Martina Hoogland Ivanow’s images often evoke an acute feeling of something indefinite going on. In her photographic series Satellite (2009-2010) two women sit upright on sun chairs smeared in clay. Their faces are turned away from the camera towards a third person, whose legs we observe in the upper left corner of the image. But the final piece of the puzzle that might explain what we are witnessing is tantalisingly out of reach. We cannot even be sure that there is indeed such a thing as a missing explanatory element. Our optical mastery of the image’s narrative is short-circuited by the force field that Hoogland Ivanow’s framing and subtle play with light and shadow creates. We are left with a muted mystery felt on an emotional rather than logical level.
»I reduce until only a whisper remains,« Hoogland Ivanow says about her editing method. At first this sounds pretty straightforward. Hoogland Ivanow’s photography has always transcended the border between realism and fiction; and being reducible to neither one nor the other, it is not hard to imagine that her image making must require meticulous editing to tease out an essence. Her use of an acoustic metaphor is therefore apt since it implies the necessity of removing noise until only a core of visual truth remains.
That is all very well. But it does not do full justice to what it is like to experience her images firsthand. The catch in the quote is that little word »whisper«. Saturated with more meaning than it may at first suggest, »whisper« provides an insight into the mystery of Hoogland Ivanow’s art.
The whisper is akin to breathing. It can be seductive but also eerie. Think, for instance, of the uncanny whispers that reverberate throughout the soundtrack of Dario Argento’s 1977 horror masterpiece Suspiria. To perceive a whisper in a photographic image is of course acoustically impossible. But taken as a metaphor for the fragile it is possible to see Hoogland Ivanow’s aesthetic practice as one of making room for the barely perceptible. This presupposes a kind of emphatic, listening attitude. A finely attuned ear. What Hoogland Ivanow tunes up in her images is in a way what Roland Barthes once called the punctum of a photo: that singular aspect of an image that touches the viewer without becoming reduced to a message or a thing.
A case in point is the photo depicting three hunters walking across a mown lawn in Hoogland Ivanow’s photographic series Circular Wait. Appearing against the evening light as silhouettes with long, sharp shadows, the trio’s internal atmosphere is intriguing. The posture of the man to the left is relaxed to the point of lazy, while the man in the middle walks with a focused, almost arrogant resolve. The stance of the man to the right is more ambiguous. His step appears a bit hesitant. Is he captured in a moment of doubt? Or rather of contemplation? We cannot say for sure.
What Hoogland Ivanow skilfully brings out here is the vagueness of the relationship between the three men. She makes the space between them tangible. The unclear social dynamics that characterise this image can be seen as the image’s punctum. Like a memory of something whispered in a dream, it is this quality of Hoogland Ivanow’s art that lingers in our mind long after we think we have decoded her images.