~ Posted by Simon Willis, November 6th 2012
A picture of a dark face covered in coarse bristles, eyes scrunched shut, appeared on the screen, but there was too much light to see it clearly. "Can someone turn down the lights?" (Nothing happened.) "Is anyone out there?" (Still nothing.) After an awkward couple of minutes, it emerged that the lights couldn't be turned down, but they could be turned off. So last night, the photographer Tim Flach spoke to an audience at Kings Place in London in total darkness.
Flach has just published "More than Human", a collection of photographs of animals from beetles to elephants—we published a selection last year. But they aren't always what they seem. The face on the screen turned out not to be a face at all, but the back of a pig's ears. Flach likes to play games with our perception—in this case with our tendency to see faces where there aren't any. He told me last year, "I'm very conscious of approximating form and shape that reminds us of ourselves."
He also plays with scale. During his high-class slideshow last night, he showed a series of pupae. In reality they are a few centimetres long. In Flach's prints they are six foot high. On the screen at Kings Place they were bigger still. He explained how he shot them on black velvet, with a pinprick of light shining from behind to show up their colour and detail. Blown up, one looked like an ornate case for an Egyptian mummy, another like a giant tulip bulb. This, he said, was about, "extending experience", about showing us nature in a new way. Flach often moves quickly from the image to a series of ideas lying behind it. He quoted another artist, Bill Viola: "An unreality brings you closer to reality."
The photographs were interspersed with short videos of Flach at work. One showed a photoshoot in Miami. A tiger is led into a makeshift studio on a chain lead, striding more than waist-high to his keeper. Cut to the tiger perched on a stool, Flach lying with his camera on the floor in front. The keeper squirts water onto the tiger's face. The tiger shakes, Flach snaps. The shot shows the tiger's head surrounded by a flare of droplets, a gout of saliva shooting from the mouth. It was all over in less than a second.