The Bigger Picture: Benji Reid’s Image Hints at Untold Stories - ELEPHANT

The photographer’s Light Bearer combines quiet performance and unspoken questions into an enigmatic shot.

Benji Reid, Light Bearer, 2020. Courtesy the artist and October Gallery
Benji Reid, Light Bearer, 2020. Courtesy the artist and October Gallery

Benji Reid’s self-described ‘choreo-photolist’ images combine the artist’s physical theatre background with the hyperreal sensibilities of experimental self-portraiture, resulting in studies of motion, character and personhood with a surreal twist. He poses face-down in a breakdance-style hold in a yellow diner in one; naked and covered in white powder in Surrender, bearing an angelic white flag against a perfect black backdrop.

Whereas elsewhere Reid’s poses evoke authority, dominance and motion, Light Bearer introduces vulnerability to the series, his sedated figure in delicate rather than confident suspense, his bare feet suggesting either relaxation or enforced exposure. Among the dancers, pilots, acrobats and boxers Reid embodies in his images, the figure of the suited light bearer exudes a gentle melancholy, his bondage to a simple wooden chair somehow unthreatening.

“Here the light bearer is tied to himself, though he is still able to illuminate the space below him”

“The aim of my work is to focus on our humanity and the fragility of Black men to provide a counternarrative to what is on offer in the mainstream, allowing the magical and incongruent to emerge,” Reid says.

In Holding onto Daddy, his 2016 Wellcome Photography Award-winning image of a child and father, the rope between the two figures signals care and support, its umbilical associations clear. Here the light bearer is tied to himself, though he is still able to illuminate the space below him. The dusky background gives little clue as to what lies beneath his bulb, but one can picture him as a deity of sorts, taking a brief rest as he lights up the world below.

Ravi Ghosh is Elephant’s editorial assistant

 

Benji Reid, Laugh at Gravity

October Gallery, London, 3 September–9 October 2021

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