How do we live in the age of intersectional struggle? Contemporary society is made up of deep inequalities and injustices; can art reckon with those? Are we making improvements? The current Summer Open at the Aperture Foundation examines if photography can directly express the issues of our times. Each year, the Aperture Foundation assembles prominent curators and editors who will select the participants of their summer open in their Chelsea Gallery. This year it’s The Way We Live Now and includes the works of: Abdo Shanan, Bubblegum Club, Camila Falcão, Christian Sanna, Davide Monteleone, Diego Camposeco, Gowun Lee, Jillian Freyer, Jonathan Gardenhire, Lili Kobielski, Luther Kanody, Maria Sturm, Matthew Shain, Philip Montgomery, Roei Greenberg, Shikeith, Tyler Mitchell, and Vincent Hung.
Photography is the designated medium to challenge any notion of universal identities. Diego Camposeco, for example, aims to create “reimagined documentary images,” to his Latinex community in his home state of North Carolina. His “Transterrestria” series is about the Latinx people in the American South, which has grown exponentially since his the first wave of undocumented Mexican immigration (of which his parents were part of) migrated to North Carolina in the 90’s. He started his own study of Latinex visual culture in the American South and took a cerebral take on them. In these portraits, we see a young woman named Sabrina who poses against a lush green background while in her thrid trimester of her pregancy. In the other portrait, we see a regular family photo. He stated about it: “Often, Latinx people are denigrated to metonyms for farm workers, maids, or construction labourers in the American South. Their hopes, dreams, and visual culture are left out of those narratives. […]. Providing more Latinx people with the means to document their stories reconfigures the way we view them.” (IG: @dcamposeco)
The incredible Tyler Mitchell will be forever known as the first black photographer to shoot a Vogue cover of the one and only Queen B at only 23 years old this year. His astonishing images expands the boundaries of what masculinity looks like today. After the Parkland School Shooting that happened this February that killed seventeen students and staff members and injuring seventeen others, the photographer writes on his Instagram: “we are still not dealing with the many complexities of masculinity n America correctly. We can’t continue to deny future generations the ability to fully and freely explore what being a man means. And we have to stop perpetuating the standardized strong brute male image. I have a lot of thoughts on the killings that continue to happen in our schools and on black bodies. For me those thoughts are best expressed when I am creating images that I hope slowly shift the paradigm of what a man and specifically what a black man in America looks like.” Sheer tops, flower tops, blowing bubble gum, pensive, pink drapes, a water gun, it doesn’t matter what you do or what you wear, your gender should not limit your options. (IG: @tylerphotos)
South Korean-born, New York-based Gowun Lee‘s powerful pictures reflect on South Koreas’ terrible state of LGBT rights. Marriage or other forms of legal partnership are not available to same-sex partners and according to Wikipedia, the Military Penal Code, considers sexual relations between members of the same sex as “sexual harassment”, and that’s punishable by a maximum of one year in prison. Although there have been some advances due to activism, many queer Koreans have to hide their sexuality or risk being disowned by family or dismissed by employers. Lee’s series I’m Here with You follows LGBT Koreans in public life. She photographs them as they look away for the camera in an everyday setting. Lee explains that it mirrors “how Korean society continues to neglect them.” By showing us these images, we are reminded that LGBT rights are not worldwide available and we need to take action. (IG: gowunlee_)
South-Africa based “cultural intelligence agency” Bubblegum Club creates an “alternative image repertoire to the repetition of colonial views of Africa.” Their online plaform includes artists from many disciplines: photography, fashion, television, music, etc. These very cool photos created by local creative team: Jamal Nxedlana (cofounder), Katelyn Hughes, Yonela Makoba, Orli Meiri, and Mimi Ndebele, Langa Mavuso (musician), and Bee Diamondhead (stylist), Moonchild Sanelly (musician and fashion designer) Moozlie (musician) are telling their story of the youth culture of South Africa. And that story is edgy, colourful, fashion forward and avant-garde. Bubblegum club often draws upon pan-African and diasporan histories and style. As this generation, many the millenials and Generation Z are experiencing the world through images, they can create an alternative image of South-Africa. (IG: @bubblegumclubbb)
It’s no secret that we’re in the midst of an epidemic of violence against trans people. Journalist Paris Lees writes for the Guardian about the shocking and harrowing state of discrimination and violence against trans people. But it often does not end there. In Brazil, more trans women are killed than anywhere else in the world. Yet, Brazil has the highest consumption of trans pornography.
It’s important that genders from the whole spectrum and not only cisgender people are represented when we’re presenting the way we live now. Brazilian artist Camila Falcão portrays “many possible” brazilian women who are transitioning, some with breasts, some without and they all look confidently in the camera. You can find more of her beautiful portraits on her Instagram account: @camifalcao
The US has a mass incarnation problem. Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th, from 2016 sets clearly out its disturbing history (and is available on Netflix). Lili Kobielski adds another issue to this already highly out of control situation. Not only are people sent to jail because they can’t afford a good attorney and take a plea deal instead even if they are innocent, more mentally ill people are sent to jail instead of healthcare facilities. Some of them because they are not insured and jail is the only place to receive medication and treatment. Kobielski visited Chicago’s Cook Country Department of Corrections and portrayed some of the 9000 people awaiting sentencing of which an estimated 35% suffers from mental illness. The artist captures the people and de-dehumanises them in a real way. Inmates are not a grey mass of nonhumans, they are individuals, they are human beings. As the artist has stated: “I imagine I was subconsciously influenced by media representations of incarceration but the reality I experienced was much banaler; people making lunch, taking classes offered by the jail, playing cards and basketball. Every person I spoke with was self-aware, articulate and smart. I was expecting the be afraid, but once I was working there I was comfortable, everyone was very respectful, I didn’t witness any violence, just a lot of people trying to get by in a tough situation.” (IG: lilikobielski)
On a happier note, this exhibition shows that there is more room for underreprented histories. By offering new perspectives and presenting underrepresented histories, these photographs shake suburban normalcy and might shift the paradigm to something more inclusive. All the photographers are capturing culture today and with their digital platform (IG) they cam empower the next generation and raise cultural awareness. What I specifically like about them is that there is no hyperaffirmation of how bad things are, how identites are perceived, or anything else that is excessive. The photographers capture this culture as it is, the poses are natural, it’s all part of the way we live. There are many other artists very much worth checking out, so if you have the change to visit this exhibition: so GO GO GO GO if you have a chance.