An American Love Story
In Anguish, the model is bound with her hands tied behind her back and blindfolded with police tape. Courtesy photo.
By Melina Paris Contributing Writer
Huss Hardan knew that not everyone was going to find Anguish & Obsession: An American Love Story palatable.
In fact, he even warned potential spectators that the exhibit includes the kind of “mature” content that might make people with milder dispositions uncomfortable.
At the April First Thursday Artwalk in San Pedro, Hardan noticed that a few people walked a few feet into huZ galleries — where the exhibition is on display — then turned around and left. Hardan’s theory is that people with milder dispositions tend to be offended by the political statement and not offended by the nudity.
The images in Anguish & Obsession: An American Love Story express the abuse of power, fetishistic obsessions that some have with firearms, the disastrous consequences of such obsessions and the danger of militarized police. Hardan believes that some people do not want to acknowledge that bad things happen to people, often because they are in a privileged position. He references a subset of people who tend to be white, wealthier and very isolated. He says they don’t want to know there is political and social strife going on that doesn’t affect them.
“People who actually bother to come to galleries want to see it,” Hardan said. “You always want a reaction but the reaction was, they did not consider the message, read the statement, or ask what it was about.”
The space inside of huZ galleries is open, clean, and black and white. The feel of the exhibit is minimalist, grasping and slightly sterile –that is, until you see the photos. The exhibit is organized as two halves: the left with digital black and white photographs and the right comprised of photographs taken with 15-year-old expired film.
Yellow police tape was woven through the exhibit and each print was displayed in steel frames and hung from silver chains.
He was surprised to get such a positive response, especially from the younger crowd. He expected the split between younger and older to be wider. Anguish and Obsession — An American Love Story is beautiful and disturbing, artistic and inspired, brave and playful, and dangerous and painful.
For the exhibit, Hardan created a hybrid style from Helmut Newton and “Weegee,” a 1930s and 40s photographer named Arthur Fellig. Much of Weegee’s work depicted realistic scenes of crime, injury and death. By tuning his radio to the police frequency, Weegee often arrived at a crime scene ahead of the police. This gave him the nickname after the Quija board, the popular fortune-telling game.
Helmut Newton, a widely imitated photographer, was known for his provocative, erotically charged black-and-white photos.
Hardan explained that initiating this hybrid created much more of a high contrast shot so it makes the photographs much more impactful. Subtlety wasn’t the idea here.
The titles of the photographs on the left side also served as thematic concepts: Photograph, Seduction, Obsession, Realization, Anguish and The Slaughter of the Innocent.
The titles on the right side include: Prelude, The Innocent, the Frenzy, The End of Seduction, Repose and Regret, The Denial Within, Opening Pandora’s Box and The Slaughter of the Innocent.
The focal point of all of the prints is a model of African descent and a military-style automatic assault rifle. The result is an exhibit that intentionally, or not, delves into race, gender and gun politics.
In Seduction and Obsession, Hardan captures beautifully composed photos of the model draped with white linen in bed with a gun. The photos have a high-gloss magazine quality. In Seduction, the model looks quite pleased and in charge, even playful by facing away from the gun, almost as if she is teasing. In Obsession, she looks directly at the gun as one would towards a lover. She and the weapon are both under the sheets, closer.
The Realization and Anguish regret and pain are articulated. It doesn’t feel any more as if the composition is just about the model and the firearm. In Anguish, the model is bound with her hands tied behind her back and blindfolded with police tape. In the final photograph the model appears as if she were fatally shot, as she futilely clutches her stomach to keep from bleeding out.
The exhibit’s right side continues the narrative with the Prelude by starting at the beginning but as a negative photograph. The sheets are black instead of white, with silver edges, as is the gun.
From The Innocent to the End of Seduction, the imagery are slight variations of the exhibit’s left side before ending with a reflection of Slaughter of the Innocent as a negative photograph.
Hardan’s intention in the way he composed his photographs in the exhibit are readily apparent. His juxtaposition of these images are curious. Particularly in the print titled, Repose and Regret.
The artistry of the whole image with two ghost-like forms under the main photo grabs attention, more so than the visually intensified emotional consequences of the photos. It’s easy to become distracted with the beauty and execution of the photograph, instead of the emotional effects it portrays.
Hardan wanted the model for this exhibit to be a black woman. His model was incredible, he said because the photos were shot in the pitch black studio. First the lights were on to get focus, then with all lights off he took the shot in the dark with a flash.
“It is amazing that her facial expressions are very natural,” Hardan said. “You need someone who is very strong willed for this and very comfortable with themselves. She is not a shy person. You need that to have a message.”
He also chose to have a black model because of the things that are happening to black people. “They are happening far more,” Hardan said. “Abused would be a word, when you just look at things like the incarceration rate, when the crime bills are written specifically to address minority crimes.”
This exhibit is about the obsession of whatever system takes advantage of you. Hardan cites the political system as an example, with incarcerated people losing the right to vote. He wrestled with the fact that a convict served their time, but still serves it — forever. With our incarceration rates, this removes a huge segment of the population. Prisons are for profit. So it’s a business. Then, convicts surely are taken out of the voting pool.
You also see abuse of power when the person seems to be a willing participant. But then, you can see where it turns, the person has been almost suckered in and is then abused. The dynamic changes, they become a victim and they lose their rights.
Hardan’s depictions provide the pieces of the puzzle that is our obsession and its potential effects on us.
There will be a closing reception May 5 and the exhibit will be showing until the last week of May.
Gallery hours: 1 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Sunday, through May 31.
Venue: huZ Galleries, 341 W. 7th St., San Pedro