Neil Hamon approaches photography as a form of pedagogy in which scenarios are staged and the images carefully constructed. He identifies in the diorama a historical predecessor to this notion of the image as a distillation of knowledge and representation of history. In these works the emphasis is on photography as a theatrical, performative, medium that frames sets of ideas or arguments and challenges our assumptions about the time frame depicted.
'The City Lights Shine Brightly in Their Eyes' is far from creating a diorama’s usual pastoral ideal or historical scene. The post-apocalyptic stench of death in this Bucolic nightmare is overpowering: birds perch in a dead, blackened, tree while emaciated rodents scavenge among blackened toadstools, rubbish and dead rats. Atop a tree trunk at waist level sits an undead rabbit, flesh literally hanging off its bones which are visible through the lacerations on its limbs. This self-appointed diorama spokesman is perched on its podium ready to mock anyone foolish enough to get close. It’s facial expression is psychotic, hysterical – all screams, laughter and accusation; its features illegible through the gruesome agony of its existence. Sitting up on its hind quarters, it apes human communication and mannerisms like some Watership Down despot. Here the scene has been freed from the constraints of the glass vitrine to run wild. But this is a post-industrial wilderness where nature is wasteland and starving foxes or deer scavenging for rubbish have become a familiar sight. This image represents the unconscious of our relationship to nature, forever conflicted between our exploitation of its commodity status as either natural resource or arcadian tourist idyll.
‘Spam’ is an assemblage of period furniture, candle lamp, taxidermised birds, fishing flies and a photograph. The stasis of this scene is echoed on the side table. Where two stuffed birds lie dead, the flies in their mouths presaging their own mortality like a momento mori. Taxidermy and photography usually create the illusion of eternity, but Hamon clearly shows their deathly, memorialising impulse. The candle seems to be draining any life from this scene, only the think ball of flies beneath the table profiting from the morbid scene. The connections between elements are not immediately apparent but there is a theatrical staginess in each: the candle flame is an electric bulb; the period furnature is brand new, styled to look like a generic antique; the GI’s and US army supplies in the photograph seem authentic, but there is something about the tones, sharpness and depth of the image that is irrefutably contemporary. In fact, the contents of the photograph belong to the two sitters who are re-enactors specialising in World War II memorabilia. They extract from the past an image space they can physically occupy, an endeavor inextricably threaded through with nostalgic desire. Like any collectors, there is a fascination with how each acquisition shapes the existing collection and specifies its representation of a set of social, political and cultural value. Every acquisition is like a serum against the movement of the collection towards a fixed idea. For a brief moment it reverses, or at least suspends this temporal inevitability as the collection is renewed, even when the objects subject matter is death. The objects in ‘Spam’ may be military, but their association with death is more related to the dissipation of use value. Where once they have played a functional role in life, they have now become proxies for experience. They are mute witness left to validate a hypothesis, standing in the dock to be interrogated by us, the visitors.
© Ben Borthwick 2005
Extract from ‘Larry’s Cocktails’ Exhibition Catalogue, Gagosian Gallery, London.