Photojournalists work with various media outlets to document our reality. We rely on these images to provide us with an accurate depiction of a story, although the framing will always be subjective. I remain aware how the lens can skew; offering one facet of a story from the journalist’s perspective. On display in the northeast gallery at Haw Contemporary, Davin Watne’s “Picture the Wall” confronted viewers with a large wall of loaded images taken from various media outlets, forcing us to examine the role that we as bystanders, play in these occurrences and observations.
Standing ten feet tall and spanning the entire room, Watne interpreted widely-recognized photographs, screen captures, and newsreels taken from recent news through oil paint. The images chosen appeared controversial, and appealed to the shock value that grabs attention from audiences and propels 24-hour news cycles. By working directly from these public photos, there is an immediate response akin to the speed at which these sources were produced. Using appropriated photos, observational works and symbols (including flags and screenshots from YouTube videos), Watne engaged viewers with a very specific look at contemporary American culture. More than half of the images chosen related to events dealing with the underlying racism, sexism and xenophobia that speak to the pulse of the nation today. These images have been presented in a manner to be taken as the absolute truth without room for debate. By his choice in imagery, Watne’s implied neoliberal views presented a parallel to Fox News’ far-right zealotry. These media biases have created structures of bigotry of far and wide diverseness. While I agree that dialogue should be opened up regarding these events, Watne’s presentation deterred me from anything that is perceived as bias, as the piece exists in a space where the majority of the viewers seemingly share the same political viewpoints and demographics. Comparable to a montage that introduces a news segment, Watne’s information sharing is quick and aggressive, overcompensating for the people who choose to say nothing at all about the events depicted.
His singular point of cultural perspective is something I take issue with. This notion of a fixed and “correct” viewpoint as a base concept is shaky at best, as nothing like that truly exists in a world which is constantly impacted by globalism, whose very definition are evolving ideologies. Hito Steryl, the German filmmaker, visual artist and writer comments, ”all we get from linear perspective is a “one-eyed view from an immobile spectator that is assumed to be natural, objective and scientific,” straying from subjectivity as a whole. With linear perspective defining the state in which everything exists in it’s natural form, it has provided a common basis of understanding shared by the general population. However, this shared understanding of the world is shifting, lending itself to varying perspectives of seeing and understanding concepts. With contemporary media incorporating the use of montage, speculation, and ambiguous information, images are drifting further away from any sense of linearity, losing their sense of time and perspective to the viewer.
In an earlier series of work, titled “Life is a Collision,” Watne created paintings depicting the aftermath of car accidents seemingly caused by wild animals. With the news constant and the prevalent existence of 24-hour news channels overabundant, there is a disposable quality to tragedy, much like the materiality of the cars in Watne’s earlier paintings. With this oversaturation of tragedy addressed by news stations, the media starts to lose value in their seriousness as audiences have less time to process and evaluate this constant stream of information. Watne exposes the authority assigned to images by media outlets, while making an often overlooked statement about the general public’s thirst for involvement in tragedies. This is supplemented by the economics of ad sales networks bring in when addressing these tragedies. With television remaining as the primary source for news for 57% of Americans, the ability to attract viewers to news stations gives the media a heightened sense of power over what content they are deploying to their viewers. Watne is functioning as a primary media outlet by highlighting what we should be paying attention to, and what deserves to be ignored. He comments on the problem of incessant news coverage by providing his own viewers with an overwhelming amount of information in an over advert manner, numbing our interest in keeping up with the news rather than staying interested.