Opening cocktail reception: Thursday, September 15, 7 – 9 pm
Internationally renowned photographer Robert Polidori will have his first solo exhibition in Hong Kong, titled Ars Memorativa, with images from three of his most noted bodies of work: the Palace of Versailles; Havana, Cuba; and Goa, India. The recurring theme of these photographs is to record and reveal the layers of history and the traces of past lives on human habitats. As such, the images are “certificates of presence,” as Roland Barthes once defined all photographs.
Capturing the beauty and changing appearance of the Palace of Versailles is what brought Polidori his first acclaim as a fine art photographer in the early 1980s: With this series, he started to build his photographic world view, which centers around a passion for revealing the traces and effects of time, whether it is on rooms, buildings, or cities.
When Polidori witnessed the comprehensive restoration of Versailles, he realized it was an act of historical revisionism, a changing of the historical past according to the current worldview. The palace reveals as much about the time of the restoration as it does about the time when it was built and inhabited. Versailles was always a place in constant flux, as all its owners, beginning with King Louis XIV, were incessantly renovating. But since its transformation into a museum of history, not only did the meaning ascribed to the building change, but also the transformations themselves have changed. They are now efforts to preserve an image of the palace that never was true in reality: a perfect icon for a certain period of time. Polidori captures these contradictions by showing us the plastic sheeting that makes a royal bed a museum piece or the glass panels behind which curtains are protected from the touch of visitors. His photographs allow viewers to take part in the ever-lasting process of making the real Versailles the Versailles of imagination.
His Havana works show decaying mansions in this formerly splendid metropolis that were neglected and abandoned after the 1950s. The empty rooms recall times before Castro and raise questions about their former residents: Who were they? Where are they? What’s happened to them? The beauty of the photographs invites the viewer to indulge in the nostalgia of the past. As Polidori puts it: “A good picture asks certain questions, and answers only some.”
Polidori’s photographs are investigations into the psychological implications of the human habitat. For him, rooms are “the exteriorization of the soul life or of personal values,” and all his photographs are what he calls “social portraiture.” Recently, Polidori’s focus shifted toward a collective of interiors and houses, toward the city as a construction of and accumulation of single places. His India series gives expression to that new interest. He captured street scenes and shows the traces of human intervention on the outside of buildings—street signs, electrical wires, and the unavoidable traffic. While there are still interiors in this series, the majority of works are exteriors.
From a technical point of view, his interior images are produced by means of a single long exposure in natural lighting. His tonally rich and seductive photographs are the product of a view camera, long hours waiting for the right light, and careful contemplation of the camera angle. Polidori uses large-format sheet film, which he believes produces superior images to digital photography.
The exteriors are shot with short shutter speeds. The final prints are assembled by having each negative scanned and then combined by means of a computer to yield one final re-composited image.
Robert Polidori has shot all over the world: in apartments on New York's Lower East Side, shortly after their tenants had died; New Orleans in the wake of hurricane Katrina; in Beirut’s courtyards showing traces of war; the devastation after the Chernobyl disaster; and urban dwellings in China and Dubai among other countries.
Robert Polidori was born in Canada and became an American citizen in 2009. He moved to New York in the 1970s and began working for Jonas Mekas at the Anthology Film Archive. He received his MA from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1980 and lives in New York City where he is currently a staff photographer for The New Yorker.
He won the World Press Award in 1998 and the Alfred Eisenstaedt Award for Magazine Photography in 1999 and 2000. He has published eleven books of photographs including: Parcours Muséologique Revisité (2009), Havana (2001), Zones of Exclusion Pripyat and Chernobyl (2003), Robert Polidori’s Metropolis (2004), After the Flood, an account of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina (2006), and his newest book, Points Between…Up Till Now (2010). In 2006 The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York held a solo exhibition of Polidori’s Hurricane Katrina work, which was the most widely attended photography show in the history of the museum. A mid-career retrospective was held at the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal in 2009.
Polidori’s work is in the collections of, among others, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; and the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.
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