© Sanne De Wilde, all photographs from The Dwarf Empire
After reading Sanne’s words about this photographic journey I was made very aware that she knew about the perversities and ethical dilemmas that would be highlighted by her choices. The cult and fascination for the ‘exotic other’, the ‘savage’, the ‘outsider’ has been an issue for a long time, in very different cultures and through several moral turns. Human beings “can’t help” but be fascinated by what’s different. But several problems arise from this, namely that the idea of ‘being different’ gets very mixed up with other concepts, such as being original, unique, rare, authentic, etc.
I believe a concept such as ‘authenticity’ has lost his existential meaning, and the word has now only a market value, as before the Industrial Revolution the word ‘rarity’ had. Therefore, ‘authenticity’ is a word frequently used in discourses about art and, when applied to the medium of photography, it concerns both the specificities of the medium as the particularities of the subjects portrayed.
Sanne describes her project “The Dwarf Empire” by saying: In southern China, near Kunming -the city of eternal spring- exists a theme park that is home to 77 little people. The inhabitants present a song-and-dance show twice a day. This promised land was founded by a tall, rich man who was determined to ‘do something good’ for the little people. Chinese charity dressed in commercial attire. The façade of this empire, with its walls of synthetic material, permanently seems on the verge of collapse. Nevertheless, the empire holds its ground. / I embarked on an adventure with a handful of ethical questions about commercialising social care. Every story has two sides but in this place every question and every answer seemed contradictory. / My adventure ended up as a modern anti-fairytale, a collection of images of my making, and theirs. My own trick forced upon myself.
And although she carefully choses her words and some of the photographs are very appealing, what triggers the viewer in the end is the eccentricity of the “freaks” depicted in the photographs and, as I see it, not the mastery of the medium. Besides all the underlying questions that may be waken by this project, the photographer is playing the role of the modern hunter-gatherer searching for the most valuable treasure in today’s world: exclusivity.