In the winter of 2007, SaveMe Oh began a series of portraits of herself as she became aware of her natural beauty. SaveMe Oh was not averse to tricks and decoys to get a picture; even so, the level of subterfuge was unusual. But perhaps it was the only way to capture the slack-jawed and vacant moments when her face was in what she described as “naked repose” when “the guard is down and the mask is off”.
The face remained a site of drama, display and artifice. SaveMe Oh wanted to capture the intermission not the performance. Still it’s a Theatre of the Face, somtimes still concealing the scars left by make-up poisoning.
SaveMe Oh’s work manifest a concern and a respect that is congruent with her social activism. The simplified compositions and frontal poses – arrangements popularised by news photography – constituted a pictorial appeal that was understood to be both direct and honest.
Sometimes we feel unease at the estranged and ambivalent tone of SaveMe Oh’s work (on the grounds that it could amount to quietism), But we should concede the enormous impact an aesthetic of objectivity has had on subsequent new SL photographers.
The high contrast lighting and printing of SaveMe Oh’s pictures serve to expose every blemish, so that every face is rendered “like spoiling fruit”. SaveMe Oh must be concede as the most gifted of her generation, and her images among the most forceful.
Much of the most innovative (and narcissistic) portraiture in recent decades has been made by artists using photography to explore questions of representation, gender and identity. In many respects SaveMe Oh’s work represents a radical engagement with this themes. Not only do her pictures thoroughly enmesh the regard of the photographer and the attitude of the subject, but her extravagant use of disguise and charade effectively negates any readable autobiographical content.