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Paul Mpagi Sepuya's Works Displayed at the Photo 2022 Biennale in Melbourne 

Author : Sara Taheran

Reading Time : 3 Minutes

Paul Mpagi Sepuya is a black photographer born in 1982 in San Bernadino, California. He has displayed his works in several solo and group shows so far. His latest solo show which covered a wide range of his interests ran from April 30 to June 12 in Australia's most significant photography biennale, Photo 2022 in Melbourne. Moreover, Henry Art Gallery hosted Sepuya on June 17, 2022, as the Manson Photography Lecturer. Henry Art Gallery arranges these lectures yearly to gather manufacturers and experts of photography together.  

Sepuya developed an interest in photography as he attended a photography class when he was in high school. He graduated with a BFA in 2004 from the Tisch School at New York University. He started working with Staples laser printer because he couldn't access darkroom facilities. He continued his education and currently teaches media arts at the University of California San Diego. Sepuya initially photographed many different people, but he later narrowed down his field of work based on his special interests. His way of engaging in portrait photography caused him to enter the art world in 2017 professionally. Even after two decades from the beginning of his artistic career, he is still fascinated by studio portrait photography since it allows him to create his photographs based on a context of gender and identity. Unlike before, he is no longer interested in formal portraits and prefers to capture his body organs separately and then print and collage them with a staggering appearance.  

In Sepuya's photographs, body, space, and installation work together to tell his narrative, not a linear narrative; Rather, a timeless narrative comprising different moments. He uses the arrangement of elements inside his photographs to create such moments. He places the camera on a tripod in the center of the picture, uses a mirror and a curtain, and sometimes arranges multiple pieces of photos next to each other like a collage. It seems that he intends to challenge Cartier-Bresson's decisive moment by performing a time-consuming and reflective creation process.  

Blackness is one of the notable elements in his photographs. This Blackness appears as the color of skin, a velvet curtain, or even the camera's body to emphasize that in photography, darkness or blackness is necessary to produce an image. The black velvet curtain may also be a reminder of 19th-century portraits in which a black curtain was frequently used as a stage element, especially for capturing photographs of the body.  

Sepuya's photographs are where gender and race intersect; by merging black and white bodies, which are deliberately hidden in some photos and revealed in others, to move the borders between reality and illusion, love and lust, and to remind us of the fact that besides all its properties, photographing is fundamentally a human act. Sepuya has repeatedly proved that race and gender are not tools for creating distinctions in his photographs. Accordingly, his photographs comprise several layers to attach foreground and background, live subjects to objects, and the present moment to the lost moments in the past. The merge may sometimes confuse the viewer because it is difficult to figure out the relationship between the elements at first sight. On the other hand, it also encourages the viewer to try as much as possible to solve the mysteries hidden behind his stories. According to himself, his photographs are a bit more confusing than a selfie that a teenager captures in the bathroom's mirror. Although he has digitally photographed his subjects, he has not used digital manipulation. Everything visible in his photographs must have existed in his studio.  


A selection of his works: 

  • Darkroom Mirror, 2017 

  • Mirror Study, 2017 

  • Figure, 2017 

  • Study, 2018 

  • Exposure, 2018 

  • Untitled, 2019 

  • Drop Scene, 2019 

  • Conversation Around Pictures, 2019 

  • Studio, 2020 


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  • www.bortolamigallery.com