Does the lie make it less beautiful?
July 13, 2007 1:17 AM   Subscribe

On the sidelines of a photography exhibition in Singapore, an collective named "A Dose of Light" was preparing to display the final set of 36 photos (flash, slow-loading), taken by "Wu Xiao Kang", a photographer being treated by schizophrenia before he committed suicide at the age of 26 (text of press release). To add to the tragedy, the photographs were now in the possession of a photographic research institute and would not be released till 2010. Maybe, if people signed a petition, the institute might be persuaded to change it's mind? [more inside]
posted by your mildly obsessive average geek (8 comments total)
The reality was much more mundane - Wu Xiao Kang was fictional. The photographs the work of the collective itself. As expected, condemnation in the local newspapers (paywall - read the text here) and online was immediate and vociferous. Not surprisingly, the organizers were not amused and the entire exhibit has since been pulled.

Are the photographs merely ordinary stripped of their tragic background? Does this reiterate that there is no such thing as an objective photograph? Or is it simply a tasteless gimmick?
posted by your mildly obsessive average geek at 1:18 AM on July 13, 2007

Incorporating photographs into a narrative can certainly lend them a poignancy that they might otherwise lack—an example that springs to my mind are the photos that W.G. Sebald incorporated into his novel Austerlitz.

I liked the ‘Wu Xiao Kang’ pictures very much, even in the light of knowing the heavy-handed & ill-judged artifice behind them; I think in this case the pictures were strong enough to stand on their own without the invented back-story.
posted by misteraitch at 2:32 AM on July 13, 2007

I agree with misteraitch. They could have stood on their own without the extra dramatic backstory.

But the collective decided it needed it. It's not so uncommon to fictionalize an artistic piece - but perhaps it would have been better to have been more upfront about it.

or obviously because of what happened when they weren't.
posted by gomichild at 2:42 AM on July 13, 2007

interesting. Reminded me of Calvino's Adventures of a Photographer. (Also: Baudrillard on that story.)
posted by progosk at 3:55 AM on July 13, 2007

But wait a minute...someone was being treated by schizophrenia?
posted by Artaud at 4:13 AM on July 13, 2007

Wow, so they lied to get their stuff shown, conspired to hype it up with a tragic backstory in hopes of it being clamored after by a huge audience, and now are being hit with a nice, tasty backlash? Sounds about right. Shame, I agree that the images have their place without the bullshit. (As for changing the world? How about starting with losing the idea that images like this will change the world?)

As a side note, I am anxiously awaiting the day when photographers adopt, en-masse, another and with any luck way less annoying way to present their photos on the web. I know that it allows them to better control the way their images are presented and blahblahblah but man, it's really just slow and infuriating.

Despite my strident harrumphing, nice post.
posted by nevercalm at 5:38 AM on July 13, 2007

At least to me, the photos weren't spectacular or unique -- texture-heavy photographs, strong composition, great colors.
It seems that a collective describing their title as "4. better than the truth. 10. an intellectual exchange of ideas. a transformation of a visual and social dullsville of art. 11. a destruction of art created for art’s sake." would have faked this backstory because they themselves didn't believe the photographs were of high enough caliber to stand alone. Or more correctly, they created photographs with the exact intention of placing them above 'average' but below 'excellent', and created the backstory as a method of creating a public dialogue about creator vs. audience -- who owns the art?

I'm sure they're all very happy about the media 'backlash'.
posted by suedehead at 7:51 AM on July 13, 2007

gomichild: I guess they were hoping for some kind of "blair witch" style fame - that people would actually appreciate it more for realizing it was fictional.. but "the blair witch" is a pretty hard act to repeat.

Artaud: Oops my bad - I mentally corrected the grammar, but my fingers didn't catch up :)

nevercalm: I completely agree - I actually considered decompiling the flash object to see if I could extract any URLs but then decided against it. It's an incredibly annoying means of presentation, to be honest.

suedehead: Well yes, any publicity is good publicity. But then, 10 years or so down the road, no matter what else they do, this is going to always hang over them - somehow I don't think they will find that very "fun".
posted by your mildly obsessive average geek at 1:07 AM on July 15, 2007

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