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籠牢的疆界:C. Fausto Cabrera & Alec Soth 《The Parameters of Our Cage》

籠牢的疆界:C. Fausto Cabrera & Alec Soth 《The Parameters of Our Cage》

作為創作人,我會享受跟與攝影沒有太多羈絆的朋友去交流,因為對一個一輩子可能被圖像思考支配著的人,他們往往能提供一些被自己忽視的去體察世情的視角。

美國紀實攝影師 Alec Soth 某天收到一位名為 Chris Fausto Cabrera 的在囚人仕的來信,冒昧邀約進行書信交往,我想 Soth 大概是本著這種心態去面對,但結果大出乎自己意料之外。兩人九個月來的通信,發展出一段意想不到的友誼,最後結集成這本《The Parameters of Our Cage》小小的對談錄。 

同為明尼阿波里市的居民,兩人背景南轅北轍。Soth 生於一個律師家庭,坦言不曾愁過衣食,沒有認識過的人曾坐過牢,是典型優越白人階層;另一邊廂是一個帶著淺黑皮膚的古巴裔人,年少時因一時衝動犯下了一級謀殺罪,已經坐了17年牢的在囚人仕,這種社會階層的差異令到這本書超脫了一般的交流,他們這九個月來的書信,其實就是間接為美國的國本把脈。

在獄中 Cabrera 參加了一個藝術工作坊,更迷上了寫作,他在這些書信中生動的描述其在囚生活,叫人印像深刻,充滿自省,心思慎密又不乏細膩觸覺,實在很難想像出自一名曾經鎗殺警察的囚犯的手筆。他們在通信中無所不談:各自的過去,談到公義,談到上年火紅的「Black Lives Matter」社會運動,談到肆虐的瘟疫,或一直影響著兩人的文藝創作,內容深邃又真誠。作為攝影師 Soth 會分享他的創作心路歷程,在這些年間的創作所碰上的人和事,而 

Cabrera 會談到他以前相對其他藝術媒介,也是會輕視攝影,只會看重自己私人和家庭照片的價值,他後來在無人空景的照片裡感受到觀者的那份孤寂,認識到攝影的力量。這種力量還可以轉化成彰顯權力的手段,在監獄裡也可以透過控制照片流通來達成,例如在香港,每個月能提供給在囚人仕的照片只限於二十張。(這等冷知識做夢也沒想過我是應該知道的。) 

當然並不是所有話題都是來得這麼沉重,例如談到兩人只能帶八張照片到一個荒島,會帶些什麼照片,Cabrera 提到想帶一張他鍾愛的女歌手 Demi Lovato 的家居照片,一張純是想像又不存在的照片,Soth 就邀請他 Instagram 的 followers 去為此進行一次創作召集,去想像一下 Lovato 的臥室會是一副什麼模樣;另一張荒島照片,Cabrera 想到的是在撫養他成人的叔叔嬸嬸的農場裡,跟他們享受著明媚的陽光的情景,最後是由 Soth 親手操刀達成,就是書中附送的那兩張明信片,非常窩心。⁣

讀到關於 Cabrera 對其牢獄制度的批判,覺得浪費資源而無助更生,不難叫人想起福柯的監獄制度理念,我們的人生一樣無不受到透過由監督(如社會規範的約制),有規範化的裁決(如孩子偷糖吃會被打手板),和檢測考察(考試昇職)這三種體現監獄制度,其實是是現代社會權力架構的操作。

嚴格來說他們的對談沒有刻意指向攝影藝術方面,或者攝影從來不是這次對談的主軸,但更重要的是把攝影又或是藝術討論回歸到人性層面:攝影是我們感知外在和內在世界的中介,Soth 為 Cabrera 找來他以往的家庭快照,所引起的思潮起伏,和洋溢在書中的救贖和憐憫精神,實在叫人動容,Soth 在書中後話坦言,Cabrera 的思想是為他導航的北極星,如果沒有跟他這份交往,很難想像自己怎樣在如此世道上捱過這一年。

這本書的書名其實引述 Cabrera 書信中的一段說話,當兩人提及當地因疫情嚴峻而要封城的新聞時,Cabrera 語意暖昧地回應:「所有人最終都要面對自己籠牢的疆界,當到達這些鐵窗的時候,我們的所為都有助斷定我們的人格。」 (’...we all confront the parameters of our cage eventually. What we do when we reach those bars helps define us.’) 對香港人而言,聽來相信不無感觸,尤其是當大家正面對著一個個無形的籠牢,更可怕的是這些籠牢沒有疆界可言。

 

DS

 

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延伸閱讀:夢是紅色還是藍色的? — 從Alec Soth的攝影看當下的美國

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Paul Graham - The Whiteness of the Whale

Paul Graham - The Whiteness of the Whale

It may not be very appropriating to call myself a fan of Paul Graham’s work since every time I see it questions arise. What does it mean? Why is it represented this way? Graham’s works are not always love at first sight but are definitely thought provoking. They keep drawing me back again and again. Especially as a documentary photographer, I always try to break the mold of narrative cliché in my work; Graham’s work can provide some hints on how I should move forward. Sometimes we may try hard to construct eloquence in the arena of straight photography. But for me Graham deconstructs it and goes back to focus on how each photographs can do its own job.

This photobook consists of Graham’s three seminal works about contemporary America: American Night, A Shimmer of Possibility and The Present. Graham’s works are somewhat traditional as he targeted pretty much the same subject matter, like race or poverty, that Walker Evans and Lewis Hine did in the past. His working methodology is much like his predecessors Joel Sternfeld or Robert Frank. But what makes Graham special is his restraint in aesthetic or emotional elements in the images. Sometimes we may find Graham’s works distant, even detached, since he never invites emotional engagement from the audience. But this feeling of detachment or alienation may be a representation of the embodiment of America, also providing the audience a unique psychological space to read his photographs.

Graham shows his ambitious efforts in this trilogy but the approaches are not complicated, he simply carefully reconstructs the narratives after breaking them down. In American Night, he uses polarity. Overexposed, washed out images of black people in their neighborhoods are contrasted with bright, saturated colors in photographs of nicely built houses and cars. In A Shimmer of Possibility, he uses images of random moments of life, juxtaposed in a way like Japanese Haiku. The Present, which is about the streets of New York, is presented with paired images of the same scene separated by a very short moment. The tradition of street photography or decisive moment is no longer echoed here. These reconstructive approaches are fresh for the audience since they are rarely utilized in a strong, even traditional, documentary context like this. While Graham blurs the boundary of documentary and fine art photography, he also tries to re-examine the whole documentary tradition.

Graham’s works are always inspired by fictions. The title of the book, The Whiteness of the Whale, is from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. A Shimmer of Possibility was inspired by Anton Chekhov’s short stories and I think this can sum up the style of the whole trilogy. Just like Chekhov’s fictions, the presence of a stream of consciousness is very strong in Graham’s works. He makes use of fragments of everyday life — not the pursuit of twists and turns of the plot or any dramatic situations, but the clever details that illustrate the possible subtext of life. And in the end the book is filled with subtlety and ambiguity to be savored, which will keep drawing me back again and again.

DS

(Originally written for photoeye.com)

https://store.thesaltyard.hk/products/the-whiteness-of-the-whale

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