Exhibition dates: 5 July - 18 September
"America is neither dream nor reality." Jean Baudrillard, 'America'
Sunderland graduate Sophie Helas-Kwo uses her camera lens to capture the extraordinary moments that are hidden in every-day life. The images in 'You can't always get what you want' capture another America, in which the consequences of the rights to 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness' are not always predictable. The exhibition title is taken from slogan in one image on a teenager's T-shirt - who, being young, beautiful, wealthy, and confident, would seem to have everything she could possibly want.
Helas-Kwo's quirky and cinematic images, shot mostly in San Diego, focus on the contradictions manifest in a land obsessed by beauty, wealth and progress. In her series of photographs the artist brings into sharp focus a different America to the one we are used to seeing in the media. This is an intimate portrait of a country where poverty and wealth, fragility and unwavering confidence exist side-by-side.
For Helas-Kwo the camera is a means to understand another culture, to make sense of the details that separate 'them' from 'us'. Through her lens she uncovers a world that seems at odds with itself, where even in its most extreme excesses and extravagances there is a sense of isolation. From deserted urban landscapes to crowded street scenes, Helas-Kwo's photographs make us acutely aware the contrast between our social masks and inner life.
Her intimate portraits span characters on the verge of destitution to those who, we assume, are living out the American dream in its most extreme forms. Helas-Kwo's images seem to echo the sentiment expressed by author Jack Kerouac: 'This is the story of America. Everybody's doing what they think they're supposed to do. '
Image: Sophie Helas-Kwo, untitled, 2008