Autoportraits au quotidien: Ken Ohara & Melissa Shook

Autoportraits au quotidien: Ken Ohara & Melissa Shook

This exhibition is curated by Julien Frydman.

Bringing together for the first time two major series by American artists Melissa Shook and Ken Ohara, both produced in 1972-1973, Galerie La Patinoire Royale Bach parallels two singular approaches to self-portraiture – not an occasional self-portrait, but a systematic self-portrait, an aesthetic gymnastic, a visual demand in the form of therapy, as a means of being in the world, here and now.

Melissa Shook – Daily Self-Portraits 1972-1973

Born in Manhattan, New York in 1939, Melissa Shook grew up in Port Washington on Long Island. She dies in 2020 in Chelsea, Massachussets.

On her 20th birthday, when she was a student at Bard College, her father gave her a Pentax camera. She started taking photographs but didn’t become serious about it until she took the course “Photography of Human Behavior” by Columbia University lecturer Paul Byers.

“Curious about the problem of identiy, I decided to photograph myself every day for a year. I was interested in when I would forget that I had committed myself to this project. The obsession with forgetting has been central. Having forgotten my mother, what she looked like, what she was like, how she treated me before she died when I was twelve, has been an abiding concern. Not remembering meant, to some extent, having to create a self without the foundation of remembering much about those first twelve years and trying to raise a daughter without remembering having been a child.” – Melissa Shook

In 1972, while teaching photography at a private high school and several colleges, Shook committed to documenting herself daily in her apartment, sometimes with her daughter, friends, and pet cat. Her insecurity as a single mother raising a biracial child and her obsession to keep her memory vivid and intact for her daughter were the main drives for this artistic mission. Over the next 8 months, Melissa developed a remarkably fertile personal landscape.

Her work, published in Camera 35 Magazine, attracted the attention of MoMA curator John Szarkowski, and he purchased a dozen prints for their collection in 1975. She became the first female photography instructor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1979 she joined the Arts & Art History Department at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, to teach photography for 31 years, leaving an indelible mark on generations of students.

Ken Ohara – Diary 1972

Ken Ohara (b. 1942) was born in Tokyo, Japan. After briefly studying photography at Nihon University, Ohara moved to New York City at the age of 19 in 1962. Inspired in part by “Diary of a Century” by Jacques Henri Lartigue whom he met at Avedon Studio, Ken Ohara’s “Diary 1972″ features a daily self-portrait which he calls “my inward view of the day” paired with a shot of landscape, figure or still-life, “my outward view of the day” on the same day over the course of eight and a half month. The work, a collection of 35mm contact prints and shown as a miniature folded book, reveals the intimate documentation of himself, his wife, and his inner circle in New York City from March 15 to December 28, 1972, during the volatile era of the early 1970s.

For the first time, the complete “Diary 1972” serie has been printed in larger format (12.7 x 17.8 cm) and is exhibited in its entirety at La Patinoire Royale Bach, 256 days, so 512 photographs in total.

His work was featured in the exhibition “New Japanese Photography” in 1974 at the MoMa New York, and he received support for his book, ONE, from the museum’s photography curator, John Szarkowski. He was also awarded the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship from 1974 to 1975.

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