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Not Visual Noise: A Journey Through Photographic Documentation

This photography exhibit encourages interaction and introspection.

The camera is not just a tool for taking pictures. A camera is an extension of the user’s eye, capturing moments and freezing them into images ready to be consumed by the eyes of the world. It is the challenge, then, for the photographer not just to present a moment frozen in time but also present a clear, visual representation of the message and emotions they wish to convey to the viewer.

Technology has made it possible for everyone to stake their claim in the art of photography. From being large, cumbersome pieces of equipment, cameras are now available either as pocket-sized, stand-alone units or thumb-sized chip sets integrated into mobile phones. Dark rooms are now joined by software and phone applications that provide filters and dramatic shooting effects with just a few clicks and taps. People from all walks of life can now document everything from their day to day activities to milestone celebrations and share them on social media.

This, then, is how photography has moved past beyond simple documentation to becoming an art form in its own right. As a result, photographers, though effectively all documentarians, are distinguished from each other by being specifically called a photojournalist or a documentary photographer. Some might even delve into the use of photography alongside other media, creating pieces that tease the senses even more than photography already does.

Therein lies one part of the challenge issued to the photographers who participated in “Not Visual Noise”: showcasing the skill with which creatives are able to harness a common tool and communicating their views and ideas to an audience that may or may not agree with what they see.

The exhibit curator, Angel Velasco Shaw, is an artist in her own right and, therefore, is highly familiar with the ties between the different forms of art. It is with this same care and attention that she has assembled a collection of creatives whose creations both highlight and distinguish each field of photography while showing how inextricably bound they are to each other.

At the heart of the exhibit is the question of what constitutes “visual noise.” We are, after all, constantly subjected to many forms of imagery, be it online or offline. And, for citizens of the internet who are heavy users of social media, it is nearly impossible to avoid being bombarded with both the meaningful and the inane as evidenced by the constant circulation of memes declaring what is or isn’t “appropriate for sharing”.

Velasco Shaw challenged each selected photographer to push their work beyond what was familiar. In doing so, she also challenges visitors to see beyond their own context, connecting with both the work and, indirectly, with the artists. Many exhibit pieces are interactive, some even inviting audiences to touch, create, and even use their mobile devices so that they can go deeper and more intimately into the world and message of each image. (For the last, I would suggest having a QR code reader ready.)

So what can be expected of a visit to “Not Visual Noise”?

The artists featured in the exhibit are of varying ages and cover a wide range of subjects. Each body of work is a collection in itself: an expression of what they have chosen to document and reveal of their surroundings and, ultimately, of themselves. Because Velasco Shaw challenged the artists to express their ideas on documentation and visual noise within the bounds of social and cultural issues, the audience is shown a wide range of commentaries, ideas, experiments, and statements. Whether or not they agree with the photographers’ views, each piece reaches out to the viewer, asking them to think, react, and reflect.

Some pieces may be familiar, especially for those who diligently follow the news. Ezra Acayan’s and Raffy Lerma’s work, for example, has gone viral on the internet several times over. However, seeing the same images printed on a larger scale brings in a new layer of impact as details in texture and expression are more easily viewed and scrutinized. Rick Rocamora’s collection of photographs of people reacting to the 9-11 tragedy contrast heavily with the desolate structures from the City of Marawi, left as mere echoes of the lives that once existed within their walls.

The journey through the galleries is as much a treat for the senses as it is for the mind and spirit. Ultimately, one visit is not enough to fully digest the depth and range of emotion expressed by the images and the artists. The prints by Kawayan De Guia, for example, can become overwhelming when viewed in succession as each multi-layered photograph demands contemplation, if not admiration, for the skill with which they were created. And if you’re a fan of puzzles, you may want to come back just to contribute just a little bit more to the completion of Romina Diaz’s 8,000-piece work of art.

What is the value of the images we see every day?

Finding the answer to this question is the challenge issued to the artists and the same challenge issued to the audience. This exhibit might answer it then again, it might not. The one certainty that the exhibit delivers is that it will send you on your own journey as you walk through, read the text, and view and interact with each piece.

What constitutes visual noise and is there such a thing as an over-saturation of the senses?

“Not Visual Noise” runs until 29 March 2020 at the third floor galleries of the Ateneo Art Gallery, Soledad V. Pangilinan Arts Wing, Areté, Ateneo de Manila University. Admission is free.