≡ Multilayered timeframes in Binh Dahn’s work ≡

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA© Binh Danh, Iridescence of Life No. 22. Chlorophyll print on nasturtium leaf, butterfly specimen, & resin, 2008

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA© Binh Danh, Iridescence of Life No. 5. Chlorophyll print on nasturtium leaf, butterfly specimen, & resin, 2008

In Michigan Quarterly Review (Volume XLIII, Issue 4, 2004), John Schafer writes about Binh Danh’s intertexual images before going on to recount how he experiences Vietname (Danh’s birthplace, 1977) through iconic war photographs, despite having lived there 4 years during the war:

«Literary critics emphasize that stories and poems are intertextual. When one reads, one hears what Roland Barthes called “off-stage voices,” references to prior texts. Visual “texts” are also intertextual, of course. Binh Danh’s images are striking in part because they are so vividly and concretely intertextual. Within each leafy image is a photo that we have seen already — maybe not the exact photo we know but one like it. How we react to his images depends on our experience with the earlier photos and on how we see the text of the photo interacting with the text of the leaf.»

Schafer sees Danh’s leaves as a place where history is given a chance for truce, in which pictures of suffering, violence, and death are enshrouded by the greenness of life and hope, but he also recognizes in them the power to convey a special message about the way civilization deals with nature, and I would add the way history affects memory and vice-versa:

«Binh Danh’s works, like the plants they are printed on, are produced by photosynthesis, the same process that the U.S.’s defoliation program was designed to inhibit. Evidence suggests that Agent Orange, one of the agents used to defoliate, has caused illness, birth defects, and chromosome alterations. In peacetime too, humans out of greed or ignorance often destroy nature and render it unable to hold us in its protective grasp. In Binh Danh’s works, however, images of human suffering are cradled in the hand of nature

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA© Binh Danh, Shock & Awe, 2008. Chlorophyll print and resin, from the project Immortality, The Remnants of the Vietnam and American War.

1082077212© Binh Danh, Mother and Child, 2005. Chlorophyll print and resin, from the project Immortality, The Remnants of the Vietnam and American War.

binh-danh-vietnam-war-1© Binh Danh, Ambush in the Leaf #4, 2007, from the project Immortality, The Remnants of the Vietnam and American War.

In the context of an exhibition held at SOMArts in 2012 entitled The Future Is NOW: Asian America on, Its Own Terms, Danh told interviewer Corinna Karg how photography is always dealing with death, resurrection, memory, nature and rebirth:

«When I was looking at pictures of the war, photos of civilians being wounded or killed saddened me. I imagined as they are bleeding and possibly dying, their essences sank into the ground and the memories of the event join with the landscape. For me, a photograph is always a picture of the past, but that past lives in the present moment when the image is resurrected in ourselves by the pure act of us looking at the artwork.

We could use photography to meditate on themes of death, resurrection, history, landscape, time, and our collective memories. For me looking at the pictures of war and especially those on leaves, I understand that death is within reach and life is fragile. It is acknowledging that we will die at any moment makes our lives more meaningful. And when it does happen, we know that we ultimately become part of nature. I hope the viewers are able to form narratives about the Vietnam War. Why people were leaving the country during and after the war? And as a result, Vietnamese communities formed through out the world.»

and the conversation goes on…

«How did you arrive at the technique of printing on leaves trough photosynthesis, and what made you later transition to daguerreotype?

One summer, I was motivated to experiment with photosynthesis and its pigments after watching the lawn change color due to a water hose that was placed on it. Soon after that observation, I was making chlorophyll prints. For the past 5 years, I have been making daguerreotype, a 19-century photographic process. I have taken a historical process and applying it to a contemporary theme. A study of photo-history is a study of humanity. Time and space are recorded for future evaluation and studies. Photography became a process that changes the way we record history, no longer just use words but images too. I love the quality of the daguerreotype, the reflective surfaces. The viewer becomes part of the artwork as the view the photograph.

Are the tropical plants you use in your chlorophyll prints Vietnamese or American plants?

They are plants grown in my garden.

Why did you choose something organic, like the leaves, as a canvas for images of something man-made, like war?

This process deals with the idea of elemental transmigration: the decomposition and composition of matter into other forms. The images of war are part of the leaves, and live inside and outside of them. The leaves express the continuum of war. They contain the residue of the Vietnam War: bombs, blood, sweat, tears, and metals. The dead have been incorporated into the landscape of Vietnam during the cycles of birth, life, and death; through the recycling and transformation of materials, and the creation of new materials. Since matter is neither created nor destroyed, but only transformed, the remnants of the Vietnam and American War live on forever in the Vietnamese landscape. This body of work addresses this continuum.»

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA© Binh Danh, Memory of Tuol Sleng, child 3, 2008. Chlorophyll print & resin, from the project In the Eclipse of Angkor.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA© Binh Danh, Ghost of Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum # 2, 2008. Daguerreotype, from the project In the Eclipse of Angkor.

binh© Binh Danh, Angkor Wat, 2008. Daguerreotype, from the project In the Eclipse of Angkor.

