≡ John Brill’s Lynchian Universe in photographs ≡

9de7fc28bff17e6578737ad7495fa0ceJohn Brill, Self-portrait, Chihuanhuan Desert, Mexico,1987 (1987-A), printed 2013
Pigment print on rag, with UV-shielding varnish

20130428035454-Brill_Trish_20130John Brill, Trish, 2013. Still from video. VHS tape; eight hours.

0f7879ea7f49a6c96aba4cb7280e16cbHypnotherapy-Install2DSC04217Every Boy’s Dream, 2013. Installation views.

John Brill’s faux spirit-photographs are enough to make you believe in ghosts, extraterrestrials and visitations of all kinds. Mr. Brill, who is 49 and is having his third solo show at Kent, is a consummate manipulator of the photographic process, a wizard of the darkroom. Starting out with normal photographs of family and friends (and, it seems, the occasional household pet), he comes up with images that are anything but. He works primarily with selenium- or sulfide-toned silver prints.

The figures and faces, shining orbs and dark silhouettes, phantasms and nebulae that drift through the smoky atmospheres of these images evoke all kinds of encounters, many of them on the creepy side. They include unhappy spirits, amorphous apparitions, unearthed skeletons or mummies from the nearest crypt, evidence of long-ago crimes, ethnographic photographs of shamanistic rites or powerful amulets, surveillance photographs, even U.F.O.’s. The associations are helped by titles like ”Emanations,” ”Trance” and ”Childhood Dreams.”

If all this sounds a little melodramatic, it is. It helps that one can sometimes make out the laughing relative or family portrait that was the photograph’s original subject. Still, these images are often touchingly beautiful. They remind us that because photographs can render the most exact truths, they can also tell the biggest lies. They put one in touch with the intermittent need to believe that, one way or another, we are not alone. ROBERTA SMITH .” text by Roberta Smith. Published: April 14, 2000 in the NYT.

085b2affee7c0ba5d746e582eef78925John Brill, untitled (SX_103) [from a series in progress, Accidental Diary]. Pigment print on rag, with UV-shielding varnish.

b341524bcdd456ba533d7db031b926beJohn Brill, untitled (625-22) [from a series in progress, Hypnagogy]. Pigment print on rag, with UV-shielding varnish.

50f71bc73bc9ec5f09ded8bbca377940John Brill, Bad Memory #1, 2004-06. Selenium toned gelatin silver print, edition of 10.

ea01d7a7941f0d6af4bcea3402bf9306John Brill, Endless Summer installation, 2002.

٠ David Catá: a human life is never done ٠

* the title references the following post: ‘A Woman’s work is never done

ni_conmigo_ni_sin_mi_02._david_cata© David Catá, from the series Ni Conmigo ni sin mí (Neither with me nor without me), 2011

ni_conmigo_ni_sin_mi_01._david_cata© David Catá, from the series Ni Conmigo ni sin mí (Neither with me nor without me), 2011

* * * * *

David Catá   Bajo mi piel© David Catá, from the series Bajo mi piel (Underneath my skin), 2011

web_bajo_mi_piel_02© David Catá, from the series Bajo mi piel (Underneath my skin), 2011

* * * * *

a-flor-de-piel-por-david-catá-20david-cata-sews-portraits-of-his-family-into-the-palm-of-his-hand-05© David Catá, My Brother Javi, from the series A Flor de piel (Skin deep), 2012

a-flor-de-piel-por-david-catá-18david-cata-sews-portraits-of-his-family-into-the-palm-of-his-hand-20© David Catá, My Cousin Anita, from the series A Flor de piel (Skin deep), 2012

a-flor-de-piel-por-david-catá-14david-cata-sews-portraits-of-his-family-into-the-palm-of-his-hand-18© David Catá, My Grandpa Catá, from the series A Flor de piel (Skin deep), 2012

article-2538544-1A9F2FB300000578-461_634x632David’s portrait, taken from here

٠ The political function of landscape-family photographs in the context of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict ٠

The Brownies in Palestina© Gil Pasternak, Esther Pasternak, 1970s. Esther Pasternak collection of family photographs, 1946–99. Description: The defiant lion is a tombstone monument erected in 1932 to commemorate a group of eight Jewish pioneer settlers who, as the Israeli version of the story goes, fell to Arab village militias in the settlement of Tel Hai in 1920 while defending their homes and community. The lower part of the monument lists their names. Immediately above them, another engraved Hebrew inscription reads “tov lamut be’ad artzenu” (It is good to die for our country).

