Why We Hate Roy Suryo:
A Reflection from the TOP COLLECTION #3
By Robin Hartanto
There are always means to an end for every click of a camera. But now-thanks to the digital era-the means have become so much more complicated than they have ever been before.
Agan Harahap's so-called autobiography, exhibited in TOP COLLECTION #3 exhibition by ruangrupa, shows a glimpse of the complexity. Entitled as Temen-temen Selebriti (translated in part as Celebrities friends, 2012), his work consists of digital-printed book that tells Agan's story of having a lot of famous friends, ranging from athletes, musicians, actors, to politicians. He-Batak, Christian, obedient worshipper, modest, honest, and loyal (his twitter profile says so)-writes that he joined a boxing training camp, where he become a friend of Manny Pacquaio. He tells the reader that 50 Cent, one of his close friends, told him that he wanted to collaborate with Jogja Hip Hop Foundation. He also writes that he had an intimate relationship with beautiful actress such as Megan Fox, Stoya, and Sophie Ellis Bextor. In his story also, we could see that charismatic leaders like Muammar Qaddafi or Hassan Nasrallah are mere lonely men who need a friend, and they found it in him. For every celebrity, he proves it with a picture: he danced with Jennifer Lopez; he played gam suit with Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono; he shook hands with Qaddafi; and so on.
What is important in his photographs is not the fact that they are fake or real (you can guess the answer easily), but the fact that they actually portrait our today's stories. We take a picture with ‘monumental subjects': buildings, landscapes, artworks, exhibitions, events, artists, politicians or even bule (word used by Indonesians to name western foreigners). However, it is not the beauty of a painting, the fabulous design of a building, or the handsomeness of an actor that we want to capture. What is more important for us to perpetuate is the presence of ourselves with the ‘monument'.
Meanwhile, the production of the photographs is only a small part of the whole process. The distribution and consumption are now as important as the production itself. Our personal photographs journey doesn't end in our private album anymore-secluded in our wood wardrobe and getting obscured by the aging of the chemical in the photographs. Our private life photographs, even the picture of what we eat, instead of being a personal collection, now gain their way to the public. We upload them to our social media platforms: blog, facebook, twitter, flickr, and elsewhere; we have our digital album that everybody can see and put comments.
It is not surprising then, when Reza Afisina's personal archive (2012) shows another unexpected twist of the private-public issue in photography. He-a performance and visual artist-collected photographs of himself performing in his everyday life (yes, it is his daily) and his performance art actions which are captured by his friends and uploaded to the public, without his permission. His private life photographs are owned and distributed not by himself, the owner of the body in those pictures. But, is it-showcasing our private life to public with the help of photography distribution a big matter? The answer might be a contradicting one: we might never really have our private life in that so-called private life photography.
The private life, according to Roland Barthes, is zone of space and time where we are not an image, nor an object. Photography, then, is a complex representation for private life, as "in front of the lens, we are at the same time: the one I think I am, the one I want others to think I am, the one the photographer thinks I am, and the one he makes use of to exhibit his art." My argument is: when we take photographs of our private life in a mental state that we want everybody to see it, we are not what we are. The awareness of being observed makes us lost our private life.
With an exception for such a totalitarian performance artist like Reza Afisina, "private life" photography becomes a theatre that performs us, but not us. It forces us to smile while we are gloomy; to change the angle of the camera to make us look better, no matter the possibility where we might never be seen from that angle; or to pick a visually striking setting where we never spend our daily. In the case of the use of webcam, which is the focus of Nissal Nur Afryansah work in the TOP COLLECTION #3 exhibition, it is even more intriguing. We are the actor and the director at the same time.
That kind of photographs might lost their punctum-the personal touch that makes a photo pricks us-as Susan Sontag said "there is something on people's faces when they don't know they are being observed that never appears when they do." Everything is arranged according to how we want to be seen. The photographs become "not a just image, just an image", quoting Jean-Luc Godard. Unfortunately, the problem of the today's photography-again, thanks to the digital era-is not only that. The absurdest thing in this theatrical world of photography, I would argue, happens when we don't know whether it is real or not.
Despite the variety effects of images which can be produced by the technology inside the camera or the extension tools that are being attached to the camera, the essential function of photographs produced by cameras is always the same: it represents something in reality, something in a specific time and place. The manipulation of event, in front of camera, is still a reality of manipulated event.
However, the post-production process makes a difference. Photography never lies, Photoshop always lies; the encounter of both is a perfect match to put us in a hyperreality. By the help of photo-editing software, We can do magic, such as transforming a picture of a glass of mineral water into a glass of wine. The photograph will represent a glass of wine, something real which is actually never existed in the reality that is represented by the photo. Moreover, we can also produce a simulacra of something artificial. The observer will never know whether it exists or no, but it exists as a new reality. Image of ghosts that are observed by Reza Mustar in his work Tampaknya Penampakan (translated in part as It seems a ghostly appearance, 2012) might be a good example. It creates a new reality and people often talks about the appearance of ghosts in the form of photographs, but the real reality will always be a mystery.
We enjoy it, though. It is, once more, not a matter of real or fake. We love mystery, and that is why we hate Roy Suryo. He locks the mystery.
Robin Hartanto lives in Jakarta, spends half of his life in the street and another half to work as a junior architect in Avianti Armand Studio. He graduated from Universitas Indonesia.