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Remaining Strange: Photographic Exhibition

This is an invitation to Thomas Neal’s REMAINING STRANGE photographic exhibition at RIVET CAFÉ on Ponsonby Road.

In Thomas Neal’s series of photos he explores the concept of ‘civil inattention’, or the act of avoiding eye contact or interest with anyone in a public space. Bus Stops, train stations, fish and chip shops, pedestrian crossing are all times when we maintain our ‘civil attention’. In each large format photo he sends actors into the scene and documents as civilians are broken out of their ‘civil attention’ trance performing for the camera.

Thomas Neal is a graduate of Massey University’s Batchelor of Design and is currently in the States continuing his research into ‘civil inattention’.

RIVET CAFÉ is open Tuesday-Sunday 7am-6pm at 143 Ponsonby Rd.

REMAINING STRANGE - public order


My interest in public behaviour developed at a bus stop. I noticed myself wanting to 'sneak a peek' at the other people at the bus stop but found myself being very cautious in order to avoid being caught. I found this confliction of natural instinct and behavioural norm very interesting.

In my photographs I have focussed on public areas where groups of individuals congregate within each other's vicinity and are forced to share a space over a length of time.

I have been looking at stranger's interactional behaviour and the 'rules' or social norms that they abide to, when in this situation. The main objective of this behaviour is to look 'normal' so that everyone can carry on with their business without getting stressed about a 'weirdo' in their vicinity. But to be a 'nobody' in the eyes of others is not actually very simple, because the body is very symbolic and acts as a communication device that is constantly 'on'. Therefore, when the stranger is trying to be a 'nobody' they are actually 'acting' a particular way. This act or performance is termed 'civil inattention'.

When people perform 'civil inattention' they will not stand too close, or too far from each other, they will not stare, but can look (for a bit), they will not listen to each others conversation (or at least act like it), they will not face each other directly, but they wont turn their back on each other either.

The next stage of my research was testing stranger's performance of civil inattention. By having a camera present and getting actors to run and pose in the picture, I was breaking the social norm, when they saw us, there was no way of ignoring us, all they could do was perform their best ‘civil inattention’ they've had! Or they gave into their curiosity and watched!

In the end, when you have the photo and you can view it as voyeuristically as you like, you are given the opportunity to examine this behaviour from a safe distance, and you realise that really we weren't the actors but the 'unknowns', the stranger's, are really the performers.


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