“The Other Body”

Photographic Resource Center, Boston University

In the text that accompanies his work The Bridge, 1984, Victor Burgin writes, “In everyday language it is common to find the word ‘bridge’ used to metaphorically express such otherwise abstract notions as ‘exchange’ between two parties and ‘transition’ from one state to another.” The works in this exhibition, “The Other Body: Cultural Debate in Contemporary British Photography,” organized by guest curator Tim Norris, repeatedly call to mind these notions of transition and exchange in the ways that they construct bridges of signification between and within images.

Almost all of the pieces in the show are, in a sense, hypersymbolic. The multiplicity of codes and references are not just outgrowths of carefully chosen images: they exist on the same plane. Together, both subject and referent form the text within which one can examine the presence of the Other. In this sense, the Other refers to both the practice and subject of photographic representation.

Burgin’s piece continues his investigation into psychoanalytic concepts of desire and pictorial representation. Jo Spence’s photographs of her collaborator, David Roberts, posing as her father—“Things My Father Never Taught Me,” 1987—explore issues of autobiography as well as the complicity between photographer and subject. Both John Hilliard and Mitra Tabrizian examine the absence of conventional narrative continuity, what Norris refers to in his catalogue essay as “what cannot be brought to speech, what cannot be finitely represented.” Each artist uses written text as an integral element of the photographic sequence. Throughout the works in the exhibition, the relationship between what is said and what is shown is crucial to our perception of the Other. The Other that we see here is multifaceted, presented in terms of gender, genre, narrative, and the photographic apparatus itself—areas that are rigorously coded and thus ripe for deconstruction.

Tabrizian’s work most clearly illustrates these areas of investigation. Her series “The Blues,” 1986–87, done in collaboration with Andy Golding, consists of three triptychs of color photographs with brief incorporated texts. Meant to be read sequentially, these phototexts hint at a narrative progression, but a reduced one in which narrative connections have been elided, their function taken over by stylistic determinants such as composition, color, coincidence of text and image, etc. In her series “Correct Distance,” 1984–86, sequentiality in the construction of narrative operates more explicitly. The piece is a series of four triptychs, with small text panels flanking the images on the left and right. One triptych shows an image of a man on the left, that of a woman on the right, and in the center the two of them together, their faces very close. The text consists of descriptions of their mutual desire: “He felt . . . ” “She felt . . . ” The way that Tabrizian fashions the images—like film stills, with an emphasis on artificial lighting, gestures, and compositions—combines with the text to disrupt our reading of the scenes staged in these photographs. Exploring the concept of the Other through a strategy that calls into question stereotypical sexual and racial differences, she offers a cogent analysis of how women have been portrayed as subjects and how photographic practice has been instrumental in constructing that position. Tabrizian, like the other three artists, implements the notions of exchange and transition in ways that actively engage the viewer. In so doing, they all encourage anyone who sees their work to reevaluate the references with which he or she approaches it and to arrive at fresh responses.

Michael Tarantino