≡ The problem with expectations in the context of documentary photography (Part II) ≡

qiermpo7kpxgttqwphvm© Giovanni Troilo, J. keeps his gun hidden in a box in the woods of Bois du Cazier. This is more secure than keeping them at home since he regularly gets visits from the police., from the series The Dark Heart of Europe, 2014.

fpudamunvpv5hxejln5y© Giovanni Troilo, Gas supply tubes run along the houses built near the steel factories of Charleroi. Before the electric upgrade of the blast furnace, these tubes used to provide the energy needed for this operation., from the series The Dark Heart of Europe, 2014.

It’s the discussion everyone is having in the photography community since the 2015 World Press Photo awards were announced: Giovanni Troilo won the contemporary issues category with a visual essay about the town of Charleroi, in Belgium, entitled “The Dark Heart of Europe“. In the official site, one can read the following description “Charleroi, a town near Brussels, has experienced the collapse of industrial manufacturing, rising unemployment, increasing immigration and outbreak of micro-criminality. The roads, once fresh and neat, appear today desolated and abandoned, industries are closing down, and vegetation grows in the old industrial districts.”

So far so good, but the controversy started once claims arose about the performative nature of the photographs. Apparently, italian photographer Giovanni Troilo staged some of the photos in order to better convey a feeling of decadence of Europe. Having seen the photos, Charleroi’s mayor Paul Magnette sent a letter to  World Press Photo claiming that the award be removed on grounds of the essay not constituting a documentary portrait of Charleroi. Excerpts of such letter are all over the web. At one point Magnette writes:

“He [Giovanni] claims to be doing investigative journalism; a photo essay reflecting a simple reality. But this is far from being the case: the falsified and misleading captions, the travesty of reality, the construction of striking images staged by the photographer are all profoundly dishonest and fail to respect the codes of journalistic ethics. In our opinion, this work does not comply with the objective of the competition.”

cn5i37clib1qzwvnchpk© Giovanni Troilo, Locals know of parking lots popular for couples seeking sexual liaisons, from the series The Dark Heart of Europe, 2014.

This particular image above is accompanied by a caption saying “Locals know of parking lots popular for couples seeking sexual liaisons”, however the author explains that the photograph was staged with a friend’s car and his cousin inside. His approach is not only questionable because of its theatricality, but mainly because it is dishonest: the captions do not correspond to the reality of the singular and individual daily life in Charleroi, instead they are used in order to apply to a virtual (and apparently universal) idea of what the darkness in Europe looks like.

ygasyk3sx6ajpvklf7rv© Giovanni Troilo, Locals know of parking lots popular for couples seeking sexual liaisons, from the series The Dark Heart of Europe, 2014.

This image shows  Philippe Genion as an obese and decadent man. The caption reads: “Philippe lives in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the town.” Not that we needed to read mayor Magnette’s response to understand the inauthenticity of such an image, for it is obviously overstaged and sensationalist, but he adds to the confusion by saying:

“Mr. G. is a prominent figure, earthy and very attached to his region. Far from the image given him by photographer who seems to have wanted to build his image by referring to the ‘neurotic obesity’ mentioned in the introductory text of Giovanni Troilo.”

Journalist Caroline Lallemand (for Le Vif) interviewed belgian photographer Thomas Van Den Driessche about the controversy and at one point he says (my translation):

“Let’s take the example of corpulent man posing in his interior space. The dramatic lighting of the scene and the caption of the photo suggest that this person is a recluse inside his own home to escape violence in his neighborhood. This is actually Philippe Genion, a well-known personality in Charleroi who loves posing topless. He lives in a popular neighborhood, but relatively peaceful. His house is also a wine bar. So we are far from the image referring to the “neurotic obesity” conveyed by the photographer. Philippe Genion has also given several specific details about Troilo’s team mise-en-scène on its Facebook page. He specified that the photographer had clearly told him that he “was not doing a documentary, but a photography project”. For me, it’s another serious deontological mistake to have presented his work in such a way.”

The issue is far from over. Troilo is yet to respond to mayor Magnette’s letter and the World Press Photo jury is expected to explain their position regarding the story at hands. But what is really expected? That photography be a document of reality when we know it to be always subjective? That near-documentary photographs be discredited by their theatricality even though they often present a better visual understanding of a particular social reality? That manipulation be 100% excluded from photojournalist practice, even if the barriers between documentary and photojournalism keep being blurred? Or may it be that our problem concerns not the photographer, not the images, but the man who comes forth as an author? May it be that the core of the problem deals with the overall authority of a man’s words and his authenticity?

evtm9oyflksjfrgnbyje© Giovanni Troilo, The newest and tallest building in Charleroi is the 75-meter-high police station., from the series The Dark Heart of Europe, 2014.

kg75csiwtze5hdgyo25h© Giovanni Troilo, Vadim, a painter who uses live models, creates a work inspired by an existing painting., from the series The Dark Heart of Europe, 2014.

