What we see when we look at a photograph is filtered through our personal experience. When photographs are ambiguous, it is our unique perspective that shifts how we view them. Work like Angela Kleis’ There’s Been a Terrible Accident series relies on the viewer to determine what’s real.
The backdrop for this series are the geometric patterns of streets, alleys, roads and buildings all viewed from a high vantage point. The people, or bodies, are not front and center and often have to be discovered in the frame. They are placed in locations that make their presence on the ground lead to more questions than answers. The dark, film noir quality of the images certainly hints at suicide or murder, but the title of the series reflects something less macabre.
The mystery of the story behind the photograph is what Kleis had in mind. She says:
One of the predominant themes I tend to explore in my work is pushing comfort levels of both myself and the viewer, in both content and reaction. My work can sometimes be a little odd, and the viewer doesn’t always know what to do with it, and I am interested in their reactions. This series began as an idea to position a body in way that appears as if they have fallen to their deaths, but not be the dominating element of the scene. When the viewer finally sees the body, their reactions are generally strong and range from humor to horror, with a lot of confusion in between, and are just as important as the photos themselves.
Though it was the viewer’s reaction Kleis had in mind while shooting, the reactions from witnesses at the scene were just as interesting. She says, “Sometimes passersby occasionally express concern that someone is really injured, or show indifference to the person laying on the ground that they just walked past, and become a part of the photograph themselves.” This reaction can be seen in a few of her images, including a bystander dog seemingly perplexed by a body in the street.
This work is part of an ongoing series that began several years ago. More of Kleis’ work can be seen on her website, angelakleis.com. Her work can also be found at the Adah Rose Gallery in Kensington, Maryland and at ArtDC Gallery’s current show, #WeTweetArt, which is up through this Sunday.