Article by Andrea Ongaro in Berlin; Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013
If there is a dominant mode in photography nowadays, it is perhaps documentary photography. Even though it might sound obvious, a photograph is potentially always a document, but its reality should not be taken for granted. Until the 1970s, photojournalism was the primary mode of documentary photography. In the last decades, we have become more sceptical of photographs, knowing them to be as deceptive as they are revealing, and yet it is still the artistic medium that confronts reality most directly. Nowadays the production of photographs has gained many new elements, scattered through the web and social media, they document a reality that is multifaceted and fragmented. Questions around objectivity have been replaced by ones around authenticity. Photography is no longer based on providing evidence, it is a subtle work of shifting meanings, techniques and content.
Tobias Zielony inserts himself into this game of shifting and presents a body of work collected over more than ten years. This will be his first solo show in Berlin, at the Berlinische Galerie. The exhibition gathers two series, Trona from 2008, and his current project Jenny Jenny. Zielony draws his themes from the fringes of society, where the illusions around our modern way of living are completely falling apart, especially for young people.
This regard Zielony has for marginal settings, is reflected in the way he uses light. In the series Jenny Jenny he always uses natural light and the framework of his photos is always darkness. Thus the detail and quality of the image becomes noisy, creating an amateurish aesthetic. This is not because of a lack of skill, the composition and the way he builds the image reflect a perfect control of the medium. The outcome, in between imperfection and precision, confer to the images a sense of authenticity and intimacy, but at the same time one of detached observation.
In Shoulder we find all of this. A girl lying on the bed is caught in a quiet moment, she stares at the ceiling apparently dreaming with opened eyes. The use of natural light in a dark room doesn’t allow for a high level of definition and creates dominantly red tones. The bare wall behind and the nudity of the girl suggest everything but an overly romantic scene. The method adopted by Zielony is a kind of participant observation, originally used in the social sciences. This approach is evident in Light Box where a characteristic use of the natural light is married with the observation of a very normal life scene. The picture is deceptively simple, it looks casual, but is the product of a considered approach to documentation.
In the series Trona, the atmosphere is very different. Trona is a community in the desert near to Los Angeles, a typical impoverished former industrial town, a place where many residents have turned to crystal meth in order to numb their senses. The photographer depicts the life of young people there and investigates what happens when social and institutional structures fail. The series takes the form of almost anthropological research, and yet does not fail to be empathetic.
The way the people present themselves, the empathy, the closeness and at the same time the estrangement makes this exhibition an involving journey in fringe realities that exist. Zielony sheds a light on outsiders without making them heroes, just reminding us of their presence and therefore their humanity.
“Jenny Jenny” – TOBIAS ZIELONY
Exhibition: Jun. 21 – Sep. 30, 2013
Alte Jakobstrasse 124-128 (click here for map)