Paul Close · Analysis
In Close’s work: ‘snake box odyssey’ project he uses a simple format for making portraits of African people in their home surroundings in the Sahara.
The placing of simple studio backdrops behind people in the context of their environment (a device I’ve seen elsewhere) brings a sense of juxtaposition of the environment into play. The backdrop is generally set to one side of the frame. As he is consistently using a single lens and stands at a similar distance to the subject, this gives an evenness to the presentation.
In most cases there are other people in the frame, onlookers who are staring back at the photographer in most cases, a few look to the subject. This gives the sense of straightforwardness and lack of posing for the pictures. However, the individual, in the stance of their everyday lives does offer a certain pose. The quotes beneath the photos as to peoples’ aspirations seem simplistic and I would say that I am not sure that they do the subjects justice. They are almost predictable, perhaps clichéd in some cases. Do the simple things said by these people really show us anything new, that could not be imagined? Perhaps also the simple statements are a conditioned response to having a photographer who is at liberty to travel to their country, with his equipment, in order to observe and ‘gaze’ upon foreign people living a fairly basic lifestyle?
I would suggest that his images work as documentary in the most basic sense i.e a document of fact. I do not think that these documents work, as a more in depth revelation of a particular group of people, nor does it disclose anything especially new, I feel. Grierson, the founder of the documentary concept states that a documentary’s subject should be: ‘the blazing fact of the matter’ (Grierson, cited in Stott 1973) Stott continues to suggest that the facts need to blaze, however. So the question that comes to my mind is: does the work of Close blaze, via the facts that it portrays? Maybe this is not the only criteria for the discussion of such a work, but as I see it it does not. The work shows a matter of fact situation, whereby people are portrayed in their everyday circumstances.
- Grierson, J. (1898-1972) in: William Stott: Documentary expression and thirties America (1973) Oxford University Press.