When one thinks of photographers with a genius for surrealism, one is apt to succumb to golden-age syndrome and recall giants such as Lee Miller, Jean Cocteau, Man Ray and Méret Oppenheim. They controlled melodies of light and object with the tools of their day, filling the roaring twenties with cello-women and furry teacups. But, as redundant social commentators are apt to profess, we are living in an age of escalated technology – where possibility and potential are racing ahead of art and human creativity. Us moderns are left wondering who will take up the mantle of Man Ray’s bauble tears, and Oppenheim’s twisted shoes. Just such a forerunner who balances modern tools and a knack for strangeness is exhibiting at the Blanchard Gallery, Massachusetts.
‘I am interested in directing the attention of the viewer into interesting textures, fading bodies, and nostalgic reflection’ says Amal Fahem, the twenty-two year old Tunisian born photographer. Her work deeply recalls the dramatic black and white 1920s, with illuminated faces and ambiguous limbs. The pieces she chose for the current show epitomize her knack for the subtle and the surreal alike.
One particularly striking photograph features the looming face of a young woman, though we are not provided with all of it – rather a hand floats above her, shadowing her face with slices of darkness, and the viewer with quiet intrigue. The face is also suspended upside-down, and a small translucent form hovers over her – recalling Man Ray’s ‘Tears’ (1930). The photograph is printed on a luster paper that grants a depth to the pervading darkness of the work. Fahem has arranged the gallery lights – notorious for causing glare on luster paper, such that the only thing shining out her monochromatic worlds are the mysterious subjects.
On the shifting nature of her subjects, Fahem says ‘my work is a response to political events in my country, Tunisia...Thus, my understanding of reality is constantly changing and potentially very subjective.’ The sense of strain and combat is expressed in another of the displayed works, wherein a female figure is posed in a contorted arc. Her hair extends the darkness of her surroundings, while four incongruous arms seem to pull her back into it. Fahem does not fall into the cliché of photography as a series of blandly impudent statements, but rather crafts images that are questions. The works on show dispose of commercial etiquette, with the sly contrast and quiet grace of the artist herself.