PIC HO: FABLES – Exhibition at ODC Gallery, 2001
by Professor Mukka
Pic Ho is a magi! It is so more by a default than by an intention. There are two reasons for this claim. So candidly epitomized in Fable #54, Pic Ho is here ... yet he is not! Fable #54 muses on a droll woman caught in the ephemereal moment of browsing through a bound book titled "Not Now, But Now" (further ameliorated by the lustre in one spectacle of her glasses glimmering to a degree of fake retouching job.)
My claim, as well as that of the book title itself is literally an heurestic oxymoron, or at least malopropism, but the picture is a real figurative rendition of both, whether we want or not. Same truth applies to us viewers: "we can think, and also think of ourselves as well, but not both at the same time." This play is what makes Pic Ho is a kind of a visual prestidigitator that makes putting rabbits back into an empty hat look like a greater magic than vice versa. For the latter reason, he doesn't let us speak of his work at a great length, although that is to be an argument which I will try to prove fallacious.
As much as available records provide, Pic Ho was born between 1953 and 1954 in the suburb of Bumthung in Northern Bhutan: "The violent storms echoing from precipitious spurs of Himalyas give the once hermit kingdom of Bhutan its name of "Land of the Thunder Dragon." Archery is a national sport and leech infested jungle cloaks Southern foothills along the border with India ... " tells us the summary of Bhutan in the National Geographic Atlas. Five thousand tourists are permited to enter the kingdom and each is charged $250 for admission.
At the age 9, Pic Ho was acosted by one Charles Meredith, engineering consultant from Seattle who, in 1962, was supervising construction of the first paved road in Bhutan. Meredith's wife Ellen was so enchanted by Pic Ho's voice while Pic Ho was singing to his uncle's yak herd on the side of the newly paved road that she illegally arranged for his adoption. With his new home came also a new passion, practically unknown in his homeland - photography.
In a collection of his texts later presented here, he refers to the camera as "box" and taking photographs, to him, equals "boxing" events, places and people into his magic receptacle. Pic Ho is, simply put, a straight street shooter, that is a trigger-happy shooter to be sure. His work can be described as a conglomerate of several overlapping stylistic devices and in this sense, this exhibit does not fully credit Pic Ho's scope of work. We selected pictures so they represent Pic Ho's multifaceted eye while preserving some thematic and formal consistency in the exhibit’s narrow extent.
Pic Ho’s dominant and unifying stylistic device is removal of the context of the situation using innate property of the medium. Photography is a practically formulaic method isolating events from their context with the hegemony of selectivity being the main dictating principle. According to Pic Ho this is a device that creates in his pictures the sense of "fabulosity." The strength of a picture is the conveyance of inherent drama in any temporal situation that suggests and/or occludes what may have happened, and what may happen in the next moment. It is a "sloughing off" of the information from both ends of a temporal event to create a potentially gripping pain of the force-fed imagination into a viewers' dank expectations. This feature is again quasi-pedanticly manifested in Fable # 23 - a picture of a family, hierachically raked, anxiously watching as well as videotaping an event that is absent in the frame, but which rivets the subjects together physically and emotionally. The riveting of the family in the photograph is extended vicariously to us. Not knowing what is going to happen in their field of vision becomes paradigmatic to our speculation about what is happening to them. This is the same way in which, when visiting ZOO park, we tend to videotape monkeys rather then people who are watching the monkeys. In Fable # 15, the physical rendition of subjects in the photograph is almost archetypal to the notion of disbelief of what may have happened or not - monkeys plummeting from the high boughs, down to a swinging tire.
The other leitmotifs in Pic Ho’s work are inclusion of textual elements and representation of consumption-related activities such as eating, buying, tasting, yearning, regurgating, etc. In reflection, there is nothing pleasing in Fable # 8: a woman's rear exposed while rummaging for a good deal, and a little visual pleasure one can find in Fable #11 - another woman lumbering out of the undersized vehicle until we read a text on the fast food bag in her hand: "Your car hasn't smelled better since it was new."
In the selection of Pic Ho's work here, we tried to find an axenic mix of various degrees of permutations of the above-mentioned characteristics - sometimes demure and blithe, next time harrowing and pestilent, to satiate a savvy viewer.
To summarize, Pic Ho's photographs do not try to be novel or avantgarde. Pic Ho is recording his environment without denying he, himself, of being an integral part of it. This is certainly not dissimilar to his Buddhist roots. Pic Ho's fables are mere hermeneutical discernments of the infinitely-magnified pictoresqueness of space-time we cohabitate. The sentiment of Pic Ho's photographs around us is aptly expressed by Joshua Cisterna's blurp in PonyUp magazine: "His eyes are trenchant, his heart without ullage, and his tongue proud of diastemas."