[…] The role landscape and family photographs play in occidental societies, and the meanings one might associate with the information they mediate, has been greatly informed by state politics and capitalist ideologies. Preserving (and imagining) cultural, historical, and human landscape was a role officially assigned to the medium of photography when its invention was reported to the people of France by François Arago, in the Chamber of Deputies in 1839 (Sekula 1981). This resulted in photography’s widespread participation in European colonialism; in representing and shaping Otherness in compliance with European imagination, fantasy, and desire. At the turn of the twentieth century, the Kodak company further cemented this role, enticing individuals to travel with cameras and participate in the depiction of landscapes. Kodak thus invoked the nuclear family to partake in the production of geographical knowledge within the domestic sphere (Olivier 2007).
To fully grasp the operation of the photographic apparatus in family life, its involvement in politics, in landscaping, and in negotiations of power relations, one has to remember that historically, it was the invention of the one-dollar Brownie camera that enabled the practice of family photography and the production of family photographs in the way that one is familiar with today. First manufactured and sold in 1900, the Brownie, one of the first easy-to-operate cameras for amateurs, brought about the notion of the democratization of photography, and of snapshot photography in particular. It allowed virtually anyone to take photographs regardless of whether or not they possessed any photographic expertise. As Marc Olivier notes, “Beforet the snapshot, photography was largely a gentlemen’s hobby, a pastime that required technical skill and costly equipment” (2007: 1).

The Brownies in Palestina2 © Gil Pasternak, Dorit Pasternak, 1971. Dorit and Ephraim Pasternak’s collection of honeymoon photographs. Description: memorial for Moshe Levinger and Arye Steinlauff, […] two Israeli road workers who were shot dead by a group of Palestinian militants while paving the road to the Dead Sea in 1951. The memorial indicates the Hebrew date of the workers’ death alongside their names. Above these, a short inscription reads: “galed chalutzim mefalsei ha’derech le’yam ha’melach she’lo zachu le’siyum” (A monument for the pioneers who had started paving the way to the Dead Sea but were not fortunate to complete it).

[…] The experience of the physical environment and that of psychic life may be perceived as interlinked, as well as being two reciprocal conditions of the family photograph. However, I would like to suggest one encounters the family photograph as a post-memory; not purely as something of the past, but also as an informative image and object existing in, and constantly reshaping the present understanding of, the physical conditions it both portrays and materializes, whether these are credible or fabricated.

The Brownies in Palestina3The Brownies in Palestina4© Gil Pasternak, Seffi and Gil Pasternak, 1980s. The Pasternaks’ family album, 1971–89 (above and below).

[…] From the late 1980s, a new understanding of landscape emerged in the field of cultural geography, treating and discussing landscape as text. The collaborative work of Denis Cosgrove and Stephen Daniels (1988) is an exemplar of this approach. According to their research, landscape must be understood as a system of authored signs working to narrate the terrain in which they are found. The narratives that landscapes present are predetermined by their principal makers or authors, whether these are individuals or groups. Prior to the late 1980s, the predominant approach toward landscape had been derived by the theories of Carl Sauer and the Berkeley school of geographers. Landscape was thought of as a blank sheet to be overprinted with traces of human activity, a by-product of cultural practices where culture was thought to have agency. The new understanding of the term, however, suggests landscape is a product of intentional activities carried out to determine geographical features and meaning (Cosgrove and Jackson 1987; Kong 1997). Accordingly, landscape needs to be considered as a linguistic experience, writing and communicating meanings in a particular language. A capacity to engage with and read the signs used along the geographical terrain renders landscapes legible, allowing the equipped viewer to absorb the information imparted by the landscape’s designer while depriving the less privileged viewer access to its intended meaning. Those who cannot read the signs used are bound to bestow different meanings upon the very same landscape, to read it in a way that may compete with, or even override its projected significance (Jackson 1989).

The Brownies in Palestina5© Gil Pasternak, Seffi and Gil Pasternak, 1980s. The Pasternaks’ family album, 1971–89.

[…] According to Benvenisti (2002), at the end of the nineteenth century Zionist pioneers brought with them from the diaspora the desire to reclaim the landscape of their longed-for, lost homeland. Upon their arrival in the region, they faced a different reality. Although popular Zionist historiography often presented the Promised Land as a deserted, unoccupied territory, the land was occupied by non-Jewish people; its landscapes did not live up to the biblical primordial images that appeared in the pioneers’ dreams. Having searched the visible landscape for residues that might echo their collective imagination, they worked to alter its physical features and conceal threatening scenes. The second generation of these immigrants, Benvenisti explains (2002), turned to archaeological excavations that gradually exposed the past sites of the ancient homeland, creating the country’s landscape anew. By the time a third generation was born, they could not possibly experience the landscape intimately. Its alteration had rendered it a collective landscape of a nation, and the location of this nation’s identity. Yet, as Ghazi Falah (1996) reveals in an article on the cultural landscape of Palestine, some sites of past villages still contain rubble, abandoned olive groves, cactus bushes, and other indications of their previous inhabitants. Some of these stand untouched, others are hidden among thick plantations of forests “planted apparently after the houses were leveled in the early years of the Israeli state” (Falah 1996: 271). Such locations turn this landscape into a site for Israeli amnesia, where some aspects of a non-heroic Jewish-Israeli history are hidden or camouflaged.

