends). Some of my closest industry friends professed that they hadn’t really known what to expect. The same was said about the book – bemusement at the dense foreword that set a semi-cataclysmic tone for the essays that followed.
Isn’t it funny how deficient a vacuum perception of an individual and/or their body of work can be? As such, I’m often reminded of this phone conversation
I had with Sofia Richie last year to accompany a story we shot for Vogue China.
MZ: Do you feel like you can just be yourself online, though, despite all that grey area with privacy?
SR: Yeah with me, it’s all me. I’m just going to be myself and if that attracts people then that’s what it is, but I’m not going to alter or change myself for what I think people want to see, or try too hard to get more likes or get more followers.
MZ: I appreciate that. So many people our age are just obsessed with this warped goal of becoming “Instagram famous”. I’m so incredulous when someone stops in the street like, “OH MY GOD you’re that Instagram
model, right!?” and you’re like “Are you serious? Are you actually boiling my whole career and work down to a number on an app?.” It’s so offensive.
SR: Oh no no no no – that is so offensive. I would die. I definitely don’t want to be pigeon-holed in that world. Instagram is cool in the sense that it shows people what you’re doing, or what you’re interested in, but at the end of the day you can’t be attached to that. It doesn’t define you. I don’t want that to be who I am.
MZ: Right. Surely your character and skills and capabilities define you.
SR: Uh huh. Instagram started off just as something fun between me and my friends, this is what I’m doing this is what I’m interested in, it attracted people, it brought people in out of curiosity, but it’s not the endgame. Same for you – you post when you want, and it’s authentic.
Strangely, this exchange has has remained a measure of reality. If even in LalaLand, we can have this degree of clarity, perhaps there’s hope yet.