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Michele Tarailo: Ebb and Flow

September 12, 2008 - November 23, 2008

AWE Gallery

The idea that photography documents reality is nothing new. Despite contrary arguments that photography distorts, enhances and selectively edits the truth, there is usually a clear connection between our world and its photographic reflection. This becomes tricky, however, when the photographer attempts to reveal intangible aspects of existence: how does one, for example, photograph an emotion, a memory or a dream?

Ever since photography was invented in the 1840’s artists have developed strategies to depict the less tangible aspects of existence. And despite photography’s dependence on the real, its physical properties of fluid chemical reactions and transitory reflected light lend themselves to magical manipulation to conjure up the invisible. Smoke and mirrors aside, the new digital technologies only add to the photographer’s bag of tricks.

Interestingly, it has often been women who have initiated the most succesful experiments in representing the elusive realm of dreams, fantasies and spirituality in photography. Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79), a pioneer of dark room manipulation who attached swan wings to girls backs to make them into angels, used saturated daylight, long exposures and soft focus to impart an otherworldly quality to her images.

Victorian angels seem quaint in comparison with the deep and often troubling images conjured up by psychoanalysis in the twentieth century. Mining the depths of subconscious desires and impulses, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) stressed the importance of childhood experiences, sex and the interpretation of dreams in his development of new theories and therapies for mental illness. In contrast, Carl Jung (1875-1961) proposed the idea of a shared “collective unconscious” littered with “archetypes” to explain the way in which whatever we do seems to have parallels in myth, history and literature. Despite their differences, both Freud and Jung suggest a dualism between our complex inner self and our simpler public persona. And it is this elusive identity “behind the mask” that is the subject of Michele Tarailo’s remarkable body of work.

With over seventy photo-based works from 1980 to the present, including collotypes, lithographs, collage, watercolour and video, Ebb and Flow traces Tarailo’s sustained investigation into aspects of human existence that are the most difficult to document photographically. Drawing on her own experience of the world, Tarailo presents us with a profoundly rich and complex interpretation of life as a sum of personal and universal experiences. Often casting herself as the protagonist in narratives that are both general and specific, Tarailo allows her own experiences of the world around us to speak to broader, universal truths about life, love and the transitory nature of existence.


Michele Tarailo: Ebb and Flow

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