Mexican photographer Pedro Meyer is known for being one of the first to embrace digital photography and the greatly enhanced scope for manipulating images that came with it. His contention that all photographs — including those that haven’t been touched up in any way — are both “true” and “untrue” challenges the notion that any image, or the naked eye for that matter, can accurately capture “reality”.
Say cheese: (from left) The Temptation of the Angel; and Iguana Merchant. Pedro Meyer 2008/from Heresies: A Retrospective of Pedro Meyer
The idea is at least as old as Greek philosophy, but acquires an urgent relevance in the less abstract realm of photography which, over the past decade, has been turned on its head by the digital camera, editing software such as Photoshop and the Internet. With his self-evidently manipulated images, Meyer has played provocateur to the hilt, thumbing his nose at traditionalists — and thrived.
Heresies (so titled after his “heretical” notions of truth and untruth), the much-heralded retrospective of his oeuvre, will, according to the accompanying literature, in true Meyer style, “challenge the limits of current photographic exhibitions” — it will be unveiled simultaneously in at least 60 museums worldwide and, along with large format prints, will incorporate “new technological elements, such as digital galleries that integrate audio, text and images” and, for good measure, “the use of the iPhone and the iPod for downloading videos and audio”.
At the heart of it, of course, are the photographs, shot over a five-decade-long career. The ones which will be on view in New Delhi next week are all conventional large format prints. With a couple of exceptions, they are black and white images that clearly pre-date the digital era and, as such, can be appreciated for being striking photographs of things and people. The portraits and group photos — such as that of an elegant lady with her liveried attendants; a shrivelled old man with desiccated iguanas; and teenage boys in hoods and baseball caps in a spray-painted dystopian setting — say a lot about the subjects without being judgemental. Transcending physical condition, age and class, the subjects’ humanity strikes a chord with the viewer.
There is also the well-known digitally altered image of a young girl dressed as an angel and a miniaturized old lady on the chequer table in front of her. Titled The Temptation of the Angel, the image effectively makes Meyer’s point: Though obviously not “real”, it fascinates because it feels real at some level. Another photo — that of people looking at photos hung on a wall, much like viewers at this exhibit—could plausibly be either real (in that it hasn’t been touched up) or altered, underscoring the fragile foundations of our sense of “true” and “real”.
Heresies: A Retrospective by Pedro Meyerhas been brought by Tasveer and will run from 22-31 October at the Stainless Gallery, Ishwar Nagar, New Delhi.