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WithReview - With
by Ken Ohara
Twin Palms, 2006
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Oct 31st 2006 (Volume 10, Issue 44)

Ken Ohara's black and white portraits in With are exposed for an hour.  So, especially for the  indoor photographs, the background is clear and well defined, but the people are blurred.  They stand still for the hour, but inevitably they move a little.  Under each image is the time period during which the photograph was taken -- for example, "12:28pm - 01:28pm." The project was executed in the late 1990s.  The images recall early photographs that demanded long exposures.  The subjects appear ghostly, as if they are not quite present.  They sit in their own homes or in their work places, it seems, looking towards the camera.  For many of the subjects, it is hard to discern clues as to their moods, while others simply look blank or a bit bored.  People sit in chairs, or stand in their gardens, recline on beds or couches, or lie on the floor.  They are men and women, young and old, bespectacled and not.   Some of the women are topless. Sometimes they have props -- one person holds a broom, another holds a trumpet, and several people hold onto an object or rest on something to keep themselves steady.  An hour is a long time to try to stay in the same position. 

With is a difficult book to come to grips with.  As with Ohara's other work, One, from 1970, which contained 500 close-ups of people's faces, each individual picture is interesting in its own way, but the value of the work is more conceptual, to be viewed as a whole.  One can just think, "that's pretty odd and spooky," and move on.  Ohara himself adds no text to explain his ideas, although there is a short essay by author Craig Nova on the experience of being photographed in this way.  As with much art photography, the contribution of the work is not very clear at first.  One has to live the images for a while, looking at them repeatedly, contemplating their effect, to get a little clearer on what they might mean.   The images invite many interpretations: they could represent the shifting nature of human life against a static background; they could call into question the idea of a photograph capturing a person in an instant; they could depict human fragility, or the unknowability of persons.  It could just be a gimmick.  Even though Ohara's work is very distinctive and unsettling, it leaves itself open to many interpretations.

I'm particularly struck by the appearance of other photographs within these images.   Often, people are shown with other pictures of them or family in the background, and the contrast between those small crisp pictures and the haze of the subject is very striking.  A couple of images have movie posters in the background, in which the dramatically posed stars look incongruous in contrast to the shimmering real people.  So it is especially tempting to speculate that these images are about the distortions of portrait photography, and they suggest how the fuzziness of the long exposure provides a better depiction of reality than the image captured an instant.

Whatever Ohara's intention, these pictures are definitely intriguing and powerful. 

 

Link: TwinPalms publishers

 

© 2006 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Reviews.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.


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