Double Lives, No Future
by Serubiri Moses
Daniella Zalcman‘s intentionally disturbing images, made during Uganda’s passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, are a form of political art. The double exposure photographs give a bipolar reading of their subjects. In so doing, they break their subjects’ identity into political, religious and existential fragments.
The philosophy of Double Lives is clear: when two planes of the mind are combined a third plane emerges — reconditioning identity. It is in line with a theory by British cultural activist, Stuart Hall. Hall notes that identities are created at the crossroad of historical events and psychic activity, the personal and political. One wonders, if the collection is founded in legal and moralistic debates, or are these portraits of real people?
The holograms become predictable, or even formulaic, when imagining what happened after the bill was signed. While projecting a discomforting identity for gay activists, the photographer visually freezes the possibility of a future for gay activism in Uganda.
Imitating the classic Joker, whose face is half-smiling and half-frowning, Zalcman plays with expressions, eye contact and position of the camera to draw out psychological states of despair.
In one mental plane Andrew smiles widely showing his teeth, eyes squinting, and with ears protruding sideways; in another exposure he hides his teeth, lips pursed, and glances away from the camera.
The two expressions, big teeth and darting eyes, combine with the frenzy of the moving bushes behind him to form a strange entrapment of stillness, wildness, and seriousness.
Another activist, Akram’s double images form a singular face with two pairs of eyes and noses. Yet the cinematic motion of his face doesn’t remove the stillness of the room.
These pictorial entrapments are accompanied by a similarly formulaic text. A basic description of the activist’s sexual orientation and religion. Posed with a proclamation of political defiance denotes the clash of religious belief and sexuality; “God created me like this,” Akram says.
Another subtitle shows activist Sandra’s past desire to leave the country, crossing with an opposite desire to “fight for my home.” This mirroring text contextualizes the images in religious, existential, or political extremities that easily justify the bipolar nature of the series.
Through her concern for gay activists, whose faces were printed in newspapers — like the Red Pepper ‘Top 100 Homos’ — Zalcman insists that she wanted to “obscure identity.” According to an interview in the Huffington Post, this is her way of “not contributing to that.”
The photographer reasons that images have led to persecution of gay activists in Uganda, stating that “even the most out activists still have to hide in many ways.” Still, the context in which Zalcman’s images and subtitles are grounded remains manic and disturbing. Her form of activism creates pictorial entrapments that point only towards the passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law, merely glimpsing towards a future with or without it.