How Now Mao.
Photographs by Brad Rimmer.
T&G, 2011. 128 pp., 100 color and duotone illustrations, 9½x11".
Brad Rimmer’s HOW NOW MAO is a new chapter in an ongoing visual
narrative informed by the cultural idiosyncrasies of place. These
images taken in China are undeniably coloured by a peripheral
Western vision of Eastern culture. However, when seen in context with
the parallel series of the Wheatbelt landscape of Western Australia one
begins to appreciate Rimmer’s acute awareness of his overall objective
and thematic framework which informs the underlying conceptual link
between the two oeuvres.
The palpable sense of isolation so clearly articulated in the
Australian images resurfaces in the Chinese series on multiple levels.
The photographer, himself an alien in a foreign land, speaking little
Chinese and often relying on interpreters to interact with the
environment, through these images documents a personal perspective
of a country’s evolving cultural make-up.
Rimmer’s photographs have an inherent capacity to interweave and
compress multiple readings by focussing on what is excluded from the
frame as much as what has been highlighted. The backgrounds are
often simple, everyday settings. The portrait’s initial focus is the sitter
suspended momentarily from daily routine. Only through the process
of disengaging with the central focus and re-engaging with its single
parts does further meaning evolve and intensify. Rimmer’s attention to
details of location, place, the individual and their personal thoughts
often creates an uneasy harmony between reality and desire.
These portrayals of places and people are remarkable because of
the exacting way they capture the essential quality, the sum and
substance of the subjects and situations. They reveal what we may in
many cases perceive as romantic quasi-idyllic reflections of human
aspirations. The viewer cannot know if answers given to the questions
“what is your dream?” and “what makes you happy?” are sincere or
otherwise. We must consider that the images are illustrations of a
partial reality as much as the text that accompanies them, and that
our own shortcomings in understanding the complex cultural
distinctiveness of Chinese culture adds to the void between reality
The inevitable curiosity of the dynamics of an ongoing major
cultural transition in China and the fragments of traditions left in its
wake are certainly part of Rimmer’s drive to document and interpret
China’s social landscape. The intimacy of a moment in the life of a
waitress, a businessman, a bellboy or an engineer is captured through
the marriage of image and text, of a perceived reality and a persona
truth. Through this coupling these images shed some light on aspects
of modern day China and it’s quest to maintain ties to a historical
uniqueness without prejudice in its rapid evolution towards the
indisputable changes that have lead to a revised and shifting identity.
The subjects maintain a reverent stillness and a sense of
impermanence, a metaphor of human existence subsisting within a
world that is changing more rapidly than ever. Traditional dress,
colours, interiors are fast becoming a façade, an iconic reference to a
traditional past where China can no longer conform to strict traditional
notions but at the same time cannot fully escape them. Paola Anselmi.