The Brownies in Palestina6© Gil Pasternak, Untitled, 1980s. The Pasternaks’ family album, 1971–89. Description: This expansive view is captured from a tourist observation point located at the top of the Mount of Olives. The sitters appear comfortable, at ease within the environment and with the photographic gaze pointed at them. The background, however, is loaded with political meanings, as dominion over the Old City of Jerusalem and its sacred places has been a matter of public, regional, and
international dispute since the state of Israel captured the city from Jordan in the war of 1967.

[…] I would like to suggest an understanding of the photographic relationship between sitters and landscapes in comparison with sitters against artificial backgrounds in studio photography. […] If subjects against painted landscapes had to imagine their relationship to the background, when positioned against actual landscapes, family photographs narrate the group as directly involved in, and related to, the landscape surrounding them. This further complicates the reality of the photographic, for if both the subject and the background appear authentic, they are capable of shaping each other’s identity not only historically but also ontologically. Yet, while it could be argued that the two-dimensional painted background draws much of the viewer’s attention precisely due to its visible fabricated qualities, it also serves as an indication of intentionality. It is those already theatrical properties of the background that trigger the spectator’s interest in its symbolic value, and thereby in the possible affinity of the painted background with the sitter. Following the logic of Walter Benjamin’s historicization of photography (Benjamin 1985), it could be suggested that whereas the painted background gains prominence by alienating the sitter from a nonrepresentational space, in family photographs actual landscapes become casual through their photographic replication, allowing the sitter—a person familiar to the viewer—to stand out as the ephemeral element within the photographic image, thus imbuing the background with other significance. This recorded ephemeral encounter of the familiar figure with the inanimate surrounding has the capacity to concurrently familiarize and de-familiarize the viewer with the depicted environment, instilling in the viewer altering visions of conflicting political and social realities.

excerpts from ““The Brownies in Palestina”: Politicizing Geographies in Family Photographs” by Gil Pasternak, published in Photography & Culture Volume 6—Issue 1 March 2013, pp.41–64

٠ Christopher Marques: working-through the postmemory trauma ٠

01_chtistophermarques copy04_chtistophermarques copy06_chtistophermarques copy09_chtistophermarques copy27_chtistophermarques copy31_chtistophermarques copy40_chtistophermarques copy44_chtistophermarques copy48_chtistophermarques copy49_chtistophermarques copyall photographs © Christopher Marques, from the project O Álbum/The Album, 2013

Christopher’s work revolves around the quest for identity. It’s a postmodern symptom. The industrialization and the instant access to difference places, languages, faces and times, tends to confuse people. As we grow up, it’s inevitable to go through a phase where we find ourselves being defined by the look of others, by the way we relate to the collective identity. It’s a way to find a social recognition, but as we come to understand later on, nothing is more important that our individual identity and the quest for it can be a life-long journey, very demanding and often overwhelming and consuming.

Christopher is sort of a victim of this malady. He was born in France where he spent the first thirteen years of his life and has been living in Portugal since then. It might not be his case, but changing countries at that age can be a ticket to a more autonomous thinking about identity, given that there’s an immediate split between the notion of “individual identity” and “national identity”, which we all know is a complex and dangerous concept, as both “Portuguese” and “French” can testify for.

This split (or any other able to separate the I from the We) turns the focus of the quest to a more intimate level. Who am I? What features are my own? What will I be? , these are questions that cannot be answered without recognizing and working through the impact of the collective identity, the past, the family heritage and the historical events. But who authenticates all of these? How can we choose from these references, which belong and are of interest and which not?

In this project, Christopher sets out to look for his identity in the midst of long lost family photographs. Yes, we all know the family album, the archive and the digital manipulation of memory related documents is fashionable nowadays and very high rated in the art market, but I’d like to suggest there’s something more authentic (maybe therapeutic, definitely fragile) in the way Christopher engages with the digital brush as he repeatedly erases everyone faces.

I do think the excessive use of archival images says something about the inability of the artist to create something new. On the other hand, I don’t think that is a bad thing. As artists work through their memories, they make space for new things and they prepare for a world of imagination. Everyone needs to get rid of the weight of history, traditions and heritage, in order to be able to fully express their creativity. I see it as a generous gift the fact that Christopher “chooses” to show us the moment of his dwelling.

Marianne Hirsch defines “postmemory” as a connection to the past that “is mediated not by recall but by imaginative investment, projection, and creation.”[i] The fragmented, often fake memories, with which we all grew up, are intensified by a world cemented over an unforgiving visual culture. Instead of the daily-readings, the nightly reading, the weekend and the holiday readings which nurtured an affirmative imagination, we now watch series and movies almost on a daily basis. Without realizing, our individual memories are forced to identify with the collective memory. Instead of working through our personal narratives we build upon our stories, we write new roles for ourselves, roles that fit dramatic plots, where heroic and inhuman characters always succeed.

