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The Necessity to Speak: Photographer Manuel Vason unpacks his book, 'Double Exposures'

Images: Elvira Santamaría Torres and Manuel Vason, Double Exposures, Belfast, 2013.


Photographer Manuel Vason is a household name in performance and live art. It’s a universe devoted to investigating notions of archiving and documenting practices that stem from the present moment, and Vason approaches the artists (and the art) with an intention of doing more than producing marketing-worthy images; his focus is on bridging the gap between performance and photography and the process incites creative relationships with artists.

These relationships have recently conjured up a new book, Double Exposures, which sees the photographer employ diptych to explore the image-performance intersections. The study led him in front of the camera, allowing 20 of his long-standing collaborators (including Ron Athey and Stacy Makishi) to formulate images for his body; Vason also reached out to 20 artists he hadn’t worked with before (jamie lewis hadley and Mouse are amongst them), providing a glimpse into inceptions of new collaborations. The result is a publication which relies on abundances of mutual trust – we tried to unpack its complexities in our conversation with Vason.

Run Riot: You started out as a fashion photographer – what lured you into performance and live art?

Manuel Vason: I had a really short career as a fashion photographer, although I had been working as an assistant for nearly 10 years… I guess at some point I realized I was not that interested in the garment, but in the body and in the performance of making that body really special. I did enjoy the teamwork, the theatricality and the pressure of those years but I could not see myself spending the rest of my life playing a manipulative game of superficial transgression. Instead I found the world of performance and live art, an arena where I could focus my creative energy into a diversity of messages and propose my autobiographical voice as uncompromised.

Run Riot: How do you see the relationship between performance and photography? What (if any) place do the notions of documentation and archiving have in your practice?

Manuel Vason: The relationship is problematic and incredibly attractive. I think both art forms are dependent on each other. I think performance and photography share the concept of “presentation”. Both art forms tend to exhibit, both art forms aim to provoke an emotion in the audience.
But the two art forms have a different relationship with time. While photography tends to encapsulate time, performance tends to develop with time. Instead of insisting on the differences, I tend to mix the two art forms with the purpose of creating new hybrid forms or parallel existence.

I see documentation as the perfect device to propose new methodologies and the archive as a multiform container which transforms traces and memories.

Images: Hugo Glendinning and Manuel Vason, Double Exposures, London 2013

Run Riot: What attracts you to a specific artist or practice? What does this collaboration entail?

Manuel Vason: I tend to go toward diversity. My biggest drive is curiosity and if I come across something quite foreign to what I know I become really attracted. Most of the time I share with my collaborator a focus on the body, its limits and its power of expression. Each collaboration is an action of exchange between our differences and a test to find mutual achievements without loosing our identities.

Run Riot: The ideas of Double Exposures are formulated through a series of diptychs. How did you come to choose this form?

Manuel Vason: In my mind I wanted to cut the image in two and introduce the gap inside the photograph. The gap represents the relationship with my collaborator, it represents a space to be filled by the viewer, it represents a temporality against the fixity of photography, it represents confusion and ambiguity.

Images: Áine Plillips and Manuel Vason, Double Exposures, Ballyvaughan, 2014

Run Riot: Double Exposures also captures you in front of the camera, trusting the artists to create an image of/for your body. What led to this decision? How significant is it in the overall arc of your practice?

Manuel Vason: Any successful collaboration needs to be nourished by a sense of reciprocal trust. I wanted to prove my commitment to exchange and my determination to take risk. I was concerned with handing my camera away and I was worried I would disappoint my collaborator while following her/his instructions. Performance art can be photographed but most of all it needs to be experienced. This project has brought me closer to the practices of my collaborators and at the same time has given me a spur to express my ideas through my body - a photographer’s body. When it comes to studying nude photography , there definitely seems to be a preference for shooting in black and white over colour. When it comes to studying nude photography , there definitely seems to be a preference for shooting in black and white over colour.

Image: Mat Fraser and Manuel Vason, Double Exposures, London, 2013

Run Riot: For the book you collaborated with 20 artists you have a long established relationship with, as well as 20 artists you haven’t worked with before. How did the two processes differ?

Manuel Vason: The two different groups of artists allowed me to experiment with the diptych format in two directions: with the artists I had already worked with I proposed to exchange roles, with the artists I had never worked before I proposed to create a performance that could be viewable only through two images next to each other.

Images: Giovanna Maria Casetta and Manuel Vason, Double Exposures, Ipswich, 2012

Run Riot: The relationship you form with artists is always present in your work. What’s your relationship to the audience?

Manuel Vason: Working collaboratively, allows you/me to be subject and spectator at the same time. While working on the Double Exposures project I had always the audience in mind. The book represents an intimate window toward the practice of many incredible artists willing to display, communicate and share personal trauma, fear, desire, insecurity, humour, transgression etc. 

The work is born with the necessity to speak.

Double Exposures book launch
17 February, 18:30
Tate Britain
Buy the book at:

Double Exposures collaborators:

Lucille Acevedo-Jones & Rajni Shah, Katherine Araniello, Oreet Ashery, Ron Athey, Franko B, Julia Bardsley, Dickie Beau, Ansuman Biswas, Nicola Canavan, Marisa Carnesky, Giovanna Maria Casetta, Brian Catling, Marcia Farquhar, Ernst Fischer, Eloise Fornieres, Mat Fraser, Helena Goldwater, Helena Hunter, David Hoyle, Iona Kewney, Noëmi Lakmaier, jamie lewis hadley, Stacy Makishi, Alastair MacLennan, Mad For Real (Cai Yuan & Jian Jun Xi), Rita Marcalo, Michael Mayhew, Nando Messias, Nicola Canavan, Mouse, Martin O’Brien, Sinéad O’Donnell, Harold Offeh, Florence Peake, Áine Phillips, Joshua Sofaer, The Famous Lauren Barri Holstein, Elvira Santamaria Torres, Aaron Williamson and Alexandra Zierle & Paul Carter.

Double Exposures would not be possible without the help of Live Art Development Agency and the support of the Art Council of England.


Double Exposures Teaser from Manuel Vason Studio on Vimeo.

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