21 Apr 2021

Escapism through Photography

Unframe London

Escapism through Photography

We delve into the world of escapist art in light of the worldwide pandemic.

In light of the worldwide pandemic, art as a means of escapism has become a source of solace. Escapist photography acts as a means in which to momentarily escape from every day life. The realms of the mundane have become apparent for all those affected by lockdown. Most of all, an escapist photograph allows viewers insight into an alternate world through its composition. It speaks of the overlooked world of aestheticism and beauty, open to us momentarily.

In our exploration of escapist photography, we delve into a distracting world away from reality. We look at the work of Benedetta Panisson, Vinca Petersen and Hiroshi Sugimoto, to name a few.

Vinca Petersen
‘Ali and Frisbee’, 1995. Vinca Petersen. Courtesy of Paul Stolper

Subjectivity

Although an escapist artwork is almost entirely subjective, each have a number of common threads. In many ways, an escapist artwork acts as a portal between worlds. During the pandemic, as we have learnt new ways of being together, eventually we have found a shared language of escapism. The use of escapism becomes a way in which to combat the mundanities of everyday life.

In our current political and social climate, escapism is an overlooked term to most. Moreover, it represents a kind of mental engagement which is dictated by the individual. Despite its subjectivity, escapist art becomes something without any overt social function, with a quest to be vigilant.

Childhood

Eleonora Agostini

Childhood

Gelatin Silver Hand Print, 2019

52 x 66 cm

Eleonora Agostini

The way in which escapism manifests itself in Eleonora Agostini’s photography is in the wistful and removed scenes she portrays. In most examples, her photography sets itself as portraying scenes of domesticity. Her work is mostly driven by her interest in the redefinition and reconsideration of the everyday. This is something which is relatable to all, due to the recent months of restrictions. Her 2019 photograph ‘Childhood’ portrays imagery of folded clothing, neatly placed on the lawn of a garden. Agostini presents viewers with a considered and calming scene. As mentioned, Agostini’s photography shows removed compositions devoid of narrative. Therefore, we are left to come to our own conclusion to the meaning of the image, making it open for interpretation.

Scene n.2 (The Swimmer) - One Must Imagine Him Happy series

Eleonora Agostini

Scene n.2 (The Swimmer) – One Must Imagine Him Happy series

Video, 2018

7 minutes 52 seconds

Within her practice, Agostini encompasses photography, performance and sculpture. Initially, through the study of preconceived physical and psychological structures, she investigates human experience and its difficulties. Most often, Agostini studies and documents conventional activities, those of which we have all faced during the global pandemic. Important to note, she is interested in finding fractures within socially constructed rules in relation to spaces we inhabit.

Finally, she uses humour and absurdity as vessels for the discovery of new meaning within the mundane. Ultimately, she transforms an ordinary space into a place of experimentation. In her recent photographic series, Agostini considers the complexity of the domestic space. They question relationship powers in her family and the role of labour within the borders of the home.

People Do Water

Benedetta Panisson

People Do Water

Lambda print on photographic paper, 2013

35 x 60cm

Benedetta Panisson

Venetian artist Benedetta Panisson dedicates her work to the aesthetics of sexuality. Within the realms of escapism, Panisson’s photographs grant the viewer access into a sensory moment. In composition, she depicts rarely still moments, captured through a voyeuristic lens. Her 2013 piece ‘People Do Water’ portrays two women standing in shallow water taken from a considerable distance. Through the voyeurism in her photography, Panisson urges us to view the figures in this way too. In particular, ‘People Do Water’ becomes escapist in it’s portrayal of the unknown, visually allowing us into the artist’s dream-like world.

People Do Water I

Benedetta Panisson

People Do Water I

Lambda print on photographic paper, 2013

35 x 60cm

Panisson primarily works with photography, video installation, live performance and drawing in her varied art practice. Almost all of her projects are the result of long period processes and her works in progress often are completely exposed. Most of all, she works on the union between photography and the aesthetics of sexuality, subsequently, concentrating the research on the sea as sexual metaphor.

Joel Meyerowitz
‘Dairy Land, Provincetown, Massachusetts’, 1976. Joel Meyerowitz. Courtesy of Garage

Joel Meyerowitz

New York photographer Joel Meyerowitz grants viewers access into his world seen through the eyes of a voyeur. His patient and ‘happened upon’ depictions of 1960s America give us insight into the social and cultural environment at the time. Coined by critics as a street photographer, Meyerowitz likens his work to the traditional photography of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank. Meyerowitz transformed the medium of photography in his pioneering use of colour. All in all, he became instrumental in changing people’s attitude towards colour photography from one of resistance to near universal acceptance.

