TRACY LINDNER GANDER
The photographic work of Tracy Lindner Gander challenges stereotyped assumptions of photographic practice in South Africa. Eschewing the country's rich documentary and reportage traditions, her photographic projects often veer between polar extremes, sometimes playful, yet again deceptively serious - often in the same context.
Her work utilises a number of archetypal visual languages - landscape and portraiture being some of the most recurrent. Often sceptical of the truth of the visible image, Gander's work has at times sought to describe a world that exists beyond the realism promised by the lens. Artifice, blur and darkness have all at some time or another figured as strategies in her work, all of them serving their part in the photographer's evolving quest to explore that which does not simply declare itself visible in a photograph.
"It is important to understand that the 'surface' of my photographs are contrived and used to explore what lies beneath the image (meaning)," comments Gander. " The act of taking a photograph is a performance: the setting, combined with gesture, costume and expression creates the mood and dynamic required to make art."
Landscape: "I've read somewhere that South African's tend towards an affinity with land(scape). I imagine that I might not have had the same attachment to my environment if I was born elsewhere. As a result, my work reveals an ongoing exploration of the local landscape and a search for an identity and place within it. These spaces can be found within the urban sprawl of my native city, or on the road between Cape Town and anywhere. They are loaded with history, both personal and political."
Fable: "With 'Flounce', I toyed with the idea of suggested narrative, leaving the viewer with a jumble of associations with which to create their own version of the events leading up to the moment of the chosen image. In 'AFTERDARK' I explored this again by leaving the viewer with traces or suggestions of possible meaning(s), setting the stage for 'real' events in the viewer's imagination. Narrative is implied, the meaning of an image is not spelt out."
Style as identity: "In South Africa, where we have a strong tradition of documentary photography, the authority of the photograph goes mostly unquestioned. This can also be said of much portraiture. What I attempt to do with my work is to show the viewer the contrived nature of the image, re-appropriating stereotypes and weaving new contemporary realities from a critical perspective."
"By inserting my work between the genres of fashion, portraiture and documentation, I hope to break down the unquestionable authority of the photograph."
Gander recently completed a series of works titled 'AFTERDARK', which she presented at the João Ferreira Gallery. This series of colour photographs concerned themselves with roadside spaces at twilight, or at night, illuminated by the headlamps of the artists' car. There are a number of precedents for this sort of modern landscape study in recent European photography, most notably Dan Holdsworth and Nadav Kander.
Where the former of the two focuses on the society of (the illuminated) spectacle, and Kander is concerned with evoking a minimalist palette reminiscent of Rothko; Gander's images preoccupy themselves with that which lies beyond, the stuff outside the glowing arc of light. And while Gander's images communicate a similar sense of unease as is found in her European counterparts, her images are not as nihilistic, partly because they are less concerned with documenting the void.
In 2002 Gander collaborated with Katherine Bull, a Cape Town based artist, to produce 'Flounce', also first exhibited at the João Ferreira Gallery. The photographs in this show all followed a simple formula, pairing evocative, mood-driven portraits of model/artist Katherine Bull alongside beautifully observed landscape studies of the familiar Western Cape environs in which Bull's portraits were taken.
Employing a pseudo-documentary style not dissimilar of Wolfgang Tillmans, and Jurgen Teller, Gander's images successfully evoked all the unsettled drama of youth set against a multiplicity of backdrops. Pairing landscape with portraiture, this series of works subtly unearthed the inner wrangling of white youth. By concentrating on one subject rather many, Die Beeld's Wilhelm van Rensburg was reminded of Nan Goldin - if a rather purposefully artful one.
Writing for ArtThrob, Paul Edmunds cogently observed: "'Flounce' can mean a kind of trimming sewn onto the bottom of a dress. It can also mean to plunge or throw the body about. Between these two - decorating and manipulating - lies the nature of this project. Decorating the surface, augmenting a model with costumes and accessories in a variety of guises and settings, raising countless questions about what lies beneath. Manipulating the authority of the photograph serves to question the very basis on which this project is founded."
