The self-portraits, then, are at first glance exactly that – introspective studies of a singular self. But, in fact, they explore more than one presence; a former relationship is caught in ambient suspension here. The artist says his images explore “the pain of separation,” the intensely personal yet universal experience of being forced to move on from a partnership that once consumed you, of having to submerge oneself in a new world, a new context, a new set of experiences; an unwilling, unwitting yet Phoenix-like renewal.
Loss is also central to the work of Rahim Fortune, who was born in 1994 in the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, and who currently lives between Austin, Texas and Brooklyn. During the pandemic, Fortune was forced to leave his artistic community in Brooklyn to return to Texas to care for his father, who had fallen fatally ill and was in danger of dying alone.
The series, titled I Can’t Stand to See You Cry, begins at the dying father’s bedside, and ends with the bed left vacant. But Fortune’s visual transcription of loss could not be more different to that of Roy Choudhuri’s series. Fortune is a documentary photography, in the best American tradition. But he is interested in the evolving lexicon of the documentary language.
His exhibition in Arles consisted, mostly, of Fortune’s carefully controlled and crisply framed still life images of his father’s possessions, shown alongside intimate portraits of his father’s community: friends, neighbors, passersby. But Fortune has broadened the series further, framing his own images alongside stills taken from VHS tapes that capture his own childhood in the same place, 20 years previously. Objects from his father’s home, ones which speak of a broader American identity, also imbue the exhibition with an enduring and deeply resonant multivalency.
Arles also exhibited a new body of work by Daniel Jack Lyons, a Los Angeles-based artist who, in 2019, traveled deep into the Amazonian rainforest to photograph a secretive community of trans people. He went first to Careiro, a small town south of the isolated city of Manaus where he had arranged to meet with members of the community in the hope of capturing a youthful portrait of the town.
Lyons had not, he first thought, been met with a lot of enthusiasm or success. But, two days into his travels, whilst dining alone in a local cafe, he was approached by Wendell, a local drag performer. Wendell had heard Lyons was in town, and wanted to get involved; through him, Lyons was able, bit by bit and over the space of a number of months, to access a secretive community of transgender, non-binary and queer people living in Careiro or on the banks of the nearby Tupana River.
The resulting portraits, collected together for the series Like A River, are simply stunning; tangible and dream-like, yet dramatic and potent too. Lyons is able to hold in one frame the inner lives of some of Brazil’s most marginalized people, seemingly melding them together with a landscape of lush natural vitality. Many of the people Lyons photographed face a social stigma; some had been kicked out of their family homes or ostracized by their communities, living destitute, marginalized lives. But here, in Arles, they existed like deities – avatars for our own journey through life.
Like Pixy before them, perhaps they one day will be shown at 281 Park Avenue South, Veronika’s celebrated wine cellar lying in wait for the conversations that will surely ensue.