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We Who Are History Stand Apart from History’s Gaze
Alvin Pang on 3 photographs in the Tender Photo Archive
These three images are among several in which the human subjects do not meet the gaze of the lens. Their attention is pointed elsewhere. While we cannot say if the viewer is absent or present in their minds, we know they do not—in the little smear of time in which the photograph was made—see their being seen. They are immersed in their apartness from the viewer: with their own occupation, direction, mystery, inner life. That they are in fact observed appears secondary, if not assuredly inconsequential, to their being. Something else takes precedence in their sense of immediacy. Something is happening that does not require us; is free of our permissions. But the subjects themselves, who fill key thirds of the frame, are not inconsequential to the image's meaning. It is the viewer who is called by their human shapes into the scene and caught by its questions, even though at some physical level of detail these are contrasting clusters of pixels in a swathe of pixels. It is the viewer who must validate their engagement; who must offer up speculation without hope of reply nor ready affirmation. Here then are figurative reminders of our relationship with time. We who are history stand apart from history's gaze. Not all eyes are meant to be met. In the end we too have our faces turned away from those who will look to us, over us, after us, with nothing else to be but was.
About Alvin Pang
Alvin Pang is an award-winning Singaporean poet, writer and editor with over two decades of international creative practice. His writings have been translated into more than twenty languages worldwide, including Swedish, Slovene, French and Chinese. He was a 2022 Civitella Ranieri Fellow and a judge of the Dublin Literary Award, and is an honorary Adjunct Professor of RMIT University. He is a founding member of Practice, Research and Tangential Activities (PR&TA), a new peer-reviewed and open-access journal of creative practice with a broad focus on creative writing and related disciplines. See more of his work on his website, and follow on Instagram.
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This is the #4 edition of Correspondences, a pop-up series on Tender Photo, published every Saturday from March 4–May 20, 2023. I asked a few writers to find “correspondences” between 3 photographs from the archive, chosen without constraint on style or genre, and to write short commentaries on their choice. The goal is to open up Tender Photo’s editorial and curatorial process to an engaged group of readers, broadening the diversity of responses to the varied work featured so far.
Tender Photo is a bi-weekly newsletter on African photography, published Wednesdays and Saturdays. See the archive for more features on early to mid-career photographers. If this newsletter was shared with you, consider subscribing, or forward to a friend. Please whitelist the newsletter to ensure you never miss it.