Photographer Tania Franco Klein asks if we can ever truly disconnect

December 13, 2019

by Jacqui Palumbo
CNN Style
13 DECEMBER 2019

A woman in red stands in a vacant parking lot, fabric billowing in an upward arc to obscure her face. She extends her right arm outward, hand gently cupped, guiding the viewer toward the direction they might take. The low-slung ochre building behind her and her cherry-hued pencil skirt could be from the past, but no details pinpoint a specific place or time.

This is the image that began Mexican photographer Tania Franco Klein's "Proceed to the Route" (2018--ongoing), a series that saturates dystopian unease in the warmth of nostalgia.

Tania Franco Klein,  Proceed To The Route  from  Proceed To The Route , 2018

Tania Franco Klein, Proceed To The Route from Proceed To The Route, 2018

At first glance, one might not think that Klein is examining our modern digital age -- the works appear as if they predate home computers -- but Klein wields ambiguity to evoke memory and a creeping sense of disquiet in photographs that ask if it's possible to truly disconnect.

Klein's practice primarily features cinematic self-portraiture, though her starting point for this particular body of work was a portrait of someone else. She had been preoccupied with the idea of Siri, a faceless, digital female voice guiding our lives -- this image seemed to represent her in physical form. But after taking the photograph in a parking lot, she had little clarity as to what to do next.

Tania Franco Klein,  Car, Window  (Self-portrait), from  Proceed To The Route , 2018

Tania Franco Klein, Car, Window (Self-portrait), from Proceed To The Route, 2018

Klein explores the idea of hyperconnectivity through the western microtowns that have been left behind as urbanization has concentrated the country's population -- and high speed internet connections -- in major cities. She was drawn to "these in-between places," she said in a phone interview, and sought them out across California, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

As her own female protagonist, Klein is always alone, her face often obscured by shadow, cropped in the frame, or turned away from the camera entirely. There's no sense of freedom in the images -- the title is a reminder that even in this narrow world, seemingly devoid of human presence, she has little free will.

It's a familiar feeling today, as the internet becomes more consolidated under a handful of dominant social media sites that we rely on for human connection. "We're participating in this system where we want to be rewarded for what we are, who we are, and what we do constantly," Klein said. "Disconnecting is this dream, something you can't achieve fully."

In just three years, Klein has become an emerging artist to watch. She is now represented by Rosegallery and has exhibited internationally at major festivals and fairs. She's won awards from LensCulture, Sony Photography Awards and Photo London.

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