[Barbara Garrie's text which accompanied Waugh's later show at COCA]:

ME37 Nightshift Freezing Workers by Christchurch based photographer Shaun Waugh is a companion exhibition to his recent billboard project of the same name. Featuring 54 portraits of individuals employed at the Belfast freezing works, this series of images explores photography’s uneasy position between subjective and objective modes of representation.

Each worker is photographed in their overalls and white gum boots against a relatively blank background of insulation paneling and concrete flooring. There are no overt props, just the usual accoutrements of the job – the odd pair of plastic gloves, ear-muffs or a hair net.

These photographs play with the conventions of traditional portraiture and the social documentary image, whilst also referencing recent trends in contemporary photography. The 1920s typological works of German photographer August Sander, and more locally Glenn Busch’s Working Men series, provide obvious reference points for Waugh’s images. So too, the deadpan aesthetic of German partnership Bernd and Hilla Becher, and the Dusseldorf School has a presence here.

Waugh’s images reflect upon what it is to see and be seen; what it is to be subject and viewer. In an attempt to minimize his presence as photographer, he offered only minimal direction to those who stood before his lens; participants were simply asked to stand facing the camera. Of more importance to Waugh is that his subjects respond to the camera in as raw and intuitive a way as possible. Within the highly structured composition of each image, then, he offers his subjects a certain freedom of expression. Yet it is interesting to see how each individual continues to respond to the camera according to an established set of conventions; although each slightly different, the poses we see here are certainly familiar stances within the realm of the photographic portrait.

In a similar effort to remove his didactic hand, Waugh sequences his images around the gallery wall in a chronological order. In this sense, the positioning of photographs is based on an aesthetically arbitrary system. This strategy foregrounds the role of the viewer in making sense of the images; developing relations not only between viewer and subject but also between the pictures themselves.

As an installation ME37 Nightshift Freezing Workers functions through accumulation. Repetition is revealed as an important visual tactic in mobilizing the viewer. Serialization activates the act of seeing by highlighting even minute variations between pictures. It is here that individuals emerge from within what might otherwise be seen as a homogenous identity.

October 2008