Senses Of Identity

Alex Webb, Jens Olof Lasthein, Marco Van Duyvendijk, Philip Cheung, David Goldblatt and Mikhael Subotzky

Alex Webb‘s photographs of Turkey have a very rich, intense quality. He often accentuates colours to give a surreal quality to the places he visits. Having first visited Turkey as a teenager, he returned later in life several times over a period of several years. His experiences of a place that was a crossing point not only between east and west, but also between tradition and modernity. His intense colours give many of his images a feeling of something not quite within his grasp, slightly unknowable. Children feature often, helping to give the work a sense of optimism but at the same time a view of the future based very much on the past – a future that is difficult for an outsider to predict. The child’s red shoes and blue track suit counterpoint the worn red wall of the buildings behind; this is the new in front of the old.

Jens Olof Lasthein’s photographs from the Caucasus are often of the people and their daily lives. There seems a lot in common between his images here and those of Josef Koudelka in his ‘Gypsies’ project. There is little here that is posed for the camera; these are photographs taken despite the subjects, not because they wait for the photographer. Like Koudelka these have an atmosphere of the photographer being allowed just enough to show his impression of their world, but he must work to their rhythms. Colour here is much more naturalistic than with Alex Webb, with the result that the photographs are much less impressionistic.

Marco Van DuyvenDijk uses colour to contrast the harshness of traditional life in Mongolia with optimism for youth. Bright but natural colour is emphasised in the clothes – both traditional and modern – of children and young adults. Photographs of mines and miners show much more muted colours, browns, greys and blacks help to emphasise that life is a serious business; bright colours are absent and those that are present are not accentuated at all. His photograph of a falconer in traditional dress together with his bird, and a child behind in a bright red coat shows this seriousness and optimism together in the same image.

Although Philip Cheung is mentioned in the course guide as worthy of investigation, I have not found it easy to see much of his work from his West Bank project. One image occurs frequently, of a group of girls on a fairground ride. Taken at night, the colours of the clothes and the lights from the fairground ride sit in the foreground against a background of a dark and ominous sky. The impression is of a temporary relief from a difficult situation, a moment of relaxation in an otherwise harsh existence.

David Goldblatt adopted a non-judgemental viewpoint in his colour photography. This attitude is one he stuck to over his entire career, mostly in B&W but in colour for later works. He retained a very naturalistic tone in his work; colours are shown as they appeared with no attempt to accentuate. Bright full sunlight gives many images a washed-out quality. Mikhael Subotzky is more inclined to use colour to punctuate his images as a way to emphasise form. Although nowhere near as consciously unnatural in effect as those of Alex Webb, his work does have a surreal quality that is not present in David Goldblatt’s work. Although not exactly the same physical locations, Goldblatt and Subotzky are both depicting life in South Africa but with different intent and results. Goldblatt is much more neutral than Subotzky, with less emphasis on finding deliberate oddities and differentiators.


Alex Webb – A city of a hundred names

Jens Olof Lasthein – Meanwhile across the mountain

Marco Van Duyvendijk – Mongolia

Philip Cheung – The West Bank

David Goldblatt – Intersections

Mikhael Subotzky – Beaufort West

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