From Then and Now and In Between travels through a decade of Russ Flatt's story-telling, and features works from a number of his carefully curated photographic series. There is a commonality of narrative that weaves in and out of the photographer’s images, one that questions the relationships within the work and between the work and audience.
Communion (2018) is emblematic of the tension between insider and outsider that characterises many of Flatt’s photographs. Woven through each image are unspoken and invisible truths that are integral to its affective structure. We are placed in the position of an Other: someone looking in and who can sense the narratives that lie beneath the surface but can’t immediately grasp their content or significance. As we strive to see the interior life depicted in the photographs and, over time, move closer and closer to comprehension, we discover that although they might whisper to us in familiar tones, the photographs keep us at a distance. Flatt’s works have been described as reconstructions of memory (1) but these are not our memories; they are memories seen through a glass, darkly.
There is a tender beauty in Flatt’s depiction of young men and by placing them at the centre of many of his works, the artist is claiming a space where various forms of masculinity can be recognised and validated. From Flatt’s 2016 Night Bus series, Spoon and Smoke portray the easy physical intimacy between two young men, but in each work Flatt dials up a sense of unease with the inclusion of a third person - a ‘watcher’ - of whom the subjects are unaware. This outsider presence not only throws into sharp relief the intimacy depicted between the young men but also reminds us of the potential danger that continues to exist for LGBTQI+ youth.
Politics, intimacy, social convention continue to be interrogated by the artist in his most recent works. He Taonga Te Tamaiti (2021) confronts Pākehā New Zealanders with the reality of the surveillance and control of vulnerable brown bodies by the power structures of the state. The faceless, uniformed, and power-suited bodies attending mother and child create a twisted nativity scene. Illuminated by spotlight rather than starlight, the mechanistic apparatus of medical systems (wheelchair, metal bed) offer no sense of nurture: shelter is reduced to nothing more than a symbol on a wall.