“I hadn’t seen his 2007 publication ‘I Saw You’ and consequently the radical departure from his social realist documentary style was unexpected to say the least.”
‘I Must Behave’ was published by Vapour Momenta Books, the pocket-sized publishing arm of Catherine Griffiths and Bruce Connew.
It is the second volume in a social and political trilogy of artist books: ‘I Saw You’, 2007; ‘I Must Behave’, 2009; ‘I Drive You Crazy, to the Moon’, which is soon to be published.
“This is an unsettling observation of the experience of globalisation: where we are, who we are and what we are, we can’t quite say. Perhaps the sense of anxiety and disconnection apparent in these images is also a manifestation of the personal and social controls and restrictions we submit ourselves to.” Deidra Sullivan
The complete series of ‘I Must Behave’ was exhibited as part of ‘Photo HiStories’, curated by Mercedes Vicente, at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, New Zealand, June-August 2009, along with fine exhibitions by Mark Adams and John Miller. Within the ‘I Must Behave’ exhibition, Mercedes included a vitrine exhibition of my artist books explaining, within their different styles and content, the prolonged and connected social and political enquiry of my work.
A 14-images selection from ‘I Must Behave’ was shown at Mary Newton Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand, February 2009.
An excerpt from a review of ‘Photo HiStories’ by Deidra Sullivan, July 2009
Viewing Bruce Connew’s recent work from his series ‘I Must Behave’ came as somewhat of a surprise. I hadn’t seen his 2007 publication ‘I Saw You’ and consequently the radical departure from his social realist documentary style was unexpected to say the least. I stood in the gallery space and began to piece the work together—wondering about the decision-making process that caused Connew to choose the scenes, people and objects that he did. The title helps: ‘I Must Behave’ suggests self-control and surveillance—an internal dialogue of self-observation.
But Connew’s images don’t give themselves away as easily as that. Initially I was left with a creeping sense of unease and dislocation, rather than perceiving any particular message about social control or observation. The images embody a sense of displacement, of disconnection between people (Susan Sontag’s observation about Diane Arbus’ photographs—that “Humanity is not one” springs to mind. v). We see a tire floating in a river. A running cat. Posters of missing children. Decrepit Modernist architecture. A woman’s torso, with a dramatic scar. A duck in a cage. People walking in the street. A boxing match. A forest. A woman holding a banana. Viewing these images is a little like channel surfing. John Berger once commented that a photograph is like a quote, which, removed from its context, becomes ambiguous.vi Connew’s images are just that—dozens of quotes, decontextualised. The images were made in New Zealand and multiple international locations—but more than that, I cannot identify. Sewn back together, these decontextualised quotes tell a new story of dystopia. There is no belonging in these photographs. It is not a reassuring story that Connew is telling us. This is an unsettling observation of the experience of globalisation: where we are, who we are and what we are, we can’t quite say. Perhaps the sense of anxiety and disconnection apparent in these images is also a manifestation of the personal and social controls and restrictions we submit ourselves to.
I wonder why Connew has departed from his established social documentary practice so dramatically. Maybe it is a desire to tell a new story, or explore a different set of aesthetic conventions. Perhaps the weight of traditional documentary practice with its irreconcilable ethical and epistemological dilemmas became too heavy. Ironically, I find I must behave more perturbing than a lot of Connew’s socially concerned documentary photography. Yet there’s an absence of human engagement here, present in much of his previous work, that I find myself missing. We are reminded daily of the disconnectedness of contemporary society, and I wonder if ‘I Must Behave’ slips from being a comment on it, into becoming another example of it.
DEIDRA SULLIVAN / 07.2009