Here at #itchysilk the 26 year-old photographer Dark Rabban intrigued us with his bleak images.
Revelling in grainy black and white images and the occasional flirtation with splashes of colour, Dark Rabban reveals the dark and at times uncomfortable recesses. For us those recesses should not be feared. They should be explored and if possible understood. After all, even the darkest caves can be home to beauty and life-you just need to shine a light.
Mine is rather a focus on the cold, silent anxiety of people.
Can you chart your story to photography-we are specifically interested in your fine art journey?
I wanted to be a writer and a painter but I could not draw so I followed a path of photography. I was totally ignorant to the ‘process’ of becoming a photographer. From getting an eye, understanding what makes images work to how long it would take to learn to use a camera. I realized that in the time it took me to learn how to take photos, I could have learned to draw again. I hated photography in the beginning, I just couldn’t ‘get it’. All the images I took for the first sixth months were trash-garbage. Eventually I just ‘got it’. When I worked on a project driven collection of images there was a big change. After that I knew I had to carry on taking photos because I had a passion for it.
You revel in Gothic Art. Explain the attraction to this genre. Indeed what initially sparked your interest in the genre?
As a child I have always had an interest in darkness, the Gothic, the strange and surreal, the route of which I cannot remember. For me darkness has always made sense. The world is a sinister, violent place. I could not pretend it was something else with my images. I could not take a vibrant photo of someone smiling in overblown colour and be proud of what I have done. However, this does not necessarily mean my style was Gothic. I don’t see my images fitting into this genre. They certainly borrow elements from Gothic philosophy and American Gothic photographers like Meatyard .
How do you express the romantic?
I work with small, enclosed sets in which I can express emotions, grandeur, get away from the business of city and street life. It helps me to get away from the business of city and street life. They are quiet retreats, places away from everyday reality. As you can see, none of my images are taken on the street. I hate the street and street photography. The street is the death of romance. There exists no romance in a concrete city, no rebellion in people all wearing the same clothing labels, drinking at the same coffee shops, pulling the same expressions. You cannot photograph a person in such a place. You only capture a shred of their personality.
Do you ever dabble in spontaneity?
You will not find a photo of mine that is “spontaneous”. I want to make an emotion, and so, I have to make an image with as much control over the scene as I can muster and then take time to edit the image. However, contrary to the romantic, there are no gorgeous landscapes in my photos, no celebration of natural beauty. Mine is rather a focus on the cold, silent anxiety of people. It is misanthropic, creating a mood of disquiet, of places you would not want to visit and people you would not want to meet. You can stare at the images knowing they won’t stare back.
You explore miserabilism-define this concept (if it is) and what specifically do you want to explore?
You know how annoying it is to be asked to ‘Smile’ for the camera?” Fuck smiling and fuck happiness. Miserabilism is the enjoyment of being depressed or being in a gloomy/unhappy state. To me, miserabliism is not a choice. It’s not my fault it’s a terrible place. Contentedness in my gloom is the best mood I can achieve. You don’t know how many times people have said my photography “isn’t very positive, is it?”. Some have even found my Skype portraits scary, something they didn’t want to look at. Well I say that was an achievement. I really take issue with commercial, colour portraits done in studios, where everyone is wearing the face of happy ignorance. If there is a smile in my photo, it is an evil smile or it is an ironic smile.
Is miserabilism more prevalent in today’s society-why do you think that is?
I think ironic self-swipes about hating yourself are more common now. In the face of fake news, Trump, nuclear war, jokes about dystopia, stress and suicide are common. The older generation make jokes to me how, when they’re dead, I will have to clean up the unfixable mess they did nothing to prevent. I have had only one job that I had a physical paper contract for. Employers treat you like shit and parade themselves around their city like God’s gift to the industry without giving a damn about the millennials they employed who made their business possible. In the last five years I have noticed this more through having conversations with friends, through Facebook posts and memes. Not sleeping is the norm and is made a joke of. Insomnia is acceptable, skipping lunch and surviving off of coffee instead. There’s an embrace of inevitable, that the future is not bright. We had Brexit in the UK, the world has been cursed by Trump, after this, what could possibly shock us? Things getting worse is the norm.
Also interested in your exploration of estrangement-how do you explore that in the images you create?
When I take a portrait, it is generally on Skype with someone who I cannot interact with in person. Some of them I have never met before and the most that has passed between us is me asking: “Can I take photos of you on Skype?” Other times, there is a person in my photo whose face you cannot see, who acts more as a piece of furniture, as a prop. In some photos, there are no people, it is just a scene that is rather quiet and cold. The world is a place I cannot comprehend. Social interactions, weddings, birthdays and Friday night socials are alien. My images find a quiet place away from all of this. Despite my anger expressed in the previous question, I don’t express that in my photography. My photography is my special unhappy-place away from the world.
There were some interesting opinions on the power of shooting in black and white.Could you just elaborate on the power of black and white particularly in the images you create?
“What I see doesn’t interest me. It is what I feel when I see something that I want to bring to the image and black and white is much more open to the intensity of feelings and to the subjective nature of emotion than colour.”
We don’t see in black and white. We don’t see over and underexposed lights contrasting against shadows. Utilising these in black and white and emphasising them in post-production creates emotions the eye can’t pull from the flat colour image it would have seen. It comes back to question about the Romantic with black and white, about choosing emotion over realistic photos of the world around us.
You have started a new series called Solitude elaborate please?
In Solitude, there are no people, only inanimate objects or landscapes that suggest someone might have been here. Like a stairwell in a busy superstore which no one uses. An empty elevator, a disused, oddly placed bench no one would ever sit on. Rarely visited areas that people may recognize from a distance, but never go to.