Meyerowitz
‘JFK Airport, New York City’, 1968. Joel Meyerowitz. Courtesy of Garage

His wistful photographs grant a form of escapism in their compositions, evoking an ability to travel to another time. Only fine details elude to the date of each photograph and it is Meyerowitz’s use of colour and tone that becomes truly escapist for viewers.

Vinca Petersen
‘River Conversation’, 1995. Vinca Petersen. Courtesy of Vogue

Vinca Petersen

Within our selection so far, artist Vinca Petersen’s escapist photographs give us insight into the concealed world of rave culture in the 1990s. Importantly, she evokes a sense of freedom and youth in her photography. Petersen grasps and portrays the coveted feeling of togetherness, something the last year has been lacking due to the worldwide pandemic and lockdowns. In relation to escapist photography, Petersen’s imagery allows us to feel that sense of opportunity and hope for a future of human interaction.

Petersen Escapist Photography
‘Paula at Sunrise from the series No System’, 1989-1999. Vinca Petersen. Courtesy of AnotherMag

Peterson primarily works as a photographer. As well as this she works with installation, mixed media, and performance. As an artist, mostly she works in the area of social and cultural practice. However, each of her works, including her ethereal photography derive from her deep and rooted social and political engagement. Important to note, she would often work with underrepresented communities over the world, giving them power in the form of a voice. Her photography is a lifelong project, born from a desire to reveal alternate ways of life to others. In summary, she commits her work to ethical ideas of our relationship to others and how it should be nurtured.

Liam Wong
‘Tokyo Glitch’, date unknown. Liam Wong. Courtesy of BBC

Liam Wong

Scottish photographer and video gaming director Liam Wong creates cinematic and dramatic imagery in his photography work taken in Japan. In contrast to those discussed, Wong’s urban compositions speak of a world steeped in vibrancy and beauty. Wong’s photography is considered and curated to show viewers a snapshot of the night time world, not seen by many. As a result, his snapshots of Tokyo become hugely cinematic and tell imaginative stories viewers can conjure themselves. He often takes photographs of urban landscapes and city life. However, he focuses on details such as warped umbrellas and complex architectural imagery.

Wong Escapism
‘Memories of Green’, date unknown. Liam Wong. Courtesy of BBC

These give a hint to civilisation whilst predominantly evoking ideas of dystopian films and novels set in the future. In parallel to his growing career in the video gaming world, Wong taught himself photography. His photographs, in many ways are an ode to his methodology of capturing the world at night. Finally, the images almost buzz and are comprised of complex and dramatic patterns of shadows and line, lit by artificial light.

Hiroshi Sugimoto Escapism
‘N. Pacific Ocean, Ohkurosaki’, 2013. Hiroshi Sugimoto. Courtesy of Forbes

Hiroshi Sugimoto

To conclude, we look at Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto’s esoteric photography, often addressing themes of memory and time. In his use of long exposure photography, in short Sugimoto creates eery and otherworldly depictions of the sea. His monochrome seascapes conjure a sense of calm as viewers escape to another world, simple and full of contemplation. As well as this, he obscures his photography and alters reality to a point which is immersive for viewers looking in. The world Sugimoto creates is one of simplicity and allure. Without signs of life, figures or social culture, he compels us to ‘fall in’ to his photographs, making for a truly all encompassing feeling.

Sugimoto
‘Seascape’, 2013. Hiroshi Sugimoto. Courtesy of Photogpedia

Time capsule

Sugimoto sees his photography as found objects, without an actual subject. In some cases, he eludes to how photographers steal images from the world. In contrast, Sugimoto likens his work to the expression of exposed time, his work serving as a time capsule for history and events. Although his work mostly focuses on the transience of life, he also builds upon ideas of the conflicts between life and death. He is deeply influence by the works of Marcel Duchamp, as well as the Dada and Surrealism movement. All in all, we as the viewer are subject to the world he captures and the way in which he chooses to capture it.

In the current climate, escapism is still an overlooked term and isn’t practiced often. However, due to the worldwide pandemic, we have all been forced to seek an escape in some way. Whether it be virtual or physical, escapism has been a source of freedom and routine for many. In our exploration of escapist photography, it has become apparent that each image speaks of an often dismissed but alluring world. Within an escapist photograph, we are granted access to world unbeknownst to us, which evokes a sense of hope for when the world ‘re-opens’.