As Christopher, the narrator, projects his non-identification, we, as viewers, go through the opposite process, since because of all the disappearing faces we easily remember similar moments from our family albums. The non-personalized figures presented in the album manage to be representations of our own family members because their anonymity erases the distance created by the fact that their time and location differs from ours.

Hirsch says something about Christian Boltanski’s work that I’ll here appropriate to describe Christopher’s work: “Each of his works aims not toward particularity but toward anonymity, not toward an individual but toward a collective identity. He often speaks of the effort to erase himself, so as to be able to reach a communal memorial layer, an amalgam of unconscious reminiscences and archetypes through which viewers can supply their own stories as they look at his images.”[ii] However, even though both Christopher and Boltanski were born in France, exactly forty-four years separate them, so the focus on anonymity, putting the collective in front of the particular (the former through erosion, the latter through repetition), has very different references.

On this subject, I want to suggest that Christopher’s erased faces are akin to the use of the Guy Fawkes’ mask by the anonymous movement. They both accomplish the same effect: by erosion or repetition, we are left with a collective identity that gazes us, instead of us being the ones whose gazes undress the individual nature of an identity that is forced to be resumed in a single face.

The non association of A face with A identity (and thus the questioning of the theatricality behind traditional portraiture) is an anti-authoritarian and anti-propriety statement, even if this is a marginal symptom of how important are the roles played by visibility and invisibility in what is made visible. [iii] So I’m left with this question: is it possible that there aren’t a lot of differences between the use of the balaclava, as a way to protest against a superficial and coercive identification by the authoritarian force, and the use of the digital eraser, as a way to work through fictional memories, deny the postmemory and embrace the remembering of “real events”?

[ii] HIRSCH, M. (1996) “Past Lives: Postmemories in Exile”. Poetics Today, Vol. 17, No. 4, Creativity and Exile: European/American Perspectives II, pp.659-686


10_chtistophermarques copy© Christopher Marques, from the project O Álbum/The Album, 2013

To see the full “Album” click here. For more of Christopher’s work here.

٠ Duarte Amaral Netto: It’s all real, you just need to give up on your anguish (III of III) ٠

Part I of essay here and part II here

Duarte Amaral Netto4© Duarte Amaral Netto, Z (France, April 1940), 2012
65×50 cm Framed, Inkjet on Fine Art, Ed. 2 + 1 AP

Storytelling isn’t far from the discursive play, on the contrary. Martha Langford would call it an oral-photographic method of telling stories, in the sense that works using family photographs and historical documents trigger our day-to-day ways of interpreting the world and having conversations with one another. It’s my opinion that is why Z saw the light of day: to set up a rhizomatic dialogue that inevitably speaks to our collective memory by being on display as the personal story of the doctor, through whose eyes we are invited to (re)count, (re)member or (re)live multiple singular and universal narratives.

Rosalind Krauss defined Sculpture as an Expanded Field (1979), somehow located in between two negative polls: that of the non-architecture and that of non-landscape. George Backer then located Photography’s Expanded Field (2005) in a neutral zone in between non-narrative and non-static. In fact they don’t put forward this negative tension, but that’s what I understand from a definition that goes around the inclusion to locate by exclusion. Both Krauss and Baker want to relocate sculpture and photography, respectively, to the periphery of the polls they firstly entailed them in, arguing that’s the way to realize their full potential and interact with the culture field.

And then comes Kuhn, also referring to Marianne Hirsch, arguing about such cultural potential, saying that the power of the combination between memory work and photography stems “from the very everydayness of photography – from the ways photography and photographs figure in most people’s daily lives and in the apparently ordinary stories we tell about ourselves and those closest to us.“ (2007, p.285) And we’re back to the everyday.

Duarte Amaral Netto5© Duarte Amaral Netto, Z (Ballerina), 2012
65×50 cm Framed, Inkjet on Fine Art, Ed. 2 + 1 AP

Before talking about Duarte’s latest exhibition, I’d like to take a moment to draw a connection between this everydayness quality, which is now proved to be a sub-thread throughout all of his work, and the idea of the voyeur. Going about Wittgenstein’s thoughts, Michael Fried highlights a passage from a manuscript dating back to 1930. In it, Wittgestein tells “Nothing could be more remarkable than seeing someone who thinks himself unobserved engaged in some quite simple everyday activity”, (Fried, 2008, p.76) to sustain his idea that the way we go about the works – what we expect from them, how we looked at them – is what graduates them from their everydayness to art.

