31 Oct 2013

DAVID WALA - A A D Photography Exhibition - Cluny, Newcastle - 6th November 2013 - January 2014

It’s the participatory element of David Wala’s latest exhibition titled A A D (I’ll come back to that title later) that sets this collection of portraits apart.

Rather than documenting the local music scene, Wala has taken his work in a different direction by handing over creative control to those who are typically his subject matter and in doing so has prompted questions surrounding authority, ownership and the role of participatory art within photography.

The methodology for A A D is simple; Wala sets up a Hasselbald (analogue) medium format camera and an old-style squeeze ball shutter release that he places in the hands of his subject. It’s up to them, the subject, to take the shot.

A A D stands for Analogue (the  type  of  camera  used)  Analogue  (the  film  used)  and  Digital  (the  printing process), and it is also the abbreviation that is found on the back of most CDs. If you have used an analogue camera you will resonate with that laborious process of setting up a shot – which is so far removed from digital photography it’s unreal. With analogue you feel like you HAVE to get every shot right because your limit is dictated to you by a roll of film you have wedged in the back of your camera. Every click of the shutter is precious because it’s counting down to your last shot.

Wala has taken what is normally a very controlled process where the artist dictates the outcome and flipped it on its head and this is where it gets interesting. Relinquishing creative control regarding when the shutter button is released to the subjects themselves puts the subject in a position of power regarding how their image is captured and in turn this amplifies the personalities of those in the portrait. Wala also includes the contact sheets in the exhibition itself, allowing the audience to see which shot was selected from the entire roll of film the subjects had to play with. Again this emphasises the individual personalities of the subjects.

I suppose this is what I most enjoyed because it reminded me that these subjects were real people, real musicians in real bands and you start to see the beauty in human error – the blurred shot, the unexpected shot. Then you encounter the subjects who get creative and bring in props to create scenes and you see the beginnings of a narrative or dialogue between the subjects coming through.

You get a definite sense of playfulness from this collection, which is emphasized because the subjects lack inhibition when placed in a position of authority – they don’t have palpitations over out of focus shots or whether this is ill-lit scene and they’ve only got 7 shots left over - it’s all trial and error and the fun of releasing the shutter to the surprise of someone who said they “weren’t ready, so why did you take the photo?? – I can hear the conversations that went on. With these portraits Wala and his subjects have rekindled is a sense of play that so many of us seem to lose touch with. Thankfully there is no pressure here, this is just a massive experiment in social interaction and human creativity in celebration of the joy of the human touch.

Words: Frances McKenna
Picture: David Wala (Howler pictured)

David Wala has a Kickstarter campaign which offers some unique rewards, including the camera

and shutter release used for most of this project. Visit the page for more information and

a video explaining the project:

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