Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Lie like a cheap watch

Degas famously said of Monet: “He’s just an eye, but what an eye.” The context of this partially scornful remark was the idea that the emerging photographic revolution had rendered representational painting obsolete and outmoded.

By the turn of the last century the camera had already proven itself to be much more convincing at reproduction, whereas the artists’ gaze was at one-and-the-same time evolving towards being characterised by more fragmented ways of looking like Impressionism and Cubism. This had the effect of confirming the camera as the only reliable medium.

Today we are still occasionally reminded of the old adage: “The camera doesn’t lie”, however, a camera in the hands of a creative artist can tell extraordinary stories and can weave elaborate fictions. Therefore the camera can lie, and if you habitually take the fashion press you will know the camera does lie, and with alarming regularity!

We are all becoming more and more used to the idea that images are routinely manipulated by skilled re-touchers who, at times, render even the most routine image so unfaithful as to allow it to lie with the inevitability of a cheap watch.

However, we should expect more than cheap technological trickery from a successful image, and in a good photographer we should be looking for creative insight and poetic licence. As Picasso had it: “We all know that art is not the truth, art is a lie that makes us realise the truth.”

Good photographers are indeed hard to find and even when you are in the presence of one, they universally testify to the fact that truly great subjects through which one can express the familiar in new ways, are equally illusive.

Latiff Napoleon is an established photographer based in London; his roof-top shots for the emerging brand Hemyca are emotionally charged, full of pathos, ambiguity and atmosphere without the need for the trickery of Mouse or indeed the poisoned Apple. These photographs, like the best of Hemyca’s collection, are crisp and concise and yet romantic and edgy. At stake here, one feels, is the classic relationships between artist and muse.

Born in southeast Asia, Napoleon cut his teeth at the hard-edged school that was London’s Plough Studios, working on informative advertising material for the likes of Saatchi & Saatchi and Ogilvy. This was the type of work, which demanded of photographers, the ability to instantaneously and succinctly tell complex stories. He was soon lured into the more expressive world of fashion and worked with names like Amanda Wakeley, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Banana Republic, Just Bluff, Betty Jackson, just to name a few.

Going far beyond the predominant aesthetic of studio props and lighting Napoleon has photographed instinctively posed models outdoors and out of sorts, on location in far-flung places, from Africa to his native Asia, in shabby-chic intercity lairs and on glamorous desert shoots . His seductive depictions of the venerable but erotic London style captures the essence of today’s woman: independent, spirited and edgy.

In Hemyca, Napoleon seems to have found a perfect vehicle through which to tell his particularly compelling kind of stories. These stories are not as one might expect told from the perspective of a southeast Asian Archipelago, but with the lightness of touch and sophistication of an artist at the height of his powers, who through this Muse, shows us that if anything, he should be described as international and urban.

Che - tm che@che-tm.com

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