In a recent article, Boris Groys defines the contemporary subject as “primarily a keeper of a secret”. (2013, p.2) What both these claims put forward is the idea that value exists only where there is exclusiveness, so it’s not that the scenes depicted are mundane or that the archival photographs have been traveling the world for ages and have been seen by various people, but the fact that this or that is being shown to us. The image plane and the observer’s plane coincide, so the image is only completed when fully formed inside my eye. I am the sole testifier of Z’s portrait, as I am the sole testifier of Luda’s introspective moment.  At least I need to be sold on a narrative where this relation is possible.

Duarte Amaral Netto6© Duarte Amaral Netto, Selective Affinities, Installation view at Baginski, Lisbon, 2013

Duarte Amaral Netto7© Duarte Amaral Netto, Selective Affinities, Installation view at Baginski, Lisbon, 2013

Selective Affinities, Duarte’s last work I’ll be focusing on, has a bigger diaphragm than Z: it takes longer breaths and it breaths better, deeper. It also exacerbates something I thought I had seen in Z: the joy at play. It brings together a big collection of Polaroid transfers presented as diaries; another collection of Polaroids displayed in a continuum, and a triple projection of slides from different sources. It could be that our smile is ripped apart because of all the kids running around in the photographs or because we are reminded of the punctum arisen by similar family portraits, but in fact the major qualities of the work lie with the use of the medium specificities. Don’t forget Duarte is first, foremost or also, a photographer, and a really good one.

I will argue that this work is about blurriness and about what is left behind when the absence of material relevance gives way to time. Back to Baker’s location of photography between the narrative and the static, we could maybe agree that static in cinema is less organic than in photography, though they both struggle with it. The time given to an image, on the other hand, can trigger imagination, allowing us to project our desires. So what really differentiates the photographic from the cinematic moment is the time of the experience. Light, in photography, allows the capture of moments never seen before, it builds from nothing; in cinema, the same light giving us the images is the same that kills them in a split-second. Having said this, it doesn’t matter how many frames are killing each other in front of us, nor how much time we can stare at a single photograph, for their mechanical time in not our biological time. In between narrative and static there is an aesthetic attribute stronger than them – temporality, and that is what will influence the eco of the image’s spirit in us.

The tenderness and affection in Duarte’s polaroids shown in Selective Affinities is overwhelming. It’s raw. It implies a romantic notion of immediacy, only interrupted by his selection of which we are able to see and which not. Again, we are made believe we are witnesses to exclusiveness – unique moments of his private life. And because this everyday life draws innumerous parallels to our singular and collective memory, our imagination is triggered, for these images resonate with what we remember, or know about ourselves.

I too belong to a generation whose fado is to wander, who has no sense of community and no true willing to find freedom. Our generation has played a very special role as passive viewers, particularly regarding cinema and photography. We understood that as passive spectators we were actively participating in cultivating an impossible ideal of what the ideal life would be, how families should behave, how lovers should kiss, how you are supposed to feel at every moment of your life. This living in between our own non-linear narratives and the fictional ones – the ones Others were apparently living – has seriously compromised our identitary structure, our ability  to  avoid lying,  our capacity  to   remember  our  memories  instead   of building new ones that would suite us better. Not being able to distinguish between a documentary narrative and a fictional narrative impaired our judgment. Suddenly we had to choose between to be or not to be when we could have chosen to be and not to be.

Duarte Amaral Netto9© Duarte Amaral Netto, Selective Affinities, Transfers Reproductions, 2013

Duarte Amaral Netto10© Duarte Amaral Netto, Selective Affinities, Transfers Reproductions, 2013

So as I go through Duarte’s Selective Affinities with the eyes of an image-maker, I have the feeling that he mastered the fusion of the real and the fictional within his own personal life. These are not snapshots, these are not Polaroid transfers, these are not family moments, this is not a family album. This is an archive. I do doubt whether it was made conscious to Duarte that these images reveal the history of a generation, for all that is there, for all that it stands for – our day-dreams, our nightly-dreams, our fears, our world of possibilities, our sense of joy, our sense of structure, of identity, of family.

It is the blurriness of the photographs that convince us of the barthesian that-has-been. A green rabbit could be inserted next to one of the kids in the photographs and we would still believe the verity of the photograph. We believe because we want to, because we were made to believe, brought-up as individuals in a post-modernist world, where everything that matters has to be about achieving, conquering, becoming, when instead our sense of daily sharing should have been taken care of. Because we are loners, wanderers, drifters, we become the characters to whom we write scripts that we then play in our lives, both as narrators and having a lead role.

