Upstairs at City Gallery is the second presentation of photographer Jono Rotman’s Mongrel Mob portraits. Based in New York, Rotman returns regularly to New Zealand to work on this project, for which he has travelled the country over seven years to visit the homes of over 200 men.
Rotman uses traditional portrait conventions and techniques to unsettle expectations of portraiture and the standard media representation of gangs. By doing so, this work questions why we consider certain types of people suitable to hang on a gallery wall in a formal portrait. "Is it glorification because they are good photographs? Should it be that these guys should only be shown in bad photographs or in police mugshots?" Rotman’s portraits offer neither glorification nor caricature. He says, "I hope that viewers are forced to consider each man in person and consider deeply the forces that made him.”
Rotman’s portraits were first shown at Auckland’s Gow Langsford Gallery in 2014. City Gallery's exhibition expands on this selection, and includes unseen work from the original series. It also introduces new pieces which extend Rotman’s engagement with different types of portraiture through which he offers other perspectives on members of the country’s most notorious gang.
In 2013, Rotman was awarded the prestigious Marti Friedlander Photographic Award on the basis of his Mongrel Mob photographs. The Award’s namesake, renowned photographer Marti Friedlander says, “The photos of these men moved me to tears. It seems almost as if Rotman has understood something and revealed the person behind the badge without prejudice.”
Jono Rotman grew up in Ohariu Valley, Wellington. He studied printmaking in Argentina and photography in Wellington and has exhibited throughout New Zealand and Australia, including in Parallel Worlds, a joint exhibition between the Adam Art Gallery in Wellington and the Centre for Contemporary Photography in Melbourne (2001). Rotman’s work is represented in the Wellington City Council Art Collection, and the Chartwell Collection, Auckland.