Darkly humorous and absurd, Mike Osbourne’s black and white imagery in Federal Triangle reads as a disorienting state of fluid connections. Released by Gnomic Book, the publication is named after a discrete zone of Washington DC – the designated area between the United States Capitol and the White House, where an impenetrable groundwork for divisive tactics and an ever-shifting manipulation of power takes place.
Osborne welcomes a conceptual likeness of the project to the Bermuda Triangle, and their respective affinity towards turbulence, speculation, and mystery. Yet any imposed narrative would likely be subdued by a visual experience of the book; image sequences rarely trace subjects for more than a single frame and weave an enigmatic tension throughout. Someone enters a building through a second floor window, while another figure hidden in plain sight is embedded in a tree, looking through his viewfinder. Theatricality is created by what is seen as much as what is unseen. Osbourne’s lens encroaches upon the back of a cleaner on the colossal entrance of the Supreme Court or elsewhere it profiles J. Sessions amidst a frontline of cameras during an inquisition. At times, the photographs appear to search for reprieve, either pointing toward the aperture of an enfolding stairwell or from below a looming bureaucratic office block. Nondescript surveillance vans and security vehicles parked outside embassies intentionally activate the darker side of our imagination, calling reasonability into question. Federal Triangle is clearly not watchdog documentation or investigative reportage since the photographs are not informatively functional, and therefore appear highly unreliable in their suspension between reality and fiction. They become subversive provocateurs highlighting the possibility of truth in darker suspicions, and acutely project the psyche underpinning public arenas in contemporary U.S politics – a zone where clarity of vision and responsive coherence is often missing.
The insertion of text in Osbourne’s book is sparse and poignant: the encrypted book cover obscures its title amongst Cyrillic-like script and symbolism, such as the demarcation of ‘MH17’ and other referents. Within the book, a central spread features a hand-held pamphlet decrying the ‘Islamization of Europe’ and ‘infiltration of Sharia law in western courts’. Elsewhere, the word ‘Amer’ – Arabic for one who leads a full life – is framed by a drawn window curtain to conceal the remaining, shadowy letters of ‘America’. A word play illuminating the universal desire for prosperity. Creatively and affectively rendered, the photographs are co-opted into editorial positioning deplete of interpretive text. They shift in scale to occupy various edges of the page, emphasising their psychologically evocative intent. Test Target, National Mall, the book’s opening image, suggests more than an allegorical site for the calibration of optics at a hyper visible event (such as a presidential inauguration), or a broadcast holding pattern. The photograph might instead question the very notion of reading images as targets or triggers, with volatile lives representing ineffable impasses, or accompanying others emotional responses. Osbourne seems keenly aware of the traumatic fear and profound disorientation that surrounds his subjects, and camouflages this through images that are bound through a surrealist humour in their points of connection. The shape that takes form is an aesthetic terrain that registers the chaos and confusion surrounding the subject; and forgoing interpretation, finds traction through taking pause on otherwise fleeting gestures, productive in making space for our own imagination and curiosity. ♦
All images courtesy Gnomic Book. © Mike Osborne