Review of No Cause For Concern from BlackFlash Magazine

Review from Blackflash

Photography is simple. In fact, anyone can achieve satisfactory results. Point a camera at something (someone or somewhere), press a button and you have an instantly recognizable image. Upload that image to the Internet and you can share its amazingly descriptive capabilities with friends and colleagues.

Now retake that same photograph and move the camera angle slightly to the left or right. What happens to the image? It is now completely different. A distinct change in time and perspective has occurred and the experience of the former activity has affected how, why, and where you will move the camera; and just to compound the actual complexity of the process add in the chance factor. What happens if a cat just happens to walk into the frame while taking the second photograph?

Photography is in fact not simple but entirely difficult and unwavering in its intricacies. Although we can get caught up in debating the merits of its descriptive capabilities, the real dilemma exists in how we interpret the descriptions in them. That is what we are reminded of when looking at the striking photographs from Karen Asher’s exhibition No Cause for Concern.

One photograph, The Ice Cream Man, shows a tanned, well-dressed, older gentleman looking just above and to the left of the viewer. The man is holding a half-eaten ice cream cone (which threatens to drip), while wearing a clear, thin oxygen tube that runs down his chest from his nostrils. These two disparate elements along with his large beaming smile seem to dominate the image by their apparent incongruity and more importantly, through Asher’s direct use of flash. Does the small indulgence of an ice cream cone by a man of such ill health (the oxygen tubes) really need to carry such a darkly funny sentiment? Hard to say, but it is unmistakable.

Another photograph, Mom in Bed, reveals itself as decidedly more morose and personal. This stems from the relationship between the descriptive elements in the image and the accompanying title. In Mom in Bed, the figure is Asher’s mother, which is an important distinction. Asher could have left the title more generic as she does with The Ice Cream Man, but instead Asher, akin to journalists captioning their images, guides the viewer in a more focused direction. This deliberate titling is bold and effective, adding a layer of intimacy to the image, in which her mother lies quietly in bed (maybe asleep) with her hand and arm, bloated, pale, and slightly out of focus in the foreground. Her mother’s arm and hand controls our attention and creates a triangular focal point with the flowers in the background and her mother’s slightly turned head. The positioning of the hand and arm and more importantly, the low oblique positioning of the camera in relation to the subject seems to create a visual wall between the viewer and her mother. While The Ice Cream Man seems to poke fun at our playful darker side, Mom in Bed does nothing of the sort. The distance between the viewer and Asher’s mother, while not far physically, seems emotionally oceanic.

No Cause for Concern is a wonderfully diverse and inspired collection of photographs. Where Asher seems to falter, which is not very often, is when she moves a little too close, stylistically and thematically, to the photographers from which she draws influence. Photographs such as Parade and Marathon Runner make the viewer think overwhelmingly of the tradition they stem from as opposed to the content itself. There is a strangeness to these two images that seems forced and familiar.

Despite this criticism, there are photographs amongst the fifteen exhibited prints that will make other photographers jealous. There is also an openness and sense of adventure in many of Asher’s images. Where she is strongest, where she appears to exist more, is in The Ice Cream Man, Mom in Bed,johnny, Dad, and Mike and Sylvia. These photographs veer further from the photographic centre and instead roam freely, zigzagging around the fringes of her imagination. They point toward a fresh, exciting, and idiosyncratic voice on the crowded Canadian photographic landscape.

–¬†Richard Hines