“My self-image and intent as a photographer has shifted dramatically during the past decade; at this juncture in my personal evolution my mission is to identify those rare individuals within society who jar and challenge our deepest beliefs and aesthetic aspirations. I deliberately interfere with nature by inserting the subject into carefully selected and choreographed environments that compel viewers to interpret the powerful dilemmas at play within each subject’s life.”
PHOTOGRAPHY: GORDON CLARK
PORTRAIT: JACQUI VAN STADEN
‘Groot Geraak’ (Becoming Big) examines the life of Quentino, a young boy growing up in Elsies River on the Cape Flats, an area that has been plagued by endemic gang violence. Quentino and his peers are photographed at various stages over a three-year period in an attempt to locate defining moments in their lives. Clark expresses a personal interest in these defining moments and their potential implications; here the individual is pitted against powerful collective agents. In areas where these agents have a strong presence, individual identity gives way to survival and the need to conform.
Despite the careful staging of each image, Groot Geraak is an expression of Quentino’s life, complete with portents of his future. The tension resides between a staged performance on the one hand and the re-enactment of actual moments on the other, hence the powerful evocation of a hyper-reality. Whatever direction Quentino’s future may take, the images present an all-too-familiar reality of youth at the mercy of gang influence. In this sense, Quentino’s narrative is a placeholder for so many others. The success of these images – high in production value and residing in the distinct world of fine art – is measured in the response it elicits from the viewer, be it mistrust or anger at the photographer, or anger at the conditions of the young lives exposed. In asking difficult questions about the politics of representation, persistent racial and class divides, and by facing our own discomfort at the images (in the ‘safety’ of the gallery), we are implicated in a collective groot geraak. Thus we move towards a deeper understanding of the human condition in a polarised context.
Gordon Clark (b.1955 Johannesburg) photographs those rare individuals within society who challenge our inherent beliefs and jar our aesthetic aspirations. He weaves complex narratives by inserting subjects into deliberately choreographed natural environments, which compel viewers to interpret the powerful dilemmas at play within each subject’s life.
Clark has previously focused his practice on the life details of Turner Adams, an alter-boy turned convict whose twenty-four years of hard prison life has hardened his glare and ‘marked’ every square centimeter of his skin with tattoos. Clark’s new body of work, ‘Groot Geraak’ (Becoming Big) documents blue-eyed Quentino parallel to the life of ex-gang leader Ernie Lastig Solomon. Clark takes the viewer on a journey of exploration – exploring the idea of going back and how we grow roots in terms of emulating the behaviour of others that surround us, in order to survive. The subject as metaphor transgresses our boundaries and comfort zone by suggesting the stereotypical direction of their future. Both Turner and Quentino offer an ideal canvas for Clark to explore the path of an individual’s unfortunate circumstances as a reflection of a society in turmoil.
Gordon Clark has had numerous solo shows, including: ‘Gordon Clark – Selection’ at ARTCO Gallery, Germany (2012), ‘Who Am I? – Transgressions – Gordon Clark and Leon Botha’ which was shown in Amsterdam, Germany and South Africa (2010-2011), ‘What is Familiar?’ at Odes Gallery in Cape Town (2009) and ‘Transitions’ at Museum of Tolerance, USA (2002). Most recently he exhibited ‘Turner Adams: The Outcome’ at Commune.1. Clark currently lives and works as a photographer as well as a film and documentary maker in Cape Town.
INFO – GORDON CLARK