c-print, 88 x 103,5 cm
For over ten years Mette Tronvoll has worked consistently with the portrait genre in a pictorial language that is direct, sober and restrained. The photographs have nothing of the snapshot about them. Stylistically they are static compositions - as in a studio portrait Tronvoll's subjects face the camera directly without emotional expressions.
The portraits appear to document an encounter. By depicting the portrait subject with a gaze that seems neither critical nor emotional she seeks to encounter the person portrayed on a reciprocal and enquiring level.
At Galerie Nordenhake, Mette Tronvoll shows her latest series of photographs from Mongolia where we are confronted with people from the geographical periphery. Mongolia has always been an independent state, but in the twentieth century it found itself geopolitically hemmed in by two superpowers: The People's Republic of China and the former USSR. Although alternately influenced by both, the country continually managed to preserve its own identity. Its nomadic citizens still set up their gears as they did in the days of Djenghis Kahn.
Tronvoll's images of contemporary Mongolians show us people in their traditional circumstances. Photographed in their native landscape against a wide, unobstructed horizon they face the camera directly. Thus preserved in their untouched natural surroundings, the figures become idealized images of remoteness, far from our urban centres and our grasp of time. Details of clothing and surroundings attest to the foreignness of the lifestyle portrayed. But upon closer observation we find traces of our own global consumer culture: a mass-produced pullover, Nike sneakers. One almost yearns to be caught up in the old clichés, the ideal notions of purity and primordiality that early-twentieth-century modern thinkers posited upon so-called aboriginal people. But the reality recorded here disrupts that dream.
Temporality stands out as a crucial dimension of Tronvoll's work, and our perception of time lies at the very heart of the way we perceive photography. The photograph articulates an experience of our existence in time and space, and as a medium it is closely related to change, to our identity and to our concept of history. The ambivalence of the portrait photograph lies first and foremost in the way we experience ourselves as temporal individuals in a process of constant movement and change, whereas the portrait shows a fixed expression of such a self.
The course of time is an essential aspect of most of Tronvoll's work, whether she contrasts individual portraits of older and younger women as in the series "Age" (1994) or, as in "Double Portraits" (1998), presents side-by-side two almost identical photos of the same person, taken in quick succession. In the latest series from Mongolia we encounter what is perhaps a clearer timelessness, as if the individuals transcend time and space. But traces of our own consumer culture soon brings us back to the present, with the reminder that time does not stand still.
Mette Tronvoll was born 1965 in Trondheim. She is educated at Parsons School of Design in New York. Since 1999 she lives and works in Berlin. This is Mette Tronvoll's first exhibition at Galerie Nordenhake.
Exhibition: March 3 - April 9, 2005
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