OBSCURA 2016: Exploring the West County

By Leonard Goh (freelance writer/Singapore)

See the world of a community detached from the metropolis we commonly know of the US

The United States is a large country to explore, and through mainstream media, we know of metropolis like New York and Washington with their high-rise buildings and apartments. But within the US, there are pockets of suburban areas which one can term them as rural.

Photographer Talia Herman set out to document her family and community in northern California, where she is from. Gone are the gray, concrete buildings and crowd along the sidewalk. Instead, her body of works, titled West County, showcases the simple life in her rural hometown. This exhibition was at the Camera Museum in George Town, as part of the OBSCURA Festival of Photography.

The series of photos offers a whimsical look at her parents and community where she was brought up. Everyday scenes, which are common to her and her lenses, become a fascinating insight for those living in the concrete jungle. But yet, there’s no escape from globalization, as we can see from one shot where a man is exercising, and in the background you get to see the movie Tropic Thunder playing.

Another photo that we really enjoyed was a couple in bed, and to the side is a mirror reflecting another lady within the frame. On the bedstand is a camera, and the entire composition of this image works extremely well.

Herman’s shots are well composed and impactful, often littered with details that only express themselves when you examine the photo up close. Take, for example, the shot where leaves are being dried above the bed. At first glance, it looks atypical of what you may expect the rural states to do. But the peeling paint on the wall juxtaposed against the light filtering through the day curtains creates an illusion of a scene from days gone by.

West County feels like a personal diary of sorts by Herman, and this glimpse into her life is quite voyeuristic by nature. In some ways, the viewers are outsiders, not part of the community, only engaging with the scene in sight. But at the same time, the prints also feels like an invite to be part of them, and the way to do so was to bare their souls to Herman’s lenses for us to see.

Leonard Goh

Leonard is an advocate of photography in Singapore and also an educator in this field. He has served as senior writer for the now-defunct CNET Asia, before moving on to working for various camera companies in the business development and marketing capacities. He is also a co-founder of Platform, a not-for-profit photography initiative in Singapore which also published Twentyfifteen, a collection of 20 books to commemorate Singapore’s Golden Jubilee (SG50).

More on OBSCURA 2016 from the author

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