• To be liminal is to be elusive. In literary theory, critical theory, psychology, neurology, and simply, in states of being, to be liminal is to exist within the frays of perception. In looking at the field of contemporary photography, the concept of thresholds finds its way back to the genre of portraiture, where the self depicted is neither here nor there, past nor present, but a moment rendered that suspends and challenges our perceptions of who we are, and who we may be.

    Sarah Fuller’s Dream Works series has been a captivating exploration of what our dreaming selves could possibly look like. Starting from Salvador Dali’s proposition to catch a glimpse of himself as he fell asleep, Fuller’s project has evolved to the point of completing an intensive residency with the Dream and Nightmare Lab in Montreal. Connecting the shutter of a camera to a sleeping patient’s monitored EEG rate, the portraits capture the moment one falls into the hypnagogic stage of sleep, creating a literal portrait of that elusive moment one shifts into the dreaming self. While these monitored portraits offer a sense of accuracy, the project began in a simpler way that is still enchanting. Fuller first began creating portraits of herself and her friends with a pinhole camera, asking dreamers to leave the shutter open for the duration of the night. In the morning, each participant wrote down what he or she dreamed in a shared journal. These haunting early portraits, spanning the time between conscious and subconscious states, convey a specter of transitions, suggesting dreams both captured and made.

    Embracing the working lives of strangers, figuratively and quite literally, Alana Riley offers a glimpse of magic into the ordinary lives of working class people. In her series The Pressure Between You And Me Is Enough To Take A Picture, Riley photographed herself in close embraces with individuals in and around their work places. Setting up her camera and placing the shutter release between herself and perfect strangers, their physical embrace is what triggers the camera to photograph their portraits. The working act of taking the photograph is then a shared and democratic experience. The photographer becomes the photographed, and the photographed in turn has a hand, or abdomen, in being the photographer. Categorical roles are intimately challenged, and the result is a sense of unity and possibility. Choosing working class individuals who embody a socially underappreciated knowledge of craft and service, from the seamstress to the mechanic, Riley’s own uniform of jeans and a red and white gingham shirt lends a visual consistency between each portrait. The moment captured is the moment in which there was enough tension between them to trigger the shutter, and so it is tension that commemorates this moment of two strangers working together.

    Demonstrating an aptitude for culling and translating an emotional bond with her photographed subjects, Meera Margaret Singh offers a profound softness to the medium of portraiture. Humanizing the lines and motions of faces, bodies, and gestures in action, Singh’s portraits offer a sense of lived tension. In her Together Apart series, Singh explores the implied intimacy between friends, family, and lovers in their domestic spaces. Conjuring up estrangement from the familiar, the key to the series is a play on the intimacy in and beyond the photograph. Working with the notion of distance as both a physical and emotional factor, Singh plays on the intangible definitions of connection. In Lorrie and Angus, the portrait conveys a polite familiarity and comfort through its setting. But within its slightly askew symmetry, Singh captures vulnerability in the couple’s concentrated outward gaze. Separated by mere inches, their focus creates a distance between them that could be miles apart. Yet, while their postures and gaze convey an emotional distance, what separates them also unites them, as their portrait reveals a world of unsaid history. It is our human complexity in portraiture that destabilizes who we think we are, especially in relation to another.

    Pushing the definition of portraiture even further, Chloe Lewis and Andrew Taggart’s Black Holes series is, at first glance, a witty response to travel photography. Husband and wife collaborators who create as one, the duo has been staging two black discs in place of themselves in locations throughout the world. As commemorative photographs, they signify both togetherness and separation in situating two black holes in existence. Whether at the Tate Modern or sightseeing across Europe, the portraits capture these two black holes sitting side by side in picturesque locations in place of the artists themselves. The ultimate absent presence, what’s interesting is that these seemingly romantic photographs, shot in a timeless black and white, still manage to convey a great sense of lack, which is fitting for the purveyors of The Museum of Longing and Failure. Recently completing a unique co-MFA at the Kunsthøgskolen in Norway, Lewis and Taggart reveal through their ongoing Black Holes that they are two beings at work, searching and exploring in tandem, and in that harmonious conjoined adventure, emerges a true sense of how one becomes both intimate and liminal together.

    Amy Fung is a Canadian art critic, curator and editor. Fung is the founder of PrairieArtsters.com and will be participating in an Arts Writing and Curating Fellowship in Scotland in 2011.


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