Review by Debe Arlook •
The gently layered experience of Tanpa Izin begins with the cover: an untitled forest green and black abstract photograph speckled with the Ben Day dot technique, mirrored on the back cover. Bound by a four-sided kelly green rubber band; I make note of the color green.
In her first photobook, Ohemaa Dixon offers an unconventional viewpoint of Bali and its people with a self-imposed practice that is both contemplative and meditative. As a passerby, she records raw quotidian moments, far from the trope imagery associated with Bali and commonplace travel photography. The location of Bali is only hinted at with the use of the Bahasa Indonesian language in the title of the book, translated as “Without Permission.” The intentional omission of Bali as its setting leaves an important element of Dixon’s narrative unaddressed.
The forward and annotations, written by Britt Belo, subtly voice Dixon’s introspective narrative. Belo writes, if given the choice of superpowers most people would choose to be invisible or fly, providing protection, peace and freedom. She continues:
“So what happens when in reality you walk the line of constant anonymity, yet always being unmistakable. Though it presents its burdens or ‘limits’, dangers even, this experience also lends itself to form a lens that is cautiously skeptical, full of stern grace, yet remains deeply intimate.” Belo ponders, “how would things shift if we were completely invisible?”
Dixon documents her subjects free of receiving judgmental gazes and unencumbered by the feelings such glances might elicit. Invisible, with or without permission, Dixon is also afforded her own freedom to gaze with ease and to express the true nature of her curious, respectful eye without impediment.
This shift in perception allows for a unique portrait of Bali with quiet, meditative imagery depicted with motion, darkness, and soft, muted tones. Purposely printed darkly, leaving rich details of her work unseen, this reviewer questions the final results. Printed on smooth, toothy paper, her photographs have an unaltered sense of place and observation.
Dixon’s work reveals respectful observation of a foreign land and its people without the insertion of the photographer. There are no eyes looking back and there is no polarity to experience. Instead, the product of her study implies Dixon is part of the whole in a foreign land. She chronicles Bali’s provincial beauty of a cow grazing in an overgrown backyard; chickens emerging from lush green growth on the side of the road; and an abandoned tractor left by the side of the road. We find a woman working in a rice paddy that touches the sky and multiple images of motorcycles, indicating the photographer’s mode of transportation.
The frequent appearance of green in the book appears in lush landscapes, rice paddies and man-made objects, as well as its addition in image post-processing. Its repetition makes me consider the color’s underlying meanings of life, growth, spirituality, renewal and harmony. These are all implied in photographs of farming, the countryside, reconstruction and religious symbols.
On the surface, Dixon poetically invites us to ponder growth in nature. An annotation accompanying a photograph of thick green moss on a rocky beach asks, “Have you ever stopped to consider what forms growth can come in?” Her directive goes deeper with awareness and compassion toward people and places that are unfamiliar to the one who is “seeing.” One annotation intimates a need for safety and protection. “There is a sanctuary in the act of passing by. An anonymity and grace, especially in a place where all eyes are often looking to lock with yours.”
With abstract urging, the viewer is presented with a narrative of self-exploration and perceptions of “otherness.” This internal and external study reflects Dixon’s own experience of racial and gender invisibility as a Black woman. Her quiet rumination tac- itly brings awareness to the overlooked, the unseen, the judged and the judging…a topical message of inclusivity in a polarized world.
Tanpa Izin (Without Permission), Ohemaa Dixon
Photographer: Ohemaa Dixon, resides in New York
Publisher: Catastrophe Media, copyright 2020
Foreword + Annotations: Britt Belo
Language: English, Bahasa Indonesian
Stiffcovers with Ben Day dot technique cover, elastic band, perfect bound, 29 photographs, 64 pages, 8.5 x 11 inches, Printed by Conveyor Studio, Elmwood Park, New Jersey
Photobook Designer: Ohemaa Dixon
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