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The Melano[1]-Mental Photography: Spots of Light in Sharon Bareket’s Photography

Doron Rabina



In a new series of photographs, Sharon Bareket abandons pale-skinned figures, red or blond headed, to be scorched in landscapes washed with sun. The bright skins, the transparent eyelashes, the dazzled - almost shut-eyed gaze - all outline an area painfully charged with political, cultural, linguistic and erotic meanings. Sharon Bareket’s photography, once perceived at as engaged in styling of the prosaic, and in quotidian desecration of the concepts of glamour, fashion and beauty, drops something of its fineness for the sake of undermining the sealed front of appearance.


These photographs abuse the imperative for perfection, that is, for bodily perfection. The skin surface succeeds in representing a specific subject but fails as a protective, hermetic surface. It turns the encounter with the exterior into an image of a vulnerability drama; into an offence. Instead of setting a strict limit, the skin appears to be penetrable and fragile almost transparent, an unsatisfactory buffer, not mature enough to block. For that,  it is so easy to think of the body that appears in the photographs in mental terms. Even in the most relaxed  postures, the “leisure”, at-ease, loosen postures, the body is experienced as adjusting and protecting itself, in a kind of a “melanomic” alertness in which the bright sunlight scalds the bodies, puts them to death but without browning them. 


Bareket’s photographs generate an encounter between “body” and “outside” as an event out-of-time, as a thing out of  place. The body’s extreme whiteness seeks shade and does not take any part in holding-on to the “place”, but rather is an image of the need to get away from the photographic scene; it is an image of limited time, of a dangerous stay in an hostile place. The photography (as a medium) - whose nature always creates a final, hermetic, definite image - turns in this case into an unchangeable death-mask of the “transitory”; in the same way that a photograph of an immigrant will always become a “homeland” (for the image), or a frame that captures a homeless on the sidewalk will immediately turn into a permanent habitat (of the image).


The photographs create a  kind of  “Melanin politics” that links the skin brightness to the concept of “strangeness”. They remind us that the historical meltdown of the terms “hegemony” and “Ashkenaz” emphasizes “integration” and pushes aside another aspect of “permanent exile”, not less foundational. Strangeness is thus embodied by skin spots; and skin surface is the face of the blinding dazzle, of those who - burned by sin - were geographically and culturally shifted into the Mediterranean sunlight.


This is not a confession plea on the White’s tyranny. It is the shading of the mechanism of  transportation of possibilities and significance related with the concept of “identity”. The photographs’ political importunity lies in its focusing on “whiteness” as vibration of becoming, refusing to be sealed as a sign. With the Ashkenaz sign-petrification (titled as cultural dominancy and hegemony) at the background, Bareket’s photographs produce “Ashkenaz” as a vivid arena, an arena that (still) studies itself as no man’s land, as a cultural distortion, as an internal conflict, as a humming conscience in a space with no body. In its encounter with the burning sun, the Ashkenaz whiteness is the face of the Ashkenaz drama, that is formed within the relation of identity to space and their alienation towards each other.


In the photographs, sunlight burns the skin and sows on it a nocturnal galaxy made of moles, freckles and beauty-spots. Created in broad daylight, this arena of the nocturnal is contrary to the identification of mystery and depth with darkness. The traces, clues and secrets all unfold in photography, which is - more than anything - face-revealed; a photography that draws the outlines of body-conscience relation, as a place that is only allegedly exposed, a place that directly hands itself to the gaze and places an illusion of accessibility at its façade. The double linguistic action that the adjective “bright” accomplishes – the opposite of “unclear” as well as that of “dark” - suits the rhetoric of appearance adopted by Bareket’s photography: photography that takes place in “broad daylight” (like a crime), but longs for mystery.


This mystery is accomplished when the glow and the absolute illumination - precisely them - produce an abandoned image, that is, an image that had been abandoned to the sun and to the gaze (a space brought to realization by authors such as Albert Camus, Pasolini or David Fogel; while others, such as Jean Genet, turn their back on it, identifying the dark with the nocturnal).


For a photograph to be at odds with the concept of “light” is not a matter of little importance, and that is a far more complex and entangled matter than hermeneutic entertainment that relates sensitivity to light, and the concept of overexposure to “burning», while making an analogy between “skin» and negative-film. Photography that binds the existence of light with the concept of “spot” contains ambivalence towards the act of “appearance” and the realization of an image. That is, photography cautious of generating, tired of reflecting,  photography that lingers and hesitates a moment before joining the infinite overflow of images. A photography that describes the encounter of its object with the light that generates it as an echo of a prohibition, and its appearance as a potential sin.




[1] Melanin is a pigment, black or dark-brown, which exist in the hair, skin and eyes. The Melanin production increases with sunlight and produces tanning. This way, the inner skin layers are protected from the solar radiation.

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