By Tony Martins / Photographs by Jonathan Lorange
Street photography offers a fascinating range of possible intersections between shooter and subject and between subject and surroundings.
Some of the best examples of the genre compellingly balance the public with the private but within that dichotomy there exist numerous treatments for photographers to explore. Street photography subjects can be viewed intimately or impersonally and settings can be shown factually or be loaded with subjectivity. By extension, the photos themselves can be “about” the individuals pictured or about something more expansive, such as the relationship between individual and society.
For instance, while much of the work of Toronto’s celebrated Dave Heath (some of it featured in Guerilla #37) offers moments of poignant intimacy captured in public, Ottawa’s Jonathan Lorange takes a considerably different approach in K-14, a recent exhibition of street images shown at Patrick Gordon Framing. In K-14, Lorange places equal emphasis on subject and setting, playing expertly with light and dark, solidity and emptiness, collectivity and loneliness.
“You try to capture anything that could be interesting,” says Lorange of his basic aim. “It's mostly a reactive way of working even if from time to time you find a particular setting that you like and wait until some action happens, hoping it will accomplish a certain vision.”
Certain vision. Therein lies the subjectivity that elevates a photo that “could be interesting” into the realm of visual art. My reading of Lorange’s work concludes that his certain vision emerges when figures in his images are located within voluminous public settings of visual and tactile interest. The result is a lonely kind of narrative that places the anonymous individual in a concrete public space, where colour and light are by turns bold and dream-like.
In the work of Lorange, the facial expression of his subjects is usually obscured. Rather than offer us a moment of individual intimacy, these figures move through or occupy a space in such a way that a tension or a drama is created. We don’t wonder about who they are or how they feel as much as we grapple with the sum total of the pictured balance between positive and negative, seen and unseen.
Although many street photographers avoid bright sunlight and shoot only in overcast conditions, Lorange embraces the obscuring power of shadow. In several K-14 photos, the light is such that the figures must shade their eyes, hiding their faces in the process. Shadows jut out in sharp relief against concrete walls, adding a kind of depth not possible when shooting with overcast skies. Figures are fully or partially obscured in these shadows and in many cases compete for attention with the darkened areas in the frame. The metaphor that arises offers contemplation of the degree to which we hide when we are in public.
“People seem to be increasingly alone but together at the same time,” offers Lorange, who is a keen observer of the individual in society. “It's as if most of our relationships as human beings have to be mediated, either by television or social networks to feel real, tangible.”
Introducing the public space element compounds this issue, adding further pressure on our search for meaning.
“Public space is shared between individuals that rarely contribute or take part in it,” continues Lorange. “Of course, over time, I came to look for this anonymity and emptiness in my street images. Since this type of photography is a relationship between what your subjects are giving to you and what you are seeing and capturing, I like to think that there is some truth in what came out of this work.”
Vanishing subjects, vanishing film
Appropriately, Lorange’s images of subjects partly vanishing into shadow and light were created using a medium that has itself now vanished: Kodak Kodachrome transparency film. The title of the exhibition, K-14, refers to the complex chemical processing required with Kodachrome. Due to declining sales, Kodak discontinued production of all K-14 chemistry in 2009.
“When Kodak announced that it would stop the production of this film, I decided to give it one last go as many of its other fans did at the time,” recalls Lorange. “We only had about a year to use the rolls we had before the last lab in the world still developing it would run out of the special chemicals. Even if there are still many great films around, to me nothing came close to Kodachrome for color images, especially when projected.”
The K-14 exhibition is a great example of a photographer matching his film’s characteristics with his intentions for the resulting images.
“Shooting in bright and harsh daylight while hoping to preserve as much detail as possible in the highlights results in quite contrasty images,” Lorange notes. “I decided to exploit this characteristic to frame and isolate the subjects and it quickly became clear to me that this would be an important aspect in the aesthetics of the project.”
As opposed to the relatively flat and even light seen in the recent colour work of Dave Heath, Lorange gives us occasionally blinding sunshine and impenetrable shadow: visual forces that partially envelop the subjects to emphasize depth of space and narrative ambiguity.
Ambiguity, of course, is necessarily present in almost all street photography. We have only rudimentary sense of what is going on in the images—an uncertainty shared by the shooters themselves.
“I must admit that when I started to work on the K-14 series, I only had a vague idea of the final product,” notes Lorange. “The only thing I hoped for is that something would come out of it. I had a very limited time to constitute a body of images from which I would pick my keepers.”
For more on Jonathan Lorange, visit www.lorange.ca.