The photographer explores everyday sanctuaries at his latest exhibition in Hong Kong.
With the rise of digital platforms, especially social media, the once distinct genres of photography intertwine. Memes and fine art photography, stock images and fashion, are presented alongside each other, producing ambiguous and irresolvable new meanings—a phenomenon which also operates within the oeuvre of a single photographer.
In Sanctuary, frequent Document contributor Roe Ethridge embraces the overlapping visual vocabularies of these photographic languages. The exhibition blends Ethridge’s commissioned work with the results of personal explorations into domesticity, labor, and artifice. “The images are, in my typical style, a mix of intentional and accidental art pictures,” Ethridge tells Document. “Though I think the stakes are more personal and political in the same time in Sanctuary.”
Portraits of Lakeith Stanfield appear alongside photographs of uniformed carpet cleaners and sud-soaked carpets. Reflections and pseudo-reflections of the photographer himself appear occasionally as well: a self-portrait in a mirror, the image of Ethridge’s face on a swimsuit worn by model Maryel Sousa, the glow of an iPhone screen held to his face by his mother. The eponymous “sanctuary” appears perhaps most obviously in the domestic and familial threads of photographs: for instance, a white suburban house or his parents’ pill bottles. But sanctuaries with environmental and political resonance crop up as well in photographs evoking immigration debates, labor rights, and wildlife preservation.
Taken together, the photographs on display convey the endless commonalities and tensions between the photographic arenas in which Ethridge participates and the spaces we create for home, labor, art, and intimacy. Even the carpet cleaning series finds understated, painterly beauty in supposedly unglamourous work. In its breadth, Sanctuary points us to intimate relationships which cast a unifying net over seemingly disparate, heterogeneous realms of photography.