Review: ‘Identity in Individualism’

With his first exhibition, ‘Identity in Individualism’, photographer KB Bishara invites us to tackle a “subconscious social perception towards the less fortunate”. The exhibition challenges the viewer to confront their own perceptions of what defines a person’s identity. Bishara intentionally avoids the names and locations of those in each photograph, providing an opportunity for the viewer to look at an image without binding its individuals – whether consciously or not – to the various social boundaries that humanity perpetuates. Within the crisp, white exhibition space of the North Wall Arts Centre, togetherness is contrasted with loneliness, desperation with defiance, in ways that compel us to look deep into every image.

The black-and-white photographs are arranged by Bishara according to three central themes: “Identity – inspiring souls that I’ve built a lifelong connection with; In – moments of living and existing within groups; Individualism – the effects of manmade deprivation.” The absence of colour within the photographs works to convey the photographer’s message: focus on the person, their story, their being. It certainly opened my mind to how much colour can in fact distract us from the reality of the photograph.

The composition of each photograph is meticulous, with the crisp contrast of light and dark accentuating the human experience, often enabling us to look past what we would subconsciously regard as the dominant figure or element. To use a fellow viewer’s observance, the photographs are incredibly articulate. Through the imagery, the use of aperture and focus, and the symbolic positioning of the bodies, a story is being told, but the outcome is of the viewer’s own creation.

Two of the most thought-provoking and striking photographs are placed next to each other in the furthest right-hand corner of the space. In one, a pair of feet rest on a mat, soles exposed, set against the sharp line of the floor. In the other, a dark silhouette walks towards us, down a vista of concrete houses bathed in bright sunlight. Both depict individuals within a cold, man-made environment, a collective reality. They throw into contestation not only our perception of our own environment and the people within it, but also how we conceive of beauty.

Taking such intimate photographs is a difficult feat, raising both technical and ethical challenges. Bishara took a very personal approach; he was not only there to capture an image, but also to hear a person’s story. His subjects became friends, not bound by poverty or hardship, but individual human beings, excited at the prospect of having their story told. Despite these concerns of representation, the exhibition addresses universal issues; as Bishara concludes, it’s a project “much greater than ‘I’”. ‘Identity in Individualism’ is an achievement, not only because of the insightful and moving photography displayed, but also due to the complex concepts explored. The invitation to tackle your own perceptions of humanity offers a unique opportunity, a challenge I urge you to take.

Enid Still

The exhibition is on display at the North Wall Arts Centre until Friday 29 January. KB Bishara’s own website can be found here.

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