Flash Art's Thomas Boutoux observed much the same strategy: "Asking both herself and the viewer what makes an image arresting, Gander pays true attention to details in a way that challenges the deepest assumptions of photographic practice in South Africa." In a review I wrote for Art South Africa, I observed that the show possessed a striking certainty, meticulous style and self-conscious lyricism. While 'Flounce' may not necessarily have charted radically new subject matter, framing issues of identity and place, I found the exhibition noteworthy for its confidence and brave attempt to forge a new language of South African photography.
Gander first came to national prominence in 1999 with a show titled 'Babes'. Again speaking of her female models as collaborators, Gander invited 20 of her friends to recreate themselves as pinup 'babes' using a variety of props supplied by the photographer. "These pictures, I hope, embody a feeling of enjoyment, confidence, and a sense of freedom," Gander stated around the time of the show's Johannesburg unveiling, further claiming that she wanted to create a space where it was "permissible (and safe) to be sexy and beautiful (and intelligent), to role-play, on each individual's own terms."
Stacy Hardy, herself a participant in the series, heralded the project as an attempt "to deconstruct the serious, unsexy tone that feminism has taken in the last few years. Drawing on the work of Betty Page and other 1950s vamps, Tracy's photographs tread the fine line between irony and sincerity, between feminism and objectification, existing in the slippery slope where gender issues break down and sex, and power and beauty are reinvestigated."
"I'm re-appropriating the word 'babe' here," Gander herself simply told The Sunday Times' Gillian Anstey. "I'm trying to make it into something that is womanly, a woman who knows what she wants, a woman who has attitude and spunk." Gander conceded that her photographs were not politically correct, "because people are not politically correct." Aside from the obvious gender politics central to this work, 'Babes' also demonstrated Gander's willingness to explore pop-historical photographic references in formulating her nascent aesthetic.
If there is any doubt as to Gander's seriousness as an artist, look no further than Can't Forget, Can't Remember, her 1999 collaboration with Sue Williamson. Shown as part of 'ARTERY', this interactive video piece was explicitly concerned with recent politics, the work delving into two highly emotive incidents examined by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Although originated by Williamson, the work evidences Gander's creative prowess as designer working with high-end multi-media.
'Salt', also from 1999, captured the many textures of the uneasy interface between sea and land. "There's nothing new in photographing the ocean," Gander commented at the time, "artists for centuries have been fascinated and terrified of its inherent power. My response to the sea is both personal and universal; my means of imaging it becoming something of a spiritual performance rather than a documentary."
Commenting on the distorted aesthetic, Gander said: "I have always played with notions of blur and focus, of concealment and the revealed. My earlier work dealt with issues of femininity and identity, falling within a history of artists working with the body or themselves." Here Gander was referencing a series of earlier works in which she presented detailed studies of the female body, which she juxtaposed to created new forms. Although Gander's early works are clearly concerned with feminine identities, the overtly postmodern way in which they were conceived also suggest the trauma of coming of age. Focusing on scars, which Gander likened to fingerprints, the private history of her subjects is offered as a visual correlative to the collective history of the South African nation.
Gander is currently working on a collaborative curatorial project highlighting the photographic output of a number of South African women photographers, for the 2005 Cape Town Month of Photography.
Tracy Lindner Gander, born 1972, in Cape Town, is an independent visual artist and web-based designer. She is currently creative director of the design agency FUR, which amongst many things is responsible for the design and maintenance of www.artthrob.co.za.
Gander completed her BA(FA) at the University of Cape Town in 1995.
SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS
2003 'AFTERDARK' at the João Ferreira Gallery, Cape Town; 'Flounce', in collaboration with Katherine Bull, at the PhotoZA Gallery, Johannesburg
2002 'Flounce', in collaboration with Katherine Bull, at the João Ferreira Gallery, Cape Town
2000 'Babes' at The Market Theatre Gallery, Johannesburg
1999 'Salt' at the NSA Gallery, Durban; 'Babes' at BangtheGallery, Cape Town [A participant in Cape Town's Month of Photography Exhibition]
1998 'Salt' at BangtheGallery, Cape Town [A participant of the Revue Noir organised 'Eye Africa' Exhibition]
SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS
2003 Brett Kebble Art Award Exhibition, Cape Town International Conference Centre, Cape Town
2002 'Aprés l' apartheid: Trois photographes d'Afrique du Sud', curated by the Gallerie Beckel Odille Boicos, Normandy, France
2001 'Switch On/Off', Curated by Marcus Neustetter, at the Oudshoorn Visual Art Festival
2000 'Channeltoo' at The Association for Visual Arts Gallery, Cape Town; 'Celebrating Women' group show at Alliance Francaise, Cape Town; One of three artists participating in a show at the Gallerie Beckel Odille Boicos, forming part of the Paris mois de la photo
1999: Collaborator with Sue Williamson & Arnold Erasmus on an interactive projection piece, Can't Forget, Can't Remember, at João Ferriera Fine Art, Cape Town for the show 'Artery', curated by the Goodman Gallery; 'Postcards from South Africa' at the Axis Gallery, New York; Participant in the Shuttle exchange programme and exhibition; 'Seaing eye' at the Planetarium, Cape Town, Curators: Jenny Altschuler & Herschel Mair [A participant in Cape Town's Month of Photography Exhibition]
1998 Duo exhibition, 'Stillness in Motion' at BangtheGallery, Cape Town
BHP Billiton; MTN Science Institute; South African National Gallery
Gespartel sinvol, Wilhelm van Rensburg, Die Beeld, August 14 2003
Artist gets lost in public places, Stanley Hermans, Cape Times 'Top of the Times' Friday August 16, 2002
Tracy Lindner Gander in collaboration with Katherine Bull, João Ferreira Gallery, Cape Town, Sean O'Toole, Art South Africa, Vol01 Issue01 Spring 2002, p55
Aperto South Africa, Thomas Boutoux, Flash Art #225, Summer 2002
Tracy Lindner Gander in collaboration with Katherine Bull at João Ferreira Gallery, Paul Edmunds, Artthrob, Issue No. 60 August 2002
Eye-catching moments from the Month of Photography, Sue Williamson, Artthrob, Issue No. 55 March 2002
Flounce: Tracy Gander in collaboration with Katherine Bull, The Cape Town Month of Photography catalogue, Edited by Geoff Grundlingh, 2002. P.57
Achtung, Babes!, Michelle Matthews, Mini International, 2002, p.28,29
Sue Williamson: Can't Forget, Can't Remember, Dislocacion, Imagen & Identidad. SudAfrica [Catalogue], La Fabrica/ PhotoEspana, 2002; p.100-105
Horizon , KKNK Visual Arts Catalogue 2001
Liberated babes, Gillian Anstey, Sunday Times Lifestyle, April 16 2000
'Babes' = seksuele selfvertroue, Beeld, Woensdag 26 April 2000
Tracy Gander at the Market Theatre Gallery, Artthrob, April 2000
Sex Kitten or Serial Killer?, Stacey Hardy, PostCool, www.sly.co.za
Salt, Eye Africa catalogue, 1999
Fotografie veg nog altyd om erken te word as kuns, Cobus van bosch, Die Burger, Donderdag 14 Januarie 1999
New York Times reviews 'Postcards From South Africa', Holland Cotter, New York Times, Friday September 10 1999, p.E36 (Weekend section, Art in Review)
Tracy Gander's 'Babes', Sue Williamson, Artthrob, September 1999
Apartheid crimes remembered - Art confronts our past, Lloyd Pollak, Cape Times, Wednesday December 22 1999
Quality time: Portrait of an artist, Suzy Brokensha, Quality Life, August - September 1998
Grense van medium deur fotokuns versit, Theo Kleynhans, Die Burger, Woensdag 18 November 1998