You would most likely have seen them on Facebook—a deluge of photos of food, of shoes, of landmarks, of self. These are signs of the times, or most appropriately, shots of the times. Digital photos posted online or via social media have now become the de facto recording of our lives' conquests and aspirations in the dizzying pace of the cyber culture. The accessibility to technology have perpetuated a culture emphasizing on the self, catapulting egos onto a self-styled pedestal replete with ticker tape parade instigated and sustained by the self. The Age of the Selfie is here.'
The digital artist
This notion of the self and documentation turns on its head and takes a more intrinsic and introspective turn in Jun-Jun Sta. Ana's photos in his exhibit non-ironically titled Autobiography at the Nova Gallery running until Aug. 22. The show consists of 125 photograph monoprints rendered on Canson Arches Velin Museum Rag with archival pigment ink. The shots were taken from an iPhone 4s, tweaked with a photo-editing app.
Sta. Ana has no qualms to call himself a digital artist nor at the fact that he uses the almost-ubiquitous smartphone as his tool for his art. These are issues attached on art production as seen as a romantic notion of being separated from decent society. If the tools of art production can be manipulated by any user, what makes your work “special” or “artist?” Such shrill romantic notion of the artist as a separate and special magician in society is still evocative now. Thankfully, Sta. Ana is no romantic, at least his shots are not romantic by themselves.
The iPhone is Sta. Ana's tool and not his master. One beautiful shot happened when the artist was drinking and say that the bottom of the glass can serve as a filter, and thus proceeded to take a photo of a cityscape as if melting as it was truncated by the makeshift filter with blobs of carrot juice sloughing off to the bottom. In Sta. Ana's works, street signs, windshields doused in water, skyscrapers take on a provocative feel shifting between alienation and familiarity.
The shots in his Autobiography are collected from his walking through the urbanscapes of Manila, Baguio, Silay, Chicago, Indianapolis and New York. These are not shots of the glitzy landmarks of these places, rather the textured sordidness of and from the asphalt, the creaking buildings, the people lumbering along in their daily lives. One gets a sense of finding comfort, poetry, and yes, even beauty, in a city's sheer ability for dislocation and disruption.
This is not to say that Sta. Ana's photos are a cesspit of misery, rather it is the artist's ability to highlight something what the rest of us would normally usually ignore—like a flaking paint on a wall, a torn-up poster, barbie dolls, the underbelly of overpass taken from tight corners, from a peep hole, or from the point of view of a discarded tire. Sta. Ana's Autobiography is not about himself, per se, but the anathema of the selfie itself. If the Selfie is about showing off what you are about to eat or how you look at a certain angle, Sta. Ana's Autobiography relieves us of narcissism and focuses or forces us to be compelled at the discarded and the ignored.
Sta. Ana's Autobiography may have updated the centuries-old notion of the flaneur into the digital/cyber age. The French word flaneur may have had negative connotations in the 17th century as a person who is an idler walking around the city, however, this was recast by philosophers, scholars, writers and artists as a figure in society that immerses himself in the surroundings, quietly collecting scenes from the everyday and jotting them down into words or sketches. This figure changes from an idler to an active chronicler of the urban experience. Whereas the current version of idlers here known as scenesters and hipsters are all about themselves moving about in their self-contained clusters of self-edification in places designated and curated as cool, the flaneur blends in with anybody and in any location, keeping track, trying to make sense of the life and the lives of the city.
Gradually, Sta. Ana's images buoy us to the eventuality that the self is ultimately swallowed by the grit, grime, and glamor of the city.
Nova Gallery is located at Warehouse 12A, La Fuerza Compound 2241, Chino Roces Avenue, Makati.