Art that makes you think is the best kind

There was a kerfuffle in the New Zealand media recently over the exhibition of eight photographs taken of members of the NZ Mongrel Mob.

The owner of the gallery has had to defend his decision to display the images, especially one of a man who, since his photograph was taken, has been accused of murder. The father of the victim, upset and bewildered by the inclusion of this particular photograph, demanded that this image be removed. The photographer refused but he agreed to meet with the father and they talked. Afterwards, on TV, the father was less angry. He said that he understood the photographer’s values and beliefs and he said that he was one of the best men he’d ever met. For the sake of his son, he made his peace.

Like many others who watched this story play out on the evening news, I wanted to see the photographs for myself. I’ve visited the gallery before. It’s on a street of cafes and noodle shops. It’s always crowded with students taking a smoking break from language classes on the pavement outside their office-block school and young professionals eating sushi and drinking coffee on the word-benches placed conveniently along the street.

The gallery is in a single high-ceilinged room raised above street level by a few steps. From the pavement, looking through the huge glass window,  the photographs look impressive but harmless. The glass dilutes the colours and shadows in each  image and deflects their impact but face to face the power is undeniable. It’s impossible to look away.

This is confrontational art. The caretaker of the exhibition told me that the photographer didn’t want the images to be similar in any way to a family portrait so he has made each one the size of a wall. It’s not possible to react in small way to these images: the fascination, anger, disgust, awe, fear, admiration they inspire is profound. Days later, I’m still reeling.

Where to go:

The Gow Langsford gallery is at 26 Lorne Street, Auckland.  Images from Jono Rotman’s seven year project on the Mongrel Mob including members of the Notorious, Rogue and Mighty Mongrel Mob New Zealand chapters is open until 24 May 2014.

Categories: New Zealand

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