٠ Mark (he is) King (maybe) ٠

5666374964_b8eba650f8_b© Mark King, from the series Plastic, 2011-12

mark_king_plastic5© Mark King, from the series Plastic, 2011-12

mark_king_plastic4© Mark King, from the series Plastic, 2011-12

“Back in January I was preparing for a screen printing artist in residency at the Frans Masereel Centre in Kasterlee, Belgium and wanted to go there with a new portrait project already started. One night I ended up shooting a few packs of medium format polaroids and really liked what I got. I later scanned the selects and added color to them in photoshop. The color palette and stoic characters created a new version of the Barbados I was familiar with. Shooting at night under streetlights made for an eerie scene.

Once at the residency, I produced a range of artist’s proofs, adding color to each print piece by piece. The color I add is representative of the local plastic shopping bags. I even traveled to the residency with plastic bags and used them to match with the inks I was laying down. I experimented with and collected many shopping bags for over a year before the residency. They stood out for me as soon as I returned to Barbados. You see them everywhere. Their vibrant colors dominate any environment.”

excerpt from an interview made by Abby Wilcox, from Live Fast Mag

maryam1© Mark King, from the series Plastic, 2011-12

mk_adriana© Mark King, Adriana, from the series Plastic, 2011-12

mk_elena© Mark King, Elena, from the series Plastic, 2011-12

More of Mark’s work here

┐ Laurence Skivée └

© Laurence Skivée, Koen Wastijn “puma”, 2009

© Laurence Skivée, Mona Hatoum “Witness” (detail), Galerie Chantal Crousel, 2010

© Laurence Skivée, éclats, 2010

“À supposer que la photographie puisse ou doive servir à quelque chose, ce devrait être à fixer l’ordinaire, le mouvement de l’ordinaire, à arrêter simplement pour un instant le flux de l’ordinaire. Non pas tant en garder le souvenir visuel qu’en prélever quelque image fugace, positive, triste, ambigüe, sincère ou spontanée. Quitte, à l’occasion, à photographier des photographies.
L’art est inutile — c’est même à cela qu’on le reconnaît —, c’est ce qu’on en dit ; mais rien sans doute n’est aussi faux.
Les photographies de Laurence Skivée me sont utiles. Je les regarde et j’en fais un usage. Je ne vais pas à la découverte du monde ou d’un univers. Je découvre une série d’images qu’un même regard organise dans sa spontanéité, son instantanéité. On sait qu’il y a une pensée derrière, on la comprend d’autant mieux que ce qui en apparaît apparaît simple et évident, naïf, c’est-à-dire : qui se tient au plus près de la vérité.
Ce sont des images prises avec un iPhone ou un Polaroid qui retiennent surtout mon attention. Je confronte ma façon de voir à la sienne. Je me dis : « Tiens, je n’aurais pas retenu une telle image. » J’ajoute, m’interrogeant : « Pourquoi ? ». Pourquoi s’arrête-t-on sur telle partie du ciel bleu ? Pourquoi retient-on tel livre ? Est-ce parce qu’on l’aime qu’on veut le montrer ? Est-ce parce que c’est simplement ce qu’on est en train de faire : le regarder, le lire ?
La photographie ne sert pas à se souvenir. La photographie, c’est ce qu’on décide de montrer de ce que l’on voit. La photographie, c’est l’exposition de ce que nous avons pu voir. L’important, le plus important, n’est pas que ça a été là ; ç’aurait pu être ailleurs. Le plus important, c’est ce qu’on fait de ce qui a été là. Que les choses, les êtres, les paysages, les objets aient été là n’est pas indifférent au regard de la photographie, mais presque. Ce qui importe le plus, c’est le regard parce qu’il est exposition, parce qu’il entend montrer ce qu’il voit. Je vois à travers ce regard plus que je ne vois ce que ce regard voit. C’est trivial. Mais cette relation à la trivialité fait l’intérêt et l’utilité de la photographie. Apprendre à voir, peut-être. Apprendre à montrer, surtout. Apprendre l’attention. Ne pas avoir aux choses, aux êtres, aux paysages, aux objets, un rapport distant, distrait. Ne pas les prendre à la légère. Non. Les prendre en photographie.”

excerpt from a text by Jérôme Orsoni in Papier Esthétique, here

More of Laurence’s work here

┐ Tjorven Bruyneel └

© Tjorven Bruyneel, Untitled, from the series I’ll be your mirror, 2010

© Tjorven Bruyneel, Untitled, from the series I’ll be your mirror, 2010

“Living in a Western society where virtually all taboos have fallen. Everything has been done, seen, admired, abhorred, nothing remains that can shock.

But are we really that free?

“I’ll be your mirror” became a social depiction of a taboo conflict that is considered as nonexistent in the artistic community. It reflects on how characters in my life experience their own bodies. Every person is linked to a cultural history, and his or her body is scarred by that. Their story carrying bodies voice the answer to my ever returning question:

Will you pose nude for me on photograph?

Come, please undress …
Let me see you,
Through your eyes.”


