Exploring different ways of doing art photography

I make it a practice to try and view as many art exhibitions and events as possible. I firmly believe that a creative soul can take inspiration and ideas from being sensitive to all around him. Naturally, other artist’s endeavours and offerings are a rich source of contemplation and can generally stimulate debate and spark off the imagination – things which are so vital to art evolvement.

Naturally, due to time constraints, I do not actually manage to see all the exhibitions I would like to, but then I really try to make time when the subject is photography – my passion. So I just could not fail not to go and view “Divergent Thinkers”, a collective exhibition held at St James Cavalier, in Valletta. Giola Cassar, one of my current Higher National Diploma students, was amongst the seven artists taking part – so this was a further reason for my visit.

This project was made possible through Agenzija Zaghzagh’s (Youth Agency’s) Empowerment Programme. I feel there is much to improve in governmental cultural policies, but this programme, directed at promoting and aiding art and culture amongst young people is to be lauded. As the Hon. Clyde Puli, Parliamentary Secretary for Youth and Sport, ably put it in the exhibition Catalogue’s foreword, “The contribution that young people can make through their artistic endeavours to the cultural life of the nation and its further enrichment is, I believe, immense.”

I cannot agree more with this statement. Without a fresh crop of young artists, art can become stuck in a rut and perhaps churning out a diet which might be somewhat unadventurous, gimmicky, stale and at times, downright boring.  Granted, established artists and trail blazers who have come before us are a source of constant inspiration to up and coming artists, and it is vital that those making their first steps in the art world should constantly study, absorb, and question what has come before their time. The important thing is not to become slavish and copy but to try and question, explore and give new interpretations to past work. Young artists also push established ones to greater heights and challenges.

Alas, today, despite the many opportunities and increased awareness given to young artists, the many distractions and perhaps soft, easy material life which we have now become accustomed to, is, at times, feeding a lack of drive, determination and will in our youngsters. Youth are usually very excited and interested in the art world, as they visualize it as a glittering, fashionable and desirable lifestyle, but when they realize that it can be such hard work, that it is so difficult to lift your shoulders above the rest and that, in the majority of cases, not very remunerative, most quickly fall by the wayside and unfortunately quickly abandon their dreams. Most youngsters do not realize that success and fulfilment is neither fast nor easy. An artist can only succeed if he has the passion, the drive, the determination to succeed. Unfortunately there are no easy ways.

Which brings us back to the Divergent Thinkers project.  I will only endeavour to review and comment on Giola’s photography, because most of  the other offerings at the exhibition are media and art forms which I do not consider myself conversed enough to assess. Some of the work has made me reflect, some has given me very mixed feelings, whilst some of the work did not stimulate any reaction in me. That does not mean that some art has no value. The beauty of art is that it arouses different feelings and reactions in those who view it. Art is so subjective and the culture, character, awareness, past experiences and sensitivity of the viewer will impact each and every one in a different way. Even the current state of mind of the viewer will influence his reactions. My view is that art needs to energize a reaction in those encountering it. Even a “bad reaction” is desirable to “no reaction.”

Timeless 1 by Giola Cassar

Timeless 1 by Giola Cassar

Giola’s offering in this project is four photographs which come over to us as sets of two.  The images in the sets relate well with each other but then contrast greatly between them.

Knowing Giola’s work from college, I know that she researches very extensively and, rightly so, she takes great pains in her concept and preparation. She is definitely not trigger happy. All the four works in this exhibition bear this out. She has painstakingly planned and studied her subjects and props and this track invites the viewer to do the same. One needs to take time and explore the nuances, detail and mood of her images. The time taken will not be wasted.

Timeless 2 by Giola Cassar

Timeless 2 by Giola Cassar

In her “Timeless” duo of prints, she has attempted to recreate a long gone age and succeeded quite well. The mood is definitely there. After one absorbs the fashion of that era, one is intrigued by the expressions of the “models”.  It’s a somewhat vacant, inscrutable and obscure expression which made me think. What did these two girls feel like, dressing up and “going back” in time? The plain warm, retro tones of the images complement the subjects and bring out the mood in an ideal way. Still, I guess the debate can rage here as to whether these images are documents or contemplative, records of an era or deep character studies. The answers will be as diverse as the viewers.

The other set of two prints, entitled “Internal and external vastness of Space” are in direct contrast to the “Timeless” portraits. Here Giola shows that she is still grappling as to what direction her photography will eventually take. It is the right way that at her young age she is exploring several ways of expressing herself with photography. It is a process that one should pass through, and keep passing through, in order to constantly challenge and excite him or herself. The operation is never ending.

Space 2 by Giola Cassar

Space 2 by Giola Cassar

In my view, this second set of work gives the viewer much more scope for reflection and speculation – thus it makes them more engaging due that they leave a lot of questions unanswered and camouflaged.  Giola here delves into the mysterious vastness of Space.  A subject which has intrigued and mystified all generations since time immemorial.

The girl seemingly trapped and constricted in a claustrophobic cubicle (a refrigerator?) gives us the feeling of immobility, of being eternally trapped in the little space that she has been confined to. Yet the expression is not of despair or anger but more of being resigned       to her fate.  Is not this perhaps a metaphor or allegory of the way some people feel inevitably trapped and restricted in their surroundings, their life, their Space? Technically this image could perhaps have been slightly improved through light direction, but then technique is at times less important than the message and I feel this print certainly delivers the message and creates curiosity and discussion.

Giola’s other image, my favourite in this set, is of a “ghostly” whimsical girl apparently floating in a dark and forbidding space. The high viewpoint purposely distorts perspective and makes the girl more vulnerable and helpless in such a vast and unending space.

Space 1 by Giola Cassar

Space 1 by Giola Cassar

One of the definitions of space is that Space is capable neither of resistance nor motion. I feel this concept has been brought out very well, particularly in this image. The girl’s pose offers no resistance and demonstrates her immobility when faced with the unknown and greatly unexplored vastness of her surroundings. Her gaze does not betray any emotions and further invites us to perhaps stare into the seeming nothingness of space.

I think this is a well chosen subject and concept and I do look forward to seeing more of Giola’s “struggles” with such unexplored regions of the psyche.

© Kevin Casha


Divergent Thinkers is open from 27th July up to 2nd September, 2012

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