Lastly, I’ll finish by explaining the title of this article – It’s all real, you just need to give up on your anguish – by saying that the term “anguish” was chosen for its relation to the Heideggerian notion that anguish enables an inauthentic life and, consequently, prevents us to potentiate reality. So this is what I say (sort of as a wishful-thinking): let go on the idea that you can define things by exclusion. Instead, exclude the non-fact and the non-artifact; the non-static and the non-narrative; the non-real and the non-fiction. Anguish is the acceptance of frontiers; it stops the realm of the real, the symbolic and the imaginary, to fully realize its potential to become reality.

text by Sofia Silva

Baker, G. (2005) Photography’s Expanded Field. October, Vol. 114, pp.120-140

Fried, M. (2008) Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before, London: Yale University Press

Groys, B. (2013) Art Workers: Between Utopia and the Archive. [online] E-flux journal, #45, Maio
Krauss, R. (1979) Sculpture in the Expanded Field. October, Vol. 8, pp.30-44

Kuhn, A. (2007) Photography and cultural memory: a methodological exploration. Visual Studies, Vol. 22, No. 3, pp.283-292

٠ Duarte Amaral Netto: It’s all real, you just need to give up on your anguish (II of III) ٠

Part I of essay here

_3_5© Duarte Amaral Netto, Ambient 4 (#3 e #5), 2004
48×130 cm. Lambda Print on Fuji Fine Art. Ed. 3 + 1 AP

Before going on to explore Duarte’s recent exhibitions – The Polish Club Case (2011), Z (2012) and Selective Affinities (2013) – I’d like to take a brief moment to glimpse at Ambient 4 (2004), particularly because of its evident cinematic qualities and because it makes me think of Gus Van Sant’s Gerry (2002). Nothing is depicted in these photographs as barely anything is happening in Gerry. But the simple thought of needing a plot to make something happen is a dumb one. Nothing happens in front of us that isn’t happening because we are put in the place of the observer. That doesn’t mean the event doesn’t take place in the universe, it just means it doesn’t happen for us. Blind people see as much happening as we do, for they have the same ability to conceptualize.

In a review of Gerry, Devin McKinney speaks of Gus Van Sant’s ability to find “human psychology signaled in the semiotics of physical landscape”. (2004, p.43) Might that be the case with the amount of layers implied in Ambient 4? Both Nature and Landscape have a powerful quality: they make us stare and by doing that, they open up the world for us. Ambient 4 might be about a rite of passage or about man-to-man relationships (represented by the two male figures) or even about man-to-woman relationships (humans representing the male, natural motifs representing the female). In either case, the humongous greenery is there so we are allowed to wander. And though these photographs are simple and quiet and apparently short-lived, they do justice to their universal quality of being a cut into the existential nature that is perpetuated among men.

Duarte Amaral Netto© Duarte Amaral Netto, The Polish Club Case (#19 Papin’s Birthday), 2011
52×60 cm. UV Print on Zincor. Ed. 2 + 1 AP

The Polish Club Case (2011), Duarte’s work that earned him a spot in Bes Photo in the following year, is, in my opinion, his most unsuccessful work. The work is presented as being a narrative about events taking place in Chicago in the 60’s. Following his tradition of constructing fictional narratives by (re)staging or (re)assigning different roles to those presumed to be (en)acted by the original element he chooses to play with, here Duarte takes a set of archival photographs, depicting everyday scenes, and displays them accompanied by subtitles that are not descriptive of the environment they belonged to. It is a simple discursive play, well known to the literary and cinematic field, as Godard’s so masterfully shows in Histoire(s) du Cinèma (1988).

The almost inexistent habit to discuss photography in our country, and the lack of good criticism as I’ve said earlier, paved the way for uninteresting takes on this particular work. It is my opinion that if it weren’t for that, Duarte could have gone further but, instead, he kept accentuating the importance of the configuration of the work, denoting that there was little beyond that. The art world pretends to love conceptual work, when in reality what it likes is not the art works themselves but the discourse about art. Though I am very fond of the conceptual approach to making art I struggle with the general lack of commitment and connection between the content, the form, and the how and where it is presented. The latter being what threw me off the Club Case.

It was exhibited in a particularly cold place, in a linear display, with small gaps as the sequence of photographs moved into another room and then into another room, and then back to the beginning. Everything looked too polished, too neat. The fact that it was clear Duarte wasn’t behind the camera on this one, accentuated the alienation of the author and denounced the game at play. Although the viewer has had a major role in art for a long time now, with installation calling him/her to be at the center of the stage, it isn’t pleasurable to be forced to assume the place of the investigator up front and realize that the work is all about a dialogue between the fact and the artifact, and that’s it.

Duarte Amaral Netto2© Duarte Amaral Netto, The Polish Club Case (#5 Quigley’s Classroom), 2011
52×60 cm. UV Print on Zincor. Ed. 2 + 1 AP

Duarte Amaral Netto3© Duarte Amaral Netto, The Polish Club Case (#7 Detectives), 2011
52×60 cm. UV Print on Zincor. Ed. 2 + 1 AP

There’s something about being an author that makes it a particularly edgy position to be in: one can easily fall in an authoritarian role, pending to (presume) to mediate between reality and the observer. This strategy, in my opinion, has little respect for a conscious viewer; it invalidates the possibility of an autonomous reading, by way of imposing a confined way of decoding. Duarte has since moved one to other works that also incorporate this process remain autonomous and that makes all the difference in the way the viewer is able to relate to them.