More of Tjorven’s work here

┐ Sabrina Biancuzzi └

© Sabrina Biancuzzi, Untitled, from the series L’instant P, 1986

© Sabrina Biancuzzi, Untitled, from the series L’instant P

“Specialised in film photography and old-style development processes, Sabrina Biancuzzi is both a photographer and engraver. A young woman passionate about what she does, she loves both working in the lab and the grain of film stock. Through her images she lets us glimpse our own distortions, those of dreams and the unconscious. Her personal voyages between dream and reality, today and yesterday, Paris and Brussels, show the world that our nights explore.”

More of Sabrina’s work can be seen here

║ Debby Huysmans ║

© Debby Huysmans, Untitled, from the series Sibir, 2009

© Debby Huysmans, Untitled, from the series Sibir, 2009

“The collapse of the Soviet empire has resulted in a fascinating political and social situation. The projects Elementarz (2003), Last Stop before Europa (2005) and In a Valley (2007) are a research on the periphery of the Western European capitalist culture.
With the recent work Sibir Debby Huysmans continues this photographic research.
The two longest rivers of Russia, the Yenissey and the Lena, guide the photographer through the contemporary Siberian landscape. Huysmans concentrates on the individuals, living in these forgotten areas and the signs of human presence in relation to the landscape.

Remainders of dreams of the past and signs of hope for tomorrow appear through the daily environment.
The characters seem to experience an \’old\’ world under the impoverished conditions of a pre-capitalist reality. Nothing much seems to happen, the pace of life is slow and the images are fully quiet. They often expose undefined, lost spaces nobody seems to notice anymore.”

More of Debby’s work can be found here

║ Karin Borghouts ║


© Karin Borghouts, Untitled, from the series Saga, 2005


© Karin Borghouts, Untitled, from the series Saga, 2005

“Many stereotypes are creations of the mass media, tourist bureaux or some other someones. Among Karin Borghouts’ photographs is one of a viewing platform placed on top of a hill. Had Borghouts been carried away by her pre-existing images of Japan, she may have photographed the view from atop the viewing platform. After all, the view from there may have been recommended as a splendid one, or may present a distinctly Japanese prospect (or one purportedly exemplary of that area, as defined by some somebody). What Borghouts photographed, however, was the path leading to that viewing platform (paved in concrete and lined with plants to left and right), the viewing platform itself and the scene in which it lay (well-tended lawn, safety fencing to the rear, outdoor lighting fixtures). Here is the very image of contemporary Japan: clean, safe, managed down to the minutiae with seemingly pointless solicitude. While this may not be unrelated to her stereotype of Japan, it seems more accurate to call the scene she discovered a new archetype of contemporary Japan.”

excerpt from an article written by Mikiko Kikuta. To read the full article click here

To see more of Karin’s work click here

║ Xavier Delory ║


© Xavier Delory, Homo Festivus Scène 1, (Belgique), 2007

La semaine, l’homme moderne travaille dur, mais le week-end arrivé le short est de rigueur, le tout dans un décor qui flore bon le préfabriqué.

Série “Homo Urbanus” et “Homo Festivus”, diptyque sur l’homme moderne.
Les personnages de la série “Homo Urbanus” ont été photographiés aux abords de passages pour piéton de la Communauté Européenne, puis intégrés dans leur nouvel environnement. Les personnages de la série “Homo Festivus” quand à eux, ont été photographiés sur la Grand Place de Bruxelles. Le décor (construit comme une oeuvre minimaliste), gris et bitumé pour l’urbain, coloré avec un fond d’Eurovision pour le festif.

Ces deux séries mélangent l’approche de “l’instant décisif” chère à Cartier Bresson et celle plus conceptuelle héritée de l’école de Düsseldorf (les Becher).urbanus7

© Xavier Delory, Homo Urbanus Scène 4, (Belgique), 2007

To see more of Xavier’s work click here

║ Kumi Oguro ║


© Kumi Oguro, Sky, from the series Noise I, 2007


© Kumi Oguro, Noise, from the series Noise II, 2005


© Kumi Oguro, Far, from the series Noise III, 2004

“Perhaps unwittingly or even in spite of itself, Kumi Oguro’s photographic work has from the outset been drawn towards cinema. This influence has led the photographer to explore the theoretical, historic, visual and manifestly numerous relationships between her own photography and the language of cinema. This permeation could not be described as a debt in the strict sense, nor is it nurtured by explicit or obliging citations or references. Instead it feels its way, spontaneously seeking its own path and its own markers.
From her earliest exhibitions and publications and even in the recent developments of her highly personal series “NOISE”, compiled here in the coherent form of a book, these relationships (the staging of locations, placing bodies in real-life situations, the expressionist use of light, the theatrical play between actors, indications of an off-camera area, effects designed to create tension, veiled references to the logic of genres, etc.) have become undeniably more complex, but also increasingly diverse.”
Emmanuel d’Autreppe

To see more of Kumi”s work click here