James Coleman was born in Ireland in 1941. Originally a painter, he trained in France, Ireland and Italy. In the early 1970s he began making installations using audio tapes, video and slide projection. He lives and works in Dublin and Paris.
James Coleman takes nothing we see for granted. By exploring various visual, literary and cultural stereotypes, he reveals how our perception of the world is often filtered through images. He uses a variety of media including photography, film, video and theatre. Frequently, he employs slide projections accompanied by a voiceover. These slide-tapes emphasise the active participation of the viewer and explore the subjective nature of experience. As Coleman says: ‘My work is not about true or false realities, it’s about consciousness of shifting realities.’
Charon (MIT Project) consists of fourteen anecdotal episodes exploring different kinds of photography, including the fashion shoot, commercial photography, the family snap, photo-journalism, the mug-shot and documentary. A male narrator describes the staging of each scene from the photographer’s point of view. Coleman shows that photography is a highly artificial medium that functions according to a set of accepted codes, but can never effectively represent real life. As the stories unfold, the personal memories of the narrator become entangled with the fictional dramas represented in the photographs. The work spirals into a macabre nightmare in which the photograph is indistinguishable from reality.
The title refers to the mythical boatman, Charon, who ferried dead souls across the river Styx to the underworld. It suggests a relationship between photography and death, which has been defined and explored by the French writer Roland Barthes. Barthes described the photographic moment as a traumatic one in which the subject experiences the passing from living being to dead image.