The Goodman Gallery Johannesburg opens 2013 with a photographic exhibition called To Photograph the Details of a Dark Horse in Low Light. The show presents two related bodies of work that interrogate the historic and inherent prejudice within the medium of photography.
The title of the show refers to a phrase used by the Kodak Film Company in the 80s to describe the capabilities of a new film stock specifically designed to address the inability of earlier films to accurately render darker skin. The show includes works produced on salvaged Polaroid ID-2 systems, which were the cameras supplied to the South African Nationalist Government to produce the photographs used in the infamous passbooks. These two troubling historic facts form the starting point for the trajectory that Broomberg and Chanarin have gone on to explore and interrogate in the body of work in this show.
The exhibition includes a large series of dual exposure images of flora – in each image there is a dark half and a light half. In some of these the lighter half offers a better rendering of the plant, and in others the darker half is better. Often however, the difference between the light half and the dark is inconsequential, and rather a matter of subjective opinion. The flora photographed is banal in its essence, but when split into dark and light, suddenly becomes politicised and metaphor for a far deeper inquiry.
The show also includes large-scale black and white ‘test prints’. These works refer to the darkroom process of testing the gradient for exposure time. The subjects of these images have black skin, which is then either over exposed and so ‘whited out’, or under exposed and obscured in darkness. These images are in contrast to an installation element of the show that displays found images for “best practice” colour processing. A third part adds to this interplay and consists of two works, also exposure gradients, but one of a white artefact and the other a black artefact. These two images become metaphor for the historic reduction of the human subject to object within the photographic medium. However, it is significant that these images hang side by side, because in so doing they undermine each other, because the average of each image would be the same shade of grey.