The Eclipse of Angkor is Danh’s work that shines a light to the victims of the Khmer Rouge, who were executed in Cambodia’s Tuol Sleng prison. Writing about this project, Max Weintraub (art21 Magazine, 2010) reflects on the artist’s relation to events he remembers only through photographs, such as the Vietnam War or the Cambodian genocide. For this project, Danh rephotographed archival imagery which was then reprinted as chlorophyll prints and daguerreotypes. Weintraub writes how the body of work constitutes more then a haunting index of systematic genocide:

«But Danh’s distinctive photographic processes and prints also transform the images into something more. Incised on a shimmering plate of metal or into a delicate leaf, each portrait becomes part relic and part photograph, and is invested with a powerful presence. It is no coincidence that both of the photographic processes Danh employs are time-consuming, complex methods that generate unique prints. By re-photographing images of anonymous victims of mass genocide using photographic processes that generate unreproducible images of extraordinary detail, Danh’s chlorophyll prints and daguerreotype plates restore a sense of individuality and intimacy to the victims depicted in the Khmer Rouge portraits. In addition, the extraordinary surfaces of Danh’s prints, as indexes of the time and great care required to produce them, invest the portraits with a significance and uniqueness that offsets the detached, bureaucratic objectivity of the original photographs.»

bd-thetransamericapyramid-copy© Binh Danh, The Transamerica Pyramid, 2014.  Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure), from the project This, Then, Is San Francisco.

bd-thewomen_sbuilding18th© Binh Danh, The Women’s Building, 18th Street, 2014. Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure), from the project This, Then, Is San Francisco.

bd-sanfranciscocityhall-copy© Binh Danh, San Francisco City Hall, 2014. Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure), from the project This, Then, Is San Francisco.

Pete Brook, from Prison Photography, talks with Danh on account of yet another one of his impactful works, namely This, Then, Is San Francisco. They speak about the political nature of the work and how form and content are always conceived as a unified element is his work. Danh explains that “[t]he daguerreotype results in a reverse image. So, the cityscape is familiar but it’s odd. I like the uncanny.

≡ the Photographer & the Archive ≡

I

mystery-man-photobooth-collection3445 Portraits of a man. More about the work HERE.

photoboothcartejeune1993detailKatherine Griffiths, Photobooth Project, since 1973. More about the work HERE.

II

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Arianna Arcara & Luca Sanese, Found photos in Detroit 2009-2010.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Thomas Sauvin, Beijing Silvermine.

For the past three years, collector Thomas Sauvin (French, b.1983) has visited a Beijing recycling center each month and purchased color negatives for the value of the silver they contain, effectively rescuing discarded filmstrips from being melted down for silver nitrate. To date Sauvin has accumulated over a half a million photographic color negatives and has obsessively digitized each one to create an archive. The images are mostly snapshots taken by unknown photographers that were made within a twenty-year period – from the early 1980s when 35 mm color film became popular in China to the early 2000s, as consumer digital camera became ubiquitous—and thus Beijing Silvermine can be read as a unique portrait of China’s capital city from the end of the Cultural Revolution to the country’s rise in the global economy.” excerpt from the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Simon Menner, Images from the Secret Stasi Archives or: what does Big Brother see, while he is watching?

Berlin-based artist Simon Menner (German, b. 1978) also worked with highly sensitive and controversial materials when he researched the archives of the former German Democratic Republic’s State Security Service (STASI). This archive was made public, with certain limitations, after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. Known to be one of the most effective Cold War surveillance apparatuses, the STASI had more agents, proportionally to its country’s population, than either the CIA or KGB. Menner has reproduced select pictures from the archive and in a similar fashion to Sauvin, catalogues the images into varied groupings..” excerpt from the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

NSW Police Forensic Archive. Mugshots, 1912 – 1930.

If the subjects felt resentment at having their photographs taken, they mostly withheld even that feeling: one senses in the photographs an unwillingness to “communicate” with the photographic apparatus at all, a non-complying passivity, a refusal by the subjects to “let anything show”. The strict partitioning of the negatives into two or three views — face on, side on, full length — replicated the physical and psychic containment of their subjects. Encountering these images in large numbers, the truisms about the repressiveness and cruelty of the surveilling gaze, the charge that photography is inherently authoritarian and thanatotic became pointedly apposite.” excerpt from Peter Doyle’s essay Public eye, private eye: Sydney police mug shots, 1912-1930.

III

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Gerhard Richter (b.Germany, 1932), Atlas, 1962 – 2013.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Walid Raad (b.Lebanon 1967), Atlas Group.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Hans Peter Feldman, (b.Germany, 1941), various works.

IV

Francis Alÿs, (b.Belgium, 1959), Sleepers II, 2001. 80 slide carousel projection.

km9Duarte Belo, (b.Lisbon, 1968).

V

Steve McQueen (b.UK, 1969), For Queen and Country, 2006-07. 98 framed sheets of facsimile stamps in a wooden cabinet.

VI

Akram Zaatari, (b.Lebanon, 1966), Dance to the End of Love, 2011.

David Oresick (b.EUA, 1984), Soldiers in their youth.

VII

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Tacita Dean (b.UK, 1965), The Russian Ending, 2001.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Mathilde ter Heijnen (b.France, 1969), Woman to Go, 2005-ongoing. Installation with postcard display (postcards can be taken for free), 2001.

VIII

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Duane Michals (b.EUA, 1932), Deja Vu, 2012. Tintype with hand-applied oil paint.

IX

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Yaron Lapid, (b.Israel, 1974), Partial Moments.

