The Photospace Gallery, which opened early this year, has been much publicised and lauded as Pakistan's first photographic gallery. No doubt it serves the crucial purpose of providing photographers a much-needed accessible platform to display their works to the public; however the extent to which it has actually helped to endorse photography in the art market is debatable. While photography has long received recognition as an art form, it has to constantly battle with the prejudices of art buyers who are often insecure about the print's potential for mass reproduction. The latest artist to exhibit there was Stephan Andrews who admitted that although the turn out of visitors was encouraging, next to nothing sold.
His exhibition, 'Trial by Existence' displayed 27 photographs. However a single glance at the display was enough to make it evident that this was yet another black and white rendition of those on the fringes of society. Slightly let down, but not fully convinced to slot the exhibition as yet another cliche, I proceeded to a closer examination of the images to find that each subject was very sensitively portrayed. Thankfully enough, Stephan was not interested in epitomising and isolating the tragedies of the suffering 'other' but in simply recoding everyday happenings, focusing more on the atmosphere ad surroundings rather than the people themselves.
An interesting aspect of the exhibition was Stephan's incorporation of text in his images, using street graffiti to create witty interplays.
For example the photograph above, shows a dilapidated gate painted with the phrase 'No Urination Allowed'; beneath this sign is spray painted a repartee which intentionally taunts the futility of the sign - something all Karachiites are familiar with. Another photograph, shown below, showed a man sitting in a corner, with an arow and the word 'Clinic' painted on the shutter behind him. The arrow points straight at him, seeming to the viewer an uncanny revelation in a city of chance encounters.
The remaining photographs were equally varied: all fresh approaches to different subjects ranging from a bicycle to peacock feathers to dholwalas. While allowing the artist to successfully showcase his talent as an art photographer, this variety also became a drawback as the exhibition lacked a common thread tying the images together. Stephan's attempt to lend coherence to the exhibition by heading t under a poem by Robert Frost named 'Trial by Existence' came off as a forced and rather superficial imposition on the individual photographs. The pictures were too carefully composed to effectively convey the struggles and trials of existence and by relating the poem to his photographs, Stephan took for granted that the people he portrayed had 'no hopes but the suggestion of dreams'.