“There was an artist I worked with for a while who used Polaroids as drawing references. When she was done with them, she just chucked them in a black trash bag under the kitchen sink – where I found them. I urged her to think of them as sketches, to value them…”
I remember this story relayed to me by C.C. O’Hanlon as I review his instant photos – recently pulled out of battered old shoe boxes stacked in a corner of his book- and art-filled apartment in Berlin.
They make me think of how the human identity, with the digital age, consumer and celebrity culture, and the changing currency from money to information, is in danger of losing the body and physical experience to the digital world. In this particular case, images of pornographic performance are the pastiche replicated into virtual oblivion.
O’Hanlon was once the CEO of the Austrian-German company that saved Polaroid analogue instant photography from extinction – one of many odd facts in a biography that is so intriguingly random he could almost be a fictional character (ask his friends and they will tell you they’ve known him as a musician, sailor, fisherman, stand-over man, smuggler, gambler, journalist, film-maker, entrepreneur, and government adviser, among other things) – so it is perhaps to be expected that instant photography still occupies his imagination. The few, untitled images here have all been created in the camera (“cheap plastic Polaroid or Fuji point-and-shoots, mostly”), with no recourse to digital filters or Photoshop. They are among 30 or so images spanning 40 years that he will exhibit in Berlin, later this year.
C.C. is hardly one to talk about valuing his work. He steadfastly refuses to identify as any kind of artist. Nevertheless, the late, legendary photojournalist, Arthur Rothstein, wrote of his first exhibition in Brighton (UK), 35 years ago, “This photographer is a realist in the documentary tradition. He sees, he understands, he interprets. He knows that words in a picture add dimension to the image…”
On his photographs (back in 2002):
The digital age enabled us to transcend voyeurism, to generate our own product, and to share it, while remaining anonymous and remote. Even better, whatever we created could be almost instantly ubiquitous – distributed to everyone, everywhere, all the time, forever. Like some weapons-grade virus, we could unleash it on the same virtual subconscious on which all media feeds, and let it become part of a wider cultural pandemic detected mostly as an insistent, visceral truth.
In an almost accidental way, I began tracing my personal response to all this with photography over a decade ago. Now, in these early years of the 21st century, porno imagery is, to coin a technology term, ‘instant on’ in almost every medium, and whether we like it or not, sex resonates in our subconsiousness more than ever before. My pictures of it are instant in many senses of the word: automatic, ephemeral, unpredictable, disposable.
C.C. O’Hanlon is a relentless traveller, polymath and occasional diarist. His work has been featured in numerous publications, including The New York Times, Ernest, Minor Literatures and The Learned Pig. It has also been included in several anthologies and ‘best of…’ collections. Born in Sydney, and raised nearly everywhere else, he has lived for the past five years in Berlin. He is now en route to somewhere else.