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Photographer takes Time Square to Wellington

NEWS RELEASE
8 February 2008

Photographer takes Time Square to Wellington

Alannah Gunter was researching webcams from all over the world for her Masters in Fine Arts, when she felt compelled to return to the webcam at Time Square, New York. It wasn’t long before she started cropping small images from the famous square and enlarging them into large prints.

Now a photography lecturer at Victoria University, she will show her work, an eerie display of portraits called From Afar, at Toi Pōneke Gallery from Friday 15 February.

Alannah was very influenced by German writer, Walter Benjamin’s work on the flâneur - a person who walks the city to experience its culture.

“From Afar explores the flâneur’s experience within the global virtual culture that we live in, and our changing perception of public place, be it nearby or distant,” says Alannah. “In the 19th and 20th century, the flâneur was a figure who roamed the modern city, immersing themselves within the crowd for the aesthetic experience. For several years I have, sitting in front of my computer, indulged in a 21st century version - cyber-flânerie.”

Through massively enlarging fragments of screen shots taken from the New York webcam, the people in the shots become barely recognisable, with skull-like faces. Alannah enlarged the visible blocks (effects of JPEG digital compression) to an excessive amount, producing a painterly quality in her work.

Alannah says she sees this project as a 21st century approach to street photography, and as with much street photography, the place in the background often “disappears” - the person dominates the image.

Alannah also explored French philosopher Michel Foucault’s work on surveillance.

“Foucault would most likely consider webcams to be oppressive, where people are always being watched without their knowledge. But here, people actually claim the cameras back for their own use,” says Alannah.

“On the one hand, From Afar features unaware passers-by, in the middle of conversation or deep in thought. On the other, the exhibition shows people posing for the camera. Many of them are actually phoning their friends or family while on camera, telling them to log on to the internet to see them in real time. But it’s not only their loved ones they are gesturing to, but also thousands of strangers from all around the world. Here we have a blurring of the private and public.”

From Afar runs from Friday 15 February until Friday 7 March at Toi Pōneke Gallery, Wellington Arts Centre, 61 Abel Smith Street.


ENDS

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