As I said earlier, the best about critic and general discussions about artists’ body of works is their ability to open the meaning of such work. In an interview conducted by Sandra Vieira Jürgens back in 2011, Duarte stated that the thread in The Polish Club Case is faith: “faith in its religious meaning and faith in its more abstract meaning, the one we can even place in the credibility of an image”. Though I’m filled with anti-religious impulses and I know very little about faith, I’ll go ahead and say that in order to have faith there needs to be something incomprehensible that paves the way for a revelation. This is not the case, there are a lot of unknown reasons and motifs and a lot of historical content evocative of hope and trust, but there’s too much reason to allow faith to step in.

The concept of phototherapy is not new but it has spread awkwardly. It also has nothing to do with Duarte’s work, but I’ll make my point in a minute. Phototherapy is not a practice from the art world, but from the scientific one. It defines a clinical procedure that uses “people’s personal snapshots, family albums, and pictures taken by others (and the feelings, thoughts, memories, and associations these photos evoke) as catalysts to deepen insight and enhance communication during their therapy or counseling sessions (conducted by trained mental health professionals), in ways not possible using words alone”, as defined by Judy Weiser. [i] It then was appropriated by different art practitioners, using it as a photo art therapy technique, Jo Spence being one of the most famous artists practicing and writing about the subject.[ii]

On the other hand there’s Annette Kuhn, feminist and theorist of art and culture, who has been developing several different methods of what could be summed up as hetero and autoethnographic visual work. What it means is that she works with  documents, family photographs, personal and collective memory, both for her theoretical work as by setting up workshops and having people come together to discuss their relation to particular images. Both Kuhn and Spence have set up protocols anyone can follow if one chooses to do memory work. Both acknowledge its capacity “to unlock meanings and insights extraordinarily readily” but Kuhn draws attention to the relevance others’ memories and others’ relations with their family albums has to our collective memory.

I say this is where Duarte’s Z project comes in. Z was the work shown at Bes Photo 2012, the biggest prize for photography-related work in Portugal, now extended to include Brazil and the PALOP’s.[iii] Duarte was one of four. Together with fellow Brazilian artist Rosângela Rennó, both their works reflected on the photographic medium, its limits, its specificities, but it was evident Duarte’s work was flying solo and how high, for it had a sort of infantile joy to it, something I’d never seen before on his work. Duarte’s work had reached adulthood.

Duarte Amaral Netto0© Duarte Amaral Netto, Z (Z, August 1939, Harz – Germany), 2012
65×50 cm. Framed Inkjet on Fine Art. Ed. 2 + 1 AP

Z came about when Duarte found a set of photographs from a family member depicting his voyage to Germany in the 1930’s to study aviation. He then mixed this set of images with others from an archival of a plastic surgeon and with some of his own and created the fictional story of Z, a physician from Coimbra, specialized in facial reconstruction, who goes to Germany to study as an aviator and gets caught up in the middle of World War II. The exhibition comprised a huge amount of images, interweaving manipulation of historical documents, archival photographs, original photographs, a slide projection and fake family albums.

Because the idea for this work (and for The Polish Club Case also) was triggered by a photograph which ended up being included and (re)shown, Duarte’s latest projects tend to be put in the context of the archival genre, when I dare to say what triggers Duarte is storytelling, either in the photographic, cinematic, musical or literally form.  And this thread is his consistency, although time can prove me wrong.

text by Sofia Silva (to be continued)

[i] Definition by Judy Weiser, from the PhotoTherapy Center at: http://www.phototherapy-centre.com/

[ii] For example, Jo Spence’s book Cultural Sniping: The Art of Transgression, (1995) where she talks about the art of Reworking the Family Album.

[iii] the group of Portuguese-speaking African countries

Baker, G. (2005) Photography’s Expanded Field. October, Vol. 114, pp.120-140

Fried, M. (2008) Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before, London: Yale University Press

Groys, B. (2013) Art Workers: Between Utopia and the Archive. [online] E-flux journal, #45, Maio

Jürgens, S.V. e Netto, D.A. (2011) Entrevista: Onde está o facto e onde está o artifício. arq./a: Arquitectura e Arte, n. 98/99, pp.86-89.
Krauss, R. (1979) Sculpture in the Expanded Field. October, Vol. 8, pp.30-44

Kuhn, A. (2007) Photography and cultural memory: a methodological exploration. Visual Studies, Vol. 22, No. 3, pp.283-292

McKinney, D. (2004) Review. Film Quarterly, Vol. 57, No. 2, pp.43-47


┐ Vies possibles et imaginaires └

147149© Yasmine Eid-Sabbagh & Rozenn Quéré, from the project Vies possibles et imaginaires

