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April 19, 2010 | by  | in Visual Arts |
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So Surreal, Preview

If, by way of a coma or some other inexcusable ailment you aren’t by now aware of the release of the debut So So Modern LP Crude Futures, then you’ll no doubt be equally in the dark about the photographic exhibition of the same title running concurrently at TheNewDowse from mid April. For those of you, however, who are well enough acquainted with the SSM album posters featuring a cape-touting panda-cum-zombie nymphet, you should be pleased to know that the photographic exposé Crude Futures by Wellington photographer John Lake offers more eerily optimistic images in a similar vein.

The exhibition features a collection of striking and surreal large-scale portraits and landscapes which document the suburban youth clubs and communities of the Hutt Valley region. These are displayed alongside short filmed interviews with the Hutt Valley teenagers he photographed, presenting their thoughts and plans for the future. A diverse range of subjects including speedway enthusiasts, army cadets, Miss Hutt Valley contestants, and of course rollerskate zombie jammers (also the subject of the Crude Futures album cover and music video) introduce Lake’s fascination with adolescents and their “constant speculative forecasting of their futures”. Lake considers teenagers to be the acid test for what is current in our society, as they occupy the uncertain space between child and adult.

Lake holds a Bachelor of Design from Massey University, where he also tutors photography and has recently completed a Masters of Fine Arts. As in his previous work, having already exhibited at a number of Wellington galleries, Lake often looks to the fringes of society to find subjects in diverse sub-cultures. Previous topics of study have included Death Valley metal heads in the US, faux-militaristic paintball enthusiasts, full-scale recreations of cowboy-themed shooting ranges and sword wielding renaissance fair aficionados. This latest series of photographs was shot over the period of a year in and around the Hutt Valley, and while Lake doesn’t boast any direct connection to the area and its various sub-cultures, over the ten years he has spent photographing there it has become a rich source of diverse subject matter for him.

Lake’s fascination with youth culture allows him to explore the underlying themes of contemporary culture, particularly those enacted in suburbia. The title of the show (as with the album) touches on the doubts and insecurities concerned with ideas like futures-trading, the oil industry and our general inability to predict the future with any certainty. His original compositions in the Crude Futures series, which blend surreal settings within a documentary framework, manage to capture an almost otherworldly quality within the simplest of actions and settings. By presenting these teen dreamers juxtaposed against eerily still and almost offensively banal environments, Lake sets out to provide an optimistic antidote to the post-apocalyptic overtones.

As is often the criticism with this particular style of documentary photography, the images can tend to come across as exploitative and unfair in their portrayal of photographic subjects, as with Shelby Lee Adam’s photos of family life in isolated Appalachian communities, or Roger Ballen’s images of similar content in Transvaal. Lake’s latest offering, however, revels in the ‘each to his own’ ethos, and as Mark Amery quite rightly put, in his Dominion Post article (2008), “[Lake] doesn’t seek to laugh at his subjects but reveal the genuine nobility of their pursuits.” If you were imagining the show as a chance to laugh at a bunch of unfortunate and lonely-looking teenage hobbyists from the Hutt in action then don’t get your hopes up.

Following the successful show opener which featured an enigmatic Late Lounge performance from So So Modern, Lake will be hosting a free talk at TheNewDowse on the 1st of May offering an insight into the making of Crude Futures. He will be speaking about his time spent attending and photographing a range of popular and obscure performances and events in and around the Hutt Valley area over the best part of a year, and should be well worth the trek.

Portrait of Suburban Youth
17 April – 25 July 2010
TheNewDowse | FREE ENTRY

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