Social media and ideas of domesticity are timely themes for the photographers currently featured at Belfast Exposed
Anybody with even a cursory interest in social media has surely seen them – those arm-at-length self-portrait photographs that so litter Facebook and the like.
Be they faux-lomo shots courtesy of loafer-sporting hipsters in the park, or pouting wannabe models in their bedrooms, it is undeniable that social networks, for better or worse, are rife with this type of self-satisfied photograph.
In his contributions to Belfast Exposed’s Everyday Selves current joint exhibition, photographer Wolfram Hahn taps into this cultural zeitgeist. Re-staging such inately self-conscious photographs (see below), Hahn’s works are portraits within portraits, showing the subjects in action as they shoot themselves.
What the viewer sees is therefore a dual reality, with tension existing between the larger-than-life personality that the subject wishes to convey online and the more genuine personality evident off camera making for an interesting juxaposition.
We are faced with cheesy grins, carefully crafted ‘cutesy’ shots with stuffed toys and pouting lips, which are all at odds with the subject's various surroundings – unmade beds, armchairs coming apart at the seams, and peeling posters hanging on walls.
Shopping bags just visible in one piece betray the desired sensuality of the subject – a woman lounging on a sofa in a fishnet top – instead maximising the seedy and contrived elements of her portrait. Elsewhere a posing teen girl caked in makeup might appear to her online friends to be on the cusp of adulthood, yet the typically teenage décor of her bedroom tells a different story.
Gabriela Herman’s two pieces in the exhibition muse on a similar theme, focusing on solitary night-time bloggers. The subjects of these works are photographed in dark rooms, the screens of their laptops providing the only light source.
This, of course, provides a highly powerful and expressionistic chiaroscuro effect. While Herman’s pieces lack variety, their flawless composition and intimate tone make for compelling voyeuristic viewing.
Works by Lisa Ohweiler and Lorraine Burrell are equally compelling. Here the artists have photographed themselves engaged in ordinary domestic rituals and spaces in wierd and wonderful ways.
Ohweiler’s pieces raise questions of sexuality and domesticity, with shots of cabbage leaves stuffed in bras and bird nests shoved down yellowing underwear. Sadly, however, the impact of these pieces doesn’t compare to that of Herman or Hahn’s work, either thematically or technically.
Burrell’s work is similar, with carefully choreographed set pieces captured in a series of surreal works. Injected with a witty sense of humour, Burrell's photographs are intended to represent a critical response to conventional ideas of femininity and family.
In one photograph, Burrell is depicted with the wool of an unravelling pink jumper wrapped around her face, and in another she is scantily clad, buried face first in a pile of washing and bed linen as if tossed there like a javelin. These pieces are gripping and vibrant, paradoxically feeling considered yet spontaneous.
Everyday Selves is a beautifully presented exhibition, the highlight of which is arguably Wolfram Hahn’s stunning work. Deftly exploring the way in which the camera can be used as a two-way mirror, these pieces are also a snapshot of an era in which social media, sense of self and photography have become intimately entwined.
Everyday Selves runs in Belfast Exposed until December 21.