Dutch fashion photographer Viviane Sassen (b. 1972) presents a decade of her editorial fashion campaigns, blown up large in vibrant full-colour and striking monochrome images, in a continuously moving stream of projections looped in 45 minute durations onto the walls and floor of Level 5 of The Photographers Gallery. This sculptural installation disturbs the viewer’s expectations, and toys with notions of reality and fantasy through the use of cleverly-angled mirrors, lighting, unusual viewpoints and repetitive music, all of which unnerve our habituated sense of being in the world. This is fitting for the title, Analemma, an astronomical term that denotes a figure eight-shaped curve used to map the shifting position of the celestial sun in the sky at the same every day from the terrestrial Earth.
The 350 playful, inventive and enigmatic images bring fashion photography back down to earth by employing a series of barely-concealed tricks (at odds with the extensive post-production prevalent in much 21st century fashion advertising) – a limb out of place, a short depth of field, a filter over the lens, a splash of unexpected body paint – to render the human form unusual, but unequivocally human. This is an interesting point to remember in light of many of Sassen’s fashion photographs, such as her 2008 series Flamboya, which captured models and subjects from Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. As a white Dutch-born photographer, who spent much of her childhood in Kenya, it might be easy to read into these images a power imbalance that bears the spectre of colonial legacies. Yet a closer look at Sassen’s images easily evades such a simplistic narrative. There are too many visual nuances (in the forms and shapes that conceal, reveal and demand interaction from the viewer) and collaborative elements with the subjects (in the unexpected layering of bodies, gestures, expressions and textures) to qualify any restrictive categorisations of her work. Analemma is a must see show that highlights the liberating ways in which fashion photography constructs fantasies, plays with our expectations and re-thinks physical expression across the globe.