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Idiot, Dreamer, or Rousseau with a Camera?

May 29th, 2013 No Comments

“It’s not enough anymore that photographers show us exotic places. . . . A good photographer is a storyteller, a reliable filter of his seen and felt reality.”  That is the approach of Kai Löffelbein who photographed a series on Hong Kong’s ‘Cage People’ – those who live in cage compartments in a cramped room.

A sampling of Löffelbein’s fascinating work, World of Wire, appears alongwith an interview on the Leica Blog where it is a rarity as a colour gallery.   

The photographer’s grounding in “social issues” seems to have a bearing on his ‘storytelling’ as evident in the way he juxtaposes a rooftop shack of sorts with luxury skyscrapers.  

It is one of the few brightly-lit daytime shots in the picture story.  Most images are night, indoor light, underexposed, or dark-background photos.  These techniques of exposure lend a grim and depressing feel to the images, accentuating the grim and depressing living conditions of the subjects.  In Löffelbein’s words, so as to get across “their hopeless situation,” “pictures and mood of the story is quiet and dark.”  Therefore, a photo that did not have to be shot at night was taken at that time, all the better to convey the isolation of the person symbolized by a disembodied hand.  As the hand is cut off from its owner, so too is the cage-dwelling denizen cut off from Greater Hong Kong which has implicitly passed him by.

The photographer also uses other photographic devices to convey his point and tell a story, such as simple composition.  Look at this downbeat, depressing photo.  Cover up the right half until the central vertical bar with a sheet of paper and you’ll see that what remains doesn’t look remotely downbeat or depressing!

Löffelbein says, “Call me an idiot or a dreamer, but . . . pictures can make us think about what is going on in the world or in your immediate vicinity and show us our responsibility in a globalized world.”  With the approaches and techniques that photographers like him bring, his objectives and aspirations are not remotely those of “an idiot or a dreamer” but those of, say, a Rousseau with a camera.

 

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