It’s almost a year since I first saw Mikhael Subotzky’s Retinal Shift at the 2012 incarnation of the National Arts Festival – or, at least, saw part of it. The exhibition was divided between venues on different floors of the 1820 Settlers Monument, the multi-storey building that looks like a spaceship run aground on Gunfire Hill above Grahamstown. Upstairs were four components of Retinal Shift, each exploring Subotzky’s long-standing fascination with the reciprocal activities of looking and being looked at, of seeing and being seen.
I Was Looking Back
is a collection of photographs from the artist’s portfolio of the last decade, with subjects ranging from prison life to private security. These twin concerns, with their shared relation to surveillance and law enforcement in a crime-ridden country, resonate with the police footage displayed in the 2011 work CCTV
. Here Subotzky creates a compact visual symphony, conducting twelve small feeds on one screen like so many instruments in a chamber orchestra and bringing them to a crescendo of ostensible justice: once apprehended, the perpetrators are shown (like victims of a prank) the camera that caught them out.