X

٠ The issue may be semantic but… what else is there? ٠

The important thing is that the photograph possesses an evidential force; and that its testimony bears not on the object but on time. From a phenomenological viewpoint, in the Photograph, the power of authentication exceeds the power of representation. R. Barthes

Last week, after a tv news report, I came across a story about a Portuguese photographer/blogger who had this big project photographing “the ruins of our country” (abandoned buildings and so on). The conversation going on between the journalist and the photographer, Gastão de Brito e Silva, was irritating enough (though I can understand that the reasons for that may be extremely personal), but what really chocked me were the photographs themselves – their composition, style, overall aesthetics and consequent meaning.

To sum it up, aesthetically the photographs have that post-apocalyptic feel that a sort of digital post-producers and photographers value. I often find these aesthetics in amateur photography magazines, in photo-blogs and photo-sharing web platforms and in the discourse of a certain kind of photographers that are very keen on the latest technological achievement and in discussing the kind of material you have, prices and all that technicality. The final photographs tend to be a mix of black & white (or should I say “desaturated”) and vibrant tones, with highlighted objects or areas within the composition. This sort of aesthetic creeps me out, but still, that is not a problem, for one just has to avoid coming across such aesthetics.

In one interview, the photographer/collector of ruins, told how the project – the blog called Ruin’arte, started out as a photographic survey and went on to become something bigger, with exhibitions and so on. I don’t question his premise, I do agree it’s worth having a visual documentation of our architectonic heritage, nor do I care about his bad taste, but two aspects really bother me: firstly, regarding the discourse about the work, there’s a clear abuse of nostalgic feelings and of terms such as cultural patrimony, historical patrimony, patrimony, patrimony (you see the picture), that leads to a reverence to history that sets an authoritative tone which ultimately rests with the nanny state; secondly, there is the confusion with the role of this particular photographer, the issue coming down to the confusion between the characteristics that make up an artist and those that identify a photographer whose work is to “survey”. The question is: if you want to compromise, be a photographer that is engaged with a social cause and expose the so-called public atrocities to “our cultural heritage”, why this kind of post-production?

The so-called documentary photographer is attached to representation, he establishes a relation with its pre-photographic reference but guarantees nothing about its significance. Art, on the other hand, in which photography can be included, has no compromise with reality and it is not structured on an utilitarian function, like documenting or adorning, though it can also have one as such.

dois© Gastão de Brito e Silva, Mosteiro de Seiça, Figueira da Foz.

Documentary photography traded on the status of the official document as proof and inscribed relations of power in representation which were structured like those of earlier practices of photo documentation: both speaking to those with relative power about those positioned as lacking, as the ‘feminised’ Other, as passive but pathetic objects capable only of offering themselves up to a benevolent, transcendent gaze – the gaze of the camera and the gaze of the paternal state. But in its mode of address, documentary transformed the flat rhetoric of evidence into an emotionalized drama of experience that worked to effect an imaginary identification of viewer and image, reader and representation, which would suppress difference and seal them into the paternalistic relations of domination and subordination on which documentary’s truth effects depended. John Tagg, in “The Drama of Representation”

Some years ago, I saw a documentary by portuguese filmaker Manuel Mozos, called Ruins, which portrayed the inhabited man-altered landscapes and decadence of our country. At the time, and although I liked the photographic approach very much, I was not convinced by choices. Gastão’s photographs made me take a second look at Mozos documentary. After watching it I found myself wondering if a comparison between Mozos and Gastão’s approach to ruins could lead to some sort of conclusion about the characteristics of a documentary. Though they are very different objects, one particular thing stands out, namely that Mozos’ ruins relate to the present tense and Gastão’s ruins relate to the past.

It’s not an easy task to argument for this, or is it? Ruins has a sense of poetry throughout its 60 minutes. As I see it, this comes out mainly because it speaks about the echoes of the past, how the history once contained within buildings and spaces went beyond their physic presence and lives in storytelling, letters, memories, family albums, etc. Gastãos photographs of abandoned buildings seem to pretend to something else: to call for attention for the responsibility of the state to care for his children. In that sense, it pretends to be a document, to exist as proof.

Photojournalists and those who work with documentary photography are guided by a set of rules that aim to guarantee some ethics to their work. It’s only good that we question them and try to push forward, but what often happens when someone negates those “rules” is that the work, in this case the photographs, maintain their indexical nature to what is portrayed but fail in representing them.

What exceeds representations, however, cannot, by definition, be articulated. (J.Tagg, in The Burden of Representation)

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 The photo-finders as the inauthentic photographers ٠

tumblr_mk83ksZRat1riatdoo1_500Le Fabuleux album d’Amélie Poulain

[…] The photo-finders will refer to themselves as artists or curators, editors or collectors—often, as an unclassifiable mixture. Depending on their self-described status, the archives of found, anonymous photographs they produce will be labeled works of art, exhibitions, projects, or studies—or something in between.
Departing from an understanding of the amateur photographer as an “innocent naïf,” and of his snapshot as “authentic,” the brothers and sisters of Amélie’s mysterious collector “revise the distinction between author and audience,” as the cultural critic Walter Benjamin wrote, in a different context, seventy-five years ago. Turning “consumers … into producers—that is, readers or spectators into collaborators,” their archives become political statements that embody the workings of democratic societies, and that downplay the professional in favor of the supposedly “disinterested” amateur. The twentieth century has greeted photojournalism and art photography with postcolonial critique and a postmodern “crisis of representation”; digitization and the camera-equipped cell phone define the beginning of the twenty-first. The stage is thus set for a new kind of witness to enter the scene: the amateur photographer. Closer inspection reveals, however, that he is not really all that new—nor, for that matter, all that “authentic.”

