May 31: Clones and chimerae; an artificial world is exposed to the artificial eye of the camera in two exhibitions.
Fotografiska gallery, Stadsgårdshamnen 22, S-116 45 Stockholm, Sweden is showing Akseli Valmunen‘s The Same New Pet opening today and continuing until 27 August, while Stefano Cerio launches Night Games with a preview of the show tonight at CAMERA: Centro Italiano per la Fotografia at Via delle Rosine 18, 10123 Torino, until 30th July.
Valmunen‘s The Same New Pet documents the cloning procedures at Sooam Biotech in Gyeongin-ro, Seoul, South Korea. This is a place where pet owners pay $US100,000 to have their dearly departed pet cloned so that, though “it’s not the same one,” as one pet owner explained, “I can think that it is.”
This is an emotional topic which touches on human hubris; intervening in breeding not just by selection, but through genetic engineering.
It is this artifice that Valmunen’s photographs emphasise; their square framing and even exposure, seen in this shots of a corridor and animal pens strikes the viewer as being objective, but the fleshly pink of the hallway walls and the sad face of the dog both inject an emotional note.
The shot of the dog pens is cross-lit by two flash units that project the shadows of numerals onto the clean white tiles, and balances the exposure so that above the central division we can see outside into a world in which the nets of Dongdo Golf Club, itself an artificial phenomenon, tower into the sky.
The series continues this sparseness through shots of an operation to insert foetuses into a host and of the lab technicians at work.
Even though the images are unaccompanied by any explanatory text, Valmunen manages to convey more abstract detail such as the size of the laboratory by showing the number of employees at lunch in the canteen, or the clinical nature of the process by recording the screen of a microscope monitor as an egg is fertilised, or a blue-gowned technician operating a machine that could be taken for an elaborate (biological) photocopier.
The idea of the clone is nuanced in images like this one of the South Korean locale of the facility, amongst bleakly identical high-rise buildings in a completely concrete, impersonal landscape.
This neutrality of approach is applied to the animals themselves too, though the photographer cannot avoid the emotional effect which if anything is enhanced by the clinically and coldness of the surroundings.
Ultimately the visceral impact of piles of foetuses and the uncanny identically of the clones themselves achieves a consciousness-raising where any amount of editorialising about the subject has failed.
Valmunen accounts for his ability to communicate effectively in images;
I have always loved to tell stories but because of my dyslexia it has been difficult – until I discovered photography…
…and goes on to candidly confess in an interview with Leandro Correa and Melanie Lindgren of Finnish independent subcultural magazine Tadah, that,
I could not manage normal high school so…I went to vocational school instead. My career as a photographer did not start there, though… It was my girlfriend who ended up pushing me, telling me that I was good and suggesting I pursue photography as a profession, [to] apply to Lahti University of Applied Sciences…that was the real start to my career.
Akseli Valmunen (*1988, Finland) recently graduated with an MFA in Photography from Aalto University and works at Finland’s most influential Finnish-language newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat which is read by approximately 75% of the households of the Greater Helsinki region. Selected as the Challenger of the Year by Finnish Photojournalism in 2015 and 2016, this exhibition at Fotografiska recognises Valmunen’s winning the Young Nordic Photographer of the Year (YNP) that includes also 10,000 euros and time with a personally selected artistic mentor, painter Juri Markkula, based on the Island of Gotland.
His other subjects have included hyper-somatic people who have allergic responses to all kinds of high radiation from Wi-Fi, mobile phones and telecom towers.
His approach to undertaking his projects is informed by an emotional commitment;
I think if you want to be a documentary photographer, your personality is the key to every project. You have to be kind and you have to be someone people can trust in order for them to let you enter their homes, enter their private lives. I try to be a kind person – I believe good photos will come through that.
Stefano Cerio (*1962, Italy) deals with exceptional instances of the constructed environment such as cruise ships and entertainment parks. Beginning his career as a contributing photographer for the Italian weekly L’Espresso his passion for explorative photography has seen him expand his practice beyond journalistic photography. He uses a large format camera and documents normally crowded places devoid of people; Chinese resorts in the off-season, for example, or aqua parks in the snow.
Like Valmunen, Cerio shoots for apparent objectivity, though his imagery is deadpan; an ironic take on a subject that he has sought out knowing he will find impressions quite at odds with conventional expectations of the subject.
The new series which opens at CAMERA continues the theme of deserted recreational locations: Aqua Park (2010), Night Ski (2012) and Chinese Fun (2015). In this case they are playgrounds and funfairs, their evacuated state the result of a simple strategy; Cerio photographs them at night.
That lends them an extra frisson, even a nightmarish quality unexpected from places we associate with carefree fun and excitement.
The cartoonish jetliner in a kids’ park unavoidably assumes our association of it with an emergency landing, while this alice-in-wonderland timepiece at the centre of a maze becomes a symbol of a crazy rat-race.
These nocturnes perhaps just make some already quite bizarre sights still more so…
…but when it comes to a scenario like the following, in which darkness throws out any sense of normal scale, we are confronted with something like “the end of civilisation as we know it.”
Cerio certainly owes a large part of the impact of his imagery to his subject matter, certainly, but he ability to remove its purpose for being, the visitors to these meccas of fun, entirely from the picture is where his talent lies, along with an arch sense of humour and irony that prompts further mediation on the synthetic nature of our environment.