This is the story of four strong and feisty women, exiled to the four corners of the globe; four Palestinian-Lebanese sisters who have travelled through the history of the twentieth century.
It is a story somewhere between documentary and fiction, biography and drama, based on family photographs, interviews – both actual and imagined events.
Several gatherings, sifting and listening made stories and words emerge, that were then recreated in the present in the most vivid way possible by combining the inner experiences of these women to the lived experience of the gatherings. Herein is a reinterpretation of reality tinged with tenderness and humour. The four women’s and the authors’ imagination is at the core of this work.
Jocelyn, the eldest sister, lived in Cairo. Frieda, the youngest, went into exile to Paris. Stella left Lebanon at the time of the civil war for New York, and her twin Graziella is the only one who has remained in Beirut.
This story called into play images of invented memories, and sometimes defective memories brought up a doubt of what was invented, the memories or the photographs?
Far from being a factual portrayal of Graziella and her sisters, ‘Vies possibles et imaginaires’ is an attempt to translate the eccentricities and the imagination of these women so as to give their imaginings the same status as reality. In other words, combining old family photographs and text did not aim at writing their story, but at writing their myth.” source: Chobi Mela

med_9_vpi-repros-072-jpgmed_14_vpi-repros-085-jpg© Yasmine Eid-Sabbagh & Rozenn Quéré, from the project Vies possibles et imaginaires

“In the opening pages of John Berger’s A Seventh Man: Migrant Workers in Europe, which he produced with the photographer Jean Mohr, Berger tell us this story:
A friend came to see me in a dream. From far away. And I asked in the dream: ‘Did you come by photography or by train?’ All photographs are a form of transport and an absence of expression?
While Yasmine Eid-Sabbagh and Rozenn Quéré’s Vies possibles et imaginaires discusses absence and separation, but even more so transportation, across land, sea and air, but also emotional and visual transportation. Indeed, the work is a family album disguised as a piece of theatre (or vice-versa) based on the stories, memories and fantasies of four sisters who were each in turn exiled from, took refuge in, and emigrated to the Middle East, Europe and the United States, starting in the 1940s until today.” written by Miriam Rosen

More of the work can be seen here

┐ Duarte Amaral Netto └

© Duarte Maral Netto, untitled, from the project “Z”, 2012

© Duarte Maral Netto, untitled, from the project “Z”, 2012

Duarte’s new work is in a rare place between verity, intimacy and honesty and the exciting and self obsessed world of fiction. The narrative constructed is that of “Z”, a physician said to have gone to Germany to specialized in facial surgery. We’re then introduced to the idea of the family album and presented with historic images of very significant relevant, both in time and the place they occupy, as in relation to their place amidst a personal account of things: which events matter, what isn’t being showed, etc? Unfortunately the work isn’t up at his site yet, but I’m sure it will be available soon.”

His website here

┐ Gunnel Wåhlstrand └

© Gunnel Wåhlstrand,

© Gunnel Wåhlstrand, White Peacocks, 2007/2009

109 x 160 cm, ink-wash on paper

“For eight years, Wåhlstrand has worked exclusively with a kind of re-development of private photographs, using black ink and water, a precise and time-consuming technique that she masters to perfection. The earlier body of motives consisted of her father’s family photo album, but has now been expanded to a wider family group. One of the larger works, Mother Profile, is a rendering of a studio photograph of the artist’s mother. In the exhibition, it is placed so that she gazes at the landscape where her father dramatically crashed and fell to his death. Further on in the room, a portrait of him can be seen. It is the smallest work in the exhibition and the only one in colour. The artist decided that the fact that no colour photographs ever existed of her grandfather, was a strong enough reason to return to colour, for her sake as well as for his.

Wåhlstrand’s depiction is a both deeply personal and universal process. The precise and demanding task of depicting these documents is a way for the artist to physically and psychologically approach a personal history of which she, without any own experience of it, lives the consequences.”

source: Andréhn-Schiptjenko gallery

More of Gunnel’s work here

┐ Nigel Grimmer └

© Nigel Grimmer, Julie, Golders Green,, from the series Roadkill Family Album, 2001

© Nigel Grimmer, Eric, Big Bend, from the series Roadkill Family Album, 2010

“Nigel Grimmer takes the conventions of family album snap photography and gives them a weird twist that is at times amusing and at others faintly unnerving. Here the self-conscious poses, the banal compositions, the suburban settings are infiltrated with the kinds of surrealistic incongruities that one might experience in particularly bizarre or embarrassing dreams. His Roadkill Family Album is a collection of prone portraits of family members dolled up in joke shop animal masks and seemingly abandoned as roadside victims. Grimmer’s mother is an owl, his father a frog. His use of plastic masks and dolls imbues the images with a particularly kitsch and almost perverse form of nostalgia. It’s as if childhood memories have been inextricably confused with some kind of metamorphic and macabre fairytale.”

quote from Harley Gallery

Nigel’s home here