5069be36d9127e30f0000519._w.400_h.489_s.fit_from Found Photos, by Dick Jewell, 1977.

1334_dick-jewell-found-photos-c-courtesy-rachmaninoffsfrom Photobooth, by Babette Hines, 2002.

[…] Let’s call Amelie’s collector of orphaned passport pictures an artist, and his artistic method the finding, and recycling, of images that already exist. Then his is a method that says something about the artist’s (in)ability to produce original images—and in fact, his method isn’t all that original either. For the trick has been done before: Marcel Duchamp’s readymade sculptures, or Andy Warhol’s Brillo boxes spring to mind. And while it is true that the practice of working with found photography as found photography did not really come into its own until four decades ago, and did not go viral until the 1990s,12 amateur photographs have featured in artistic practice pretty much since the 1878 invention of dry gelatin plates, and the 1888 introduction of the user-friendly and relatively cheap “You Press the Button, We Do the Rest” Kodak cameras that propelled the growth of amateur photography.

is25mccpat12from Album, by Patrick McCoy, 1996.

spreadinalmosteverypicture11_2from In Almost Every Picture, by Erik Kessels, since 2001.

[…] So, the stage was set, and subsequent artists working with found photography would strip the amateur snapshot ever more, laying it ever more bare. Surrealism lifted the snapshot out of the photomontage, but still presented it in a theory-heavy, artistic context. By contrast, the found photography archives that emerged in the second half of the twentieth century focused more and more on the amateur photograph as such, celebrating precisely its nonartistry and its banality.

snapshots_01from Snapshots—The Eye of the Century, by Christian Skrein, 2004.

053-photo-trouveefrom Anonymous: Enigmatic
Images from Unknown Photographers
, by R. F. Johnson, 2004.

PetArtsCntr-Girl@xylophoneAug5-Sept182011c.1920from Photo Trouvée, by Michel Frizot, 2006.

[…] The radical questioning of photography’s agenda, authenticity, and veracity remained, for many years, confined to the academic circles of cultural and literary criticism. But the arrival on the scene of digital photography and, on its heels, of Photoshop, which—theoretically at least—put an end to the indexical quality that film-based photography still enjoyed, appears to have made the issue real for the public at large, as well.
Representation, in short, was still in crisis: and artists and journalists alike continued to seek for ways to respond.
[…]
“Authenticity” is not a feature of the material itself, not something inherent in the photograph, whether it is an amateur snapshot or a skillfully composed documentary shot. Everyone, amateur and professional alike, comes to the taking and making of pictures informed by social or political intentions, cultural norms and values, and visual examples. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder; authenticity resides in the exact same place.

excerpts from “The Authentic Amateur and the Democracy of Collecting Photographs” by Lynn Berger, published in Photography & Culture Volume 2—Issue 1 March 2009, pp.31–50

Guest blogger João Henriques ٠ Another brick in the wall ٠

A person is more holy than a land, even a holy land, since faced with an affront made to a person, this holy land appears in its nakedness to be but stone and wood. Emmanuel Levinas.

Josef Koudelka has become a mythical name for photography. A myth not only associated with the quality of his photographic production, but also with the fact that he is a member of Magnum Agency, that influential bastion of documentary photography, which brought him an iconic status of the photographer that is also a hero, engagé et résistante. However, the problems that came to be associated with photojournalism and other types of photography are well known. Not only did television ruin the need for long photographic stories, but the ubiquity of the digital capture is also propelling the extinction of a professional approach to the way photographers document events. Nowadays, what matters is the immediacy of the work, more than its quality or the thought that was behind it. If the photographer owned a certain iconographic power, such power was attributed to him not only for his skills, but mostly due to History’s slow pace. However, History has changed gears; it can do without big narratives (or rather, the media exempt her from such burden), connections and ideologies are lost. The event itself lost its importance in favour of a continuous unroll of events, preferably disconnected from any sort of thread between them abstracting and stupefying  reality.

The point of this prologue is to introduce Koudelka’s recent interview for the New York Times. I came across it via an article by Colin Pantall, where Colin dissects Asim Rafiqui’s hot reaction to Koudelka’s interview. The plot is relatively simple: Koudelka was invited to photograph the wall that separates Israel from Palestine and though he initially refused, we was then convinced to do it (at least that’s what  he says to say). The result can be seen in the book “Wall: Israeli and Palestinian Landscapes”, which serves has a motto for the NYT’s interview.

Koudelka begins by stating that he doesn’t usually do many interviews and in the end he also says that what photographers say about their works is of no importance, which is one of two things, either sharp irony or acute ingenuity, since what is done along the interview is precisely constructing and contextualizing his work, precisely one of the vectors that gives way to the emergency and validity of any photographic work, either one agrees with what Koudelka proposes or not.

And what does he propose? First of all, he seems to tack an understanding of landscape that is worthy of someone who has spent the last decades sleeping under a rock. Landscape as the promise of an experience conveyed by the photographer is nowhere to be seen, unless you think of a touristic phenomenology that usually neglects further reflection about the place. “I hope my book is not about my experience”, Koudelka says, an affirmation that appears here contextualized nevertheless shaping the general discourse about his work .

On the other hand, Koudelka needs facts, more on the surface than at a deep level. Such pragmatism values the optical and descriptive qualities of the image but ignores its subjective and narrative dimensions. In his words: “I don’t like picture stories. In fact I think picture stories destroyed all photography.” Such apocalyptic statement seems to be supported by a belief in photography’s lack of narrative potential. However, and here is the source of some confusion, the potential to tell a story is more a result of the way the photographer explores the medium’s capabilities – how he manages to use it in order to convey the way he experienced the place -, than of the story the image “tells”, since an image can only show facts but not interpretations, and facts without interpretations are of no use other than being mere documents, as the Israeli secret services (or Mr Rumsfeld, btw) could have explained. One might think that stories are also made of the possibility to explain something, but such explanations are precisely what kills the story. Contrary to Koudelka’s conservative beliefs we need interpretations in the form of stories instead of explanations, but all this rant against «stories killing photography» might be a position Koudelka holds towards his colleague Alec Soth (and others?), who might be accused of imploding Magnum with his “crazy” quests about the power of narrative, denoting an intestine battle inside the agency.

ba-gaza_SFCG1262911017image by Joe Sacco, from Footnotes in Gaza

Koudelka also seems to ignore landscape from different perspectives of use of the territory, as he considers the main function of the wall erected between Israel and Palestine one of destruction of the landscape. “I found that the destruction of the landscape is very bad” or “I call what is going on in this most holy landscape, which is most holy for a big part of humanity, is the crime against the landscape.” These comments seem to pertain to the aesthetic side, that of the landscape as a “sight”, being the only job of the photographer that of aestheticizing  the entire “mess” that way “fixing” what was formally wrong.

The remaining questions underlying the building of the wall will have to be disconnected from the images just because the photographer says so and others too. Leaning on third party legitimation to defend his idea, Koudelka says: “What is interesting for me is that I showed these books in Israel and everyone told me this book is not a political book — that this is about man and the place. This book is not about conflict”. In landscape photography there are usually no dead bodies, and as Adorno said «the beauty in nature is history standing still and refusing to unfold», adding the fact that Koudelka seems to not have listened a single dissenting voice, but was it supposed to expect any different answer from the Israeli side? As if in denial, Koudelka seems oblivious to the “implicit” contract he signed, that the images from his book are only another step towards the pervasive necessity of legitimacy from the Israeli state, not to mention the legitimacy of the violence and oppression against the Palestinians, who, nevertheless may also have their share of responsibility in the scenario. If the pictorial side of the landscape is served in the book both ways, from the perspective of its uses and consequences the wall seems to be totally one-sided, a sight worthy of the fiction proposed in Truman Show.

Koudelka is evasive whenever the questions denote a political dimension, putting all the History of engagé photography under a tabula rasa, genre where his images fit and where he is considered a carrier of the humanist approach. In the beginning he says that he would never have gone to those territories, but he did (with a little push, he says…); he also affirms that photographer’s statements are of no matter but he goes on talking about his images – which surely have the formal beauty we are used to see -, almost completely ignoring the reality they represent. At the end, Koudelka says, almost in a glamorous tone, how he dismisses art: “I never use the explanation of ‘art,’ as a matter of fact every time there is the Magnum meeting and they start to talk about art I say: ‘Can we eliminate the word art from the annual meeting? Let’s just talk about photography. What is this art?’”. He might have some reason here, in anthropological terms art and images are different matters but the discourse (and practice) that supports his work in Israel is grounded in the utmost artialization of nature through the use of landscape photography. A landscape given only as a sight, heir of painting, stripped away from use, experience, of any other meaning beyond his private world, “For me it is just enough to look at the pictures.” Unfortunately, such deflection looks like a strategy relegating the focus on the technical and formal capacities of the image (and on authorship, of course…) but not on what they represent. In the end, no more than a modernist position that rests in overall trustworthiness in an understanding of the world through its appearances.

A certain philistine attitude from some photographers, generally supported by the anguish that results from the absence of non-commercial work and of being published at any cost, might lead them to escape the problematic dimensions of the commissioned works, hiding behind the technical aspect of the support, paying homage to the forms but forgetting the content. This sheds a light over Koudelka that could be seen as «give me some money for a book, don’t ask too many questions and it will all be ok», an approach that may be uncomfortable to some of his Magnum partners, with a lesson for future generations that rests mainly on a pragmatic materialism but not much else.

I hope to be mistaken about the romanticism and theatricality of this work about Israel and Palestine. Although we can recognize in the surface of the images their potential to become icons, and so to become triggers for political action – where on the contrary their depth may only unveil falsehoods and selective memories -, Koudelka’s images (and discourse) seem to be of a detached nature which codifies landscape in terms of a romantic and contemplative poetry, a somehow naïf and insufficient approach, concerning a territory and its implications that have been threatening the world peace for far too long.

text by João Henriques.

٠ Andrei Liankevich ٠

1234© Andrei Liankevich, all photographs from the series Goodbye, Motherland, 2011

The “Goodbye, Motherland” project explores the attitude to WWII in Belarus. Belarus has only one ideology – war ideology. Belarus Independence Day is the day when the capital was freed from the Nazi occupation. The main streets in the capital are named after war heroes, which is around 30% of all streets names. The latest research shows that people can hardly remember who the person the street is named after was. Everything in Belarus starts from and ends in: “We won the war. We are heroes”.

7658© Andrei Liankevich, all photographs from the series Goodbye, Motherland, 2011

Liankevich describes his inspiration in his own words: “War has never been anything close to me in [an] emotional sense. It was the story about ‘every fourth man who died in Belarus.’ But I have never sensed it personally. There was no sorrow, no pain.” From this standpoint the collection unfolds in faded faces, sleeping soldiers and strange personal paramilitary objects (busts of generals, canteens, manikins in uniform). Liankevich’s photos are eerie and haunting, they seem to look into the past as if one were looking through a swimming pool at people and places. This coupling of theme and material is an ideal marriage of medium with idea.

٠ Nietzsche and Photography’s ability to kill ٠

museum_07© Thomas Meyer, Untitled, from the series New Museum in Berlin

In part II of Untimely Meditations (1873), Nietzsche speaks about the malady of history and culture and how paying reverence to them restrains our ability to be free. Nietzsche suggests that the only two antidotes against this disease are: being unhistorical or being suprahistorical, the former meaning that we opt for forgetfulness; the latter meaning that we cease to be haunted by the weight of the becoming and start walking towards stable and eternal things, like art.

I’d like to concentrate on this idea of forgetfulness as a way to rebel against authoritarian preconceived ideas of education, law and good-behavior. Nietzsche suggests that forgetfulness is linked to happiness and honesty and gives examples of animals parading joyfully through the landscapes. Though the use of such nouns is very dubious in the context of a-historical animals, it’s relevant that his use of the “animal equation” could be replaced by the use of the “photographic equation”, as an automaton.

If human-existence, as the ability to be and exist in the present (the Dasein), is an uninterrupted state of “that-as-been”, then photography could serve us a medium that is consistently killing the present. Obsessed with history, with the horror of the fleeing moment, she reacts by immediately bringing the past into the present.

“That he lives best who has no respect for existence” is one of Nietzsche’s statement with which I fully agree. It’s not as if we have to always be oblivious of the historical context, but that we chose not to let knowledge be more important than life itself. He says the instrumentality attributed to history gives way to fanaticism and foolhardiness, and I’ll add it gives way to people being unable to build on their own individual identity, for they buy into the illusion of the unity of the collective identity.

museum_15© Thomas Meyer, Untitled, from the series New Museum in Berlin

“Monumental history is the masquerade costume in which their hatred of the great and powerful of their own age is disguised as satiated admiration for the great and powerful of past ages, and muflled in which they invert the real meaning of that mode of regarding history into its opposite; whether they are aware of it or not, they act as though their motto were: let the dead bury the living.” (p.72)

This nietzschian concept of history makes me go back to the question of the creative power of photography (particularly of documentary and street photography). Isn’t it possible that the camera, as a prosthesis, accentuates the differences between the inner and the outer? Isn’t it possible that the camera unhinges our instincts? Doesn’t photography promotes the appearance of things, instead of their desired liberation of the representational status.

Nietzsche makes a good point in opposing history to art: “for it is only in love, only when shaded by the illusion produced by love, that is to say in the unconditional faith in right and perfection, that man is creative. Anything that constrains a man to love less than unconditionally has severed the roots of his strength: he will wither away, that is to say become dishonest. I n producing this effect, history is the antithesis of art: and only if history can endure to be transformed into a work of art will it perhaps be able to preserve instincts or even evoke them.” (p.95)

museum_05© Thomas Meyer, Untitled, from the series New Museum in Berlin

Documentary photography has always been quite foreigner to be, when I’m in the place of the photographer. I have no instinct to capture and have always struggled with the act itself stealing my ability to be present in the moment. Not only does Nietzsche’s account of the dangers of the so called “historical relevance” strengthens the parallels between the inauthentic being and photography’s inauthenticity, but he goes on to suggest that the act of collecting (and thus the archival impulse so dear to the contemporary art world) arises from the subject’s detachment for “the fresh life of the present”, which degenerates into “a restless raking together of everything that has ever existed.” (p.75)

The fragility of the individual identity, when confronted with the overwhelming impact of nature and life themselves, retreats into the predator mode, shooting pictures, collecting objects, hierarchizing things obsessively as if by doing that he could find his/her place (and class) in society. 

Nietzsche concludes: This is a parable for each one of us: he must organize the chaos within him by thinking back to his real needs. His honesty, the strength and truthfulness of his character, must at some time or other rebel against a state of things in which he only repeats what he has heard, learns what is already known, imitates what already exists; he will then begin to grasp that culture can be something other than a decoration ofliJe, that is to say at bottom no more than dissimulation.”(p.123)

text by Sofia Silva

NIETZSCHE, F. (1997), Untimely Meditations. Cambridge University Press

٠ Sandro Ferreira, memory code: 6174 ٠

portefolio SandroF4© Sandro Ferreira, Não lhe digas para onde vais amanhã (Don’t tell her where you’ll be tomorrow), from the project “6174”
Set of a hundred booklets, with dimensions identical to those with speeches of some dignitaries of the Portuguese dictatorial regime: “Estado Novo”.

portefolio SandroF6© Sandro Ferreira, from the project 6174. The left card reads The useless, the right card reads The miserableportefolio SandroF5A series of 126 “lobby cards”, corresponding to the 126 films that the soldier Manuel Rosa Simões had seen since his arrival in Angola until his departure for the Metropolis. Ironically, the first film was “Les Miserables” and the last “The Useless”, setting the tone…

From 1961 to 1974, Portugal became involved in a war in its colonies, a war of subversive naturesubversive war is a war conducted within a territory by part of the inhabitants of that territory against the authority in it established, aided and reinforced or not from the outside, and in order to withdraw that authoritarian control, performing a transformation more or less wide. in Military Newsletter No. 15, Military Region Angola, August 15, 1962

Much of the research/exploration of this event converges to the advances and retreats, political questions, numbers, guilty and innocent people. The true human/animal/social essence of the event is confined to fiction literature and some published journals, often revised. Moving away from the issues widely teased I try to penetrate the internal memory of the war’s day-to-day of a generation that lived haunted with the fear of leaving for a country distant of their roots, risking their lives. In exploring these memories I gather a number of factors and situations that made the day-to-day of the oversea soldier, some did erase memories of home, others did revive memories (aerograms cinema, alcohol and sex).

The memories of war veterans, after so many years, can be divided into two branches, namely, the memories that fade away naturally with time and memories that need to be deleted. The work presented here lives in both branches of the forgotten or erased memory.” Sandro’s statement

The video tells the story of a soldier that was ambushed in Angola, while carrying the “Practical Handbook of Radio and Television” in his pants pocket. Trying to jump off the car he was ridding in, he got shot in one leg. One of the bullets hit and went through his leg and another bullet hit the book and was lodged inside it. Playing with the question of the impossibility to repeat events such as those in the context of war, I tried to recreate the situation of the bullet lodged inside the book. As the way we retell our memories is never the same, also the bullets that were lodged in the replica penetrated by different sites.

portefolio SandroF2© Sandro Ferreira, 7.65 Practical Handbook of Radio and Television, Edition of 8 books, 466 pages, with a bullet inside, 2011, from the project “6174”

portefolio SandroF1© Sandro Ferreira, Carta de Portugal Insular e Ultramarino de 1962, jogo

portefolio SandroF 4© Sandro Ferreira, Antecipação de um regresso a casa (Coming home earlier), from the project “6174”

Sandro was recently chosen for the EDP emerging artists’ award, in Portugal. He will be exhibiting new work, latter on this year, in Oporto.

┐ Hanne Darboven – Cultural History └

darboven-kultur-3DAR_Install_Beacon_3.previewDAR_Install_Beacon_1.previewDAR_Install_Beacon_2.preview© Hanne Darboven, Kulturgeschichte 1880-1983 (Cultural History 1880-1983), 1980-83. Installation view at Dia:Beacon, Beacon, New York. Lannan Foundation

Bill Carke: You first saw Cultural History in 1996 at the Dia Art Foundation’s Chelsea space. Can you recall what your response to the work was back then and how it’s evolved since?

Dan Adler: (Laughs) My initial response was of being overwhelmed! The installation took up several large galleries. And, the amount of material to look at! Over 1,600 panels containing thousands of sheets of paper and all these uncanny-looking sculptural objects punctuating the exhibition. I took notes at the time as a way of dealing with my feelings of intimidation, my fear of the work. So, it’s fortunate that I’ve had such a long time to reflect on the work and my notes, and to consider it in relation to other major statements, such as Richter’s Atlas. This gradually made Cultural History less intimidating for me.

BC: How familiar were you with her work before experiencing Cultural History?

DA: I was familiar with some early drawings – the Konstruktonen series made in the mid 1960s, but these are very different from Cultural History. They are humble in terms of scale and materials, consisting of numbers and graphs on paper. Because of that simplicity, they are considered key Conceptual works; the emphasis is on the ideas contained within the calculations. Cultural History, however, is concerned with issues such as historical memory, the reception of traumatic events, and the material reality of things. So, the Cultural History installation was a big surprise because it contrasted with what I though her work was.

BC: I feel her concern with history, especially Germany’s turbulent 20th century history, is shared by a number of her contemporaries. You mentioned Gerhardt Richter, but when I was reading your book, I also thought a lot about Christian Boltanski.

DA: Yes, both he and Darboven convey the events of the Holocaust and other traumatic situations in their work, and how that history is coldly archived, transmitted and distorted by historians, the culture industry and the media. They both deal with the politics of transmission, but in very different ways. By this, I mean the ways through which those horrors have been received by us photographically and textually. We live in a world in which there are forces distracting us from those realities, and that capitalize and make money off of those realities.

BC: You talk about earlier attempts to create atlas-like works in the book, such as Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas from 1929, but it seems to me that a work like Cultural History could only have been made in the latter half of the 20th century. I say this because when Warburg was constructing his atlas, history was probably conceived of in a more linear way – of one event happening after another rather than things occurring simultaneously. Word of events taking place on the other side of the world took days, if sometimes not weeks, to spread. Today, we learn about events almost immediately. We have much more of a sense of the simultaneity of events; however, this seems to have a levelling effect. The media often seems to give equal weight to everything. News of a celebrity having a meltdown is delivered to us in the same format as news of the latest complex developments in the Middle East. Cultural History seems to presage our current situation.

DA: Yes, there is a feeling of dilution of the power of the image today. For example, in Cultural History, we’ll see an image of Hitler saluting, followed immediately by an image of a cartoon picturing a baby eating. The images are brought down to the same level of information. No one subject is more relevant than another.

BC: Darboven’s work is critical of this.

DA: Yes, absolutely. Cultural History is meant to raise our awareness of how we have become detached from our own histories. The role of the culture industry is to detach us from such realities. Its role is to create spectacles that pacify us and make us less aware of ways of subverting the powers that be. One way is to keep us in a constant state of visual stimulation, which distracts us from the realities and injustices of history. The culture industry and the media are always forcing us onto the next thing. Think about the injustices that occurred during the Iraq war. Doesn’t it feel like we’ve already forgotten about them?

BC: Another element of Darboven’s work you mention is the act of itemizing, list-making and cataloguing. Again, this is a trait she shares with Boltanski, as well as artists like Mario Merz or Alighiero Boetti. What is the purpose of Darboven’s itemizing?

DA: Cultural History gathers together varied things as pre-World War II postcards, pin-ups of film and rock stars, World War I-era German cigarette cards, geometric diagrams for textiles, illustrated covers from Der Spiegel and Der Stern; the contents of an exhibition catalogue devoted to post-War European and American art, musical score sheets, pages of numerical calculations and a form of repetitive cursive writing, and imagery from some of Darboven’s earlier works. It also includes three-dimensional objects such as animal figures, a robot, a crescent moon hanging from the ceiling, a kiosk, a ceramic bust of a moustached man, a pair of shop-window mannequins wearing jogging attire, and a book placed on a pedestal. Darboven’s is a personal and non-hierarchical collection of materials, and it provokes consideration of how history is made and related. It draws distinctions between history and information, everyday and historical significance, and documentary and aesthetic import. Her work powerfully questions the division between the personal and the universal, as it operates in the process of portraying history. Most importantly, her work refuses to answer the call for interpretive synthesis.

excerpt of an interview with Dan Adler, author of “Hanne Darboven: Cultural History 1880-1983”, by Bill Clarke. continue reading here
More of Hanne’s work here

┐ Craig Ritchie └

© Craig Ritchie, from the project Malaficia

© Craig Ritchie, from the project Malaficia

© Craig Ritchie, from the project Malaficia

“In the Malaficia project, London based photographer Craig Ritchie delves into a Scottish area that was once a central location for witch trials and executions. This gruesome piece of history is not what first meets the eye when browsing through Ritchie’s images of East Neuk: the elegant houses, the forests, elderly people and other moments of daily lives. However, as Ritchie indicates in his website, “It took very little to be considered a witch; a ruined crop field, a petty argument over money, a spurned lover, or maybe the fisherman’s catch was poor.”

This indication may remind the viewer the unforeseeable storms that lie beneath the mundane surface. After all, “What better way to gain the upper hand over another person or family than to accuse them of witchcraft?” Ritchie, so it seems, uncovers how the Malaficia, the hammer of the witches, can be found in every corner of a geographical grid – whether imagined or painfully concrete. The first phase of the project is a photobook that can be viewed and purchased through Ritchie’s website. Currently, the work is also on view in a number of galleries. And here’s a little more about the motivation, future and aims of the project:

How did you find yourself haunted by witches?

The work emanated from an arts residency I undertook in The East Neuk of Fife, Scotland. The remit of the residency was to produce work that was connected to the East Neuk, an area of fishing villages situated between Edinburgh and St Andrews on the East Coast. Prior research of the area revealed that the place was at one point a hotspot of European witch trials and murders which seemed like an interesting subject matter to tackle, not least because the events occurred hundreds of years ago which presents obvious challenges.

What did you find when you arrived to East Neuk? How was the project received

The East Neuk is a bit of a hotbead for artists and in fact the Pittenweem Arts Festival, which this year celebrated its 30th edition, is one of the most popular in Scotland. The locals are therefore used to visitors from afar and in that regard my presence there raised few eyebrows. Intriguingly though, there appear to be a kind of collective anxiety about their witch past, with people almost reluctant to engage too deeply in discussions around the local witch history.

It’s more than just my imagination as well – there are no monuments to the damned (surprising in terms of the amount of murders we’re actually talking about); it’s difficult to locally find much in the way of literature, and unlike in most places with such a past there is no real tourism centered on the witches. I did find one local who offered witch tours a few times a year, but when I phoned him it transpired he lived in Crouch End in London!

In terms of the locals in the project, I simply asked people who I thought looked interesting, who either fitted my loose narratives or who I thought were interesting enough in their appearance to consider building narratives around. This emerged out of my day-to-day encounters with the place – I didn’t actively seek out locals as such.”

Excerpt of an interview by Rotem Rozental. Continue reading here

More of Craig’s work here

┐ Helga Härenstam └

© Helga Härenstam, The Gap, from the series The Society, 2006-2008

© Helga Härenstam, Jesus, from the series The Society, 2006-2008

The Society is a fictious documentary, trough which Helga Härenstam has been looking for and/or constructing environments, scenes and events, that are based on memories from the small society where she grew up. The people photographed in these series are Härenstam herself, her family and other people that she is close to.


The series is a puzzle of pictures dealing with the borders between documentary and staged, the real and the unreal and the past and the present. The title The Society, is inspired by a place, where Helga Härenstam partly grew up. This place does have a name, but is simply called ”the society”. Härenstam found the ambiguousness of the word society interesting though it refers to a context