Book Review: Hot Mirror
By Amy Schatz
The surrealist work of Dutch photographer Viviane Sassen implores viewers to wake up as if from a deep sleep — it is disorienting, and begs for a second look. Hot Mirror is a gasping masterwork that must be glimpsed from a peripheral standpoint as it is almost too bright to bear: Entwined bodies twist around fruits and fabrics; Sassen captures hands and thighs contorted in passion or working deftly with tools; thick, milk pours across dark-skinned shoulders, and bodies dressed in colorful paints and clays cast perfect shadows. Sassen embraces the possibility of sharp contrast in her photos and draws from her childhood in sun-drenched, sand-blasted South Africa to capture images whose geometric compositions and unnaturally bright colors burn themselves onto the eyes of the viewer.
Partway through the collection, Sassen mentions in an interview that she believes “the shadow represents everything that is stored in our subconscious;” here is “where all our hidden anxieties and fantasies lie.” She confronts her personal history by photographing the present, her present, in biting lucidity. Daylight floods scenes of street culture and sandy landscapes; at night, Sassen conjures her flashbulb to continue the dirty work of illuminating shadows.
Sassen weaves a narrative thread throughout the work in an act to remember her home, family, and friends. She lived close to the hospital where her father worked and grew up familiar with bodies that had been ravaged by polio. She claims she was somewhat surrounded by death, back then; chickens were slaughtered outside her kitchen window, animals struck by cars lay dying on the side of the road, a venomous snake was found dead in the drain. These moments are not necessarily graphic, nor do they necessarily carry a negative connotation; Sassen remembers moments of death and dying in the same way she remembers neighborhood traditions and chasing small creatures around the garden. Sassen’s experimental prowess charms poetry out of photography in a style that dances towards fashion but defies categorization.
Sassen crafts a vivid photographic memoir heavily inspired by her childhood proximity to a home for disabled children; she ignores the rules of tones and contrast ratios that look “good” or “bad” in pursuit of more pressing goals, such as throwing unrelenting light into even the darkest corners.
Hot Mirror was published by Prestel Publishing.