How Now Mao.

Photographs by Brad Rimmer.
T&G, 2011. 128 pp., 100 color and duotone illustrations, 9½x11".

Publisher's Description
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 and concealment.

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.

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