Long Distanceby Layla Leiman / 02.03.2012
Obie Oberholzer’s solo show Long Distance is a surprise, in one sense. His usual style of otherworldly lighting and luminous colours and the banal-made-wondrous-and-mysterious is toned down. His characteristic humour only popping up in a few of the images, and even then it’s a subtle smile, rather than a full-bellied laugh. The photographs that make up this show are a strange mix of vast desolate landscapes, a few cityscapes and portraits from around the world. The images stand alone, mostly, but form a subtle overarching story. In the blurb to the show, Willem Boshoff describes Oberholzer as an “intergalactic traveller and lone planet wanderer… on a quest to uncover an extraordinary brand of bliss for the world to behold”. This is the thread the ties the photographs together.
Narrative is a familiar present in Oberholzer’s work, where the images become visual markers that plot the course of his wonderings around Southern Africa, Africa and the world. His stock-en-trade is the obscure, the forgotten, the passed-over-by-others, the hidden places and people that he seems to posses such a special knack for finding. ‘Long Distance’ sees Oberholzer’s familiar style of capturing people, seemingly caught by the wayside, who look into his camera and offer up their stories in the crinkles of their sun-weathered faces, the cracks in their glasses, the dirty oil stained creases of their skin and the shadows in their eyes. Different people from around the world who each shared some moment with the photographer and the memory of which, lingers on in the image. The title of the show, ‘Long Distance’, speaks to this geographic scope that the images on display condence.
But hung in between these portraits are vast, desolate landscapes that wipe away all trace of human existence. They are inhospitable places; deserts, and hot salty seas.
These images are almost abstract, impressionist painting-esque. But this adds to their wonder. Oberholzer uses camera angle to great affect in creating this “extraordinary brand of bliss”, where aerial perspective flattens the crests of waves and squashes them down to the seeming same level as the dunes that roll down to meet them. So what we know we are looking at is in fact quite different from what we see in the photograph, which is a green mass meeting a brown mass, with curved lines that have feathered edges that might by sea-spray or might not be. Another image is of a road, cutting a portion of the Western Desert in Egypt in half. It starts in the foreground and disappears into the horizon; solid, affirmative, laying down the line in the shifting sands. But the sand, pastel pink, white and shades of grey, has resisted the road and resented its solidity. So the white lines that streak down the hot black tar meander this way and that, undermining the determination of the road to get where it’s going in the most direct route possible.
These landscapes don’t speak to the portraits. They are not the spaces that these people inhabit (or not directly at least). They seem to be the places where people are not, which Oberholzer passed through on his “quest to uncover” the hidden everyday things of this world to render wondrous for “the world to behold”.
*Long Distance A Solo Exhibition by Obie Oberholzer is on at Circa on Jellicoe in Johannesburg and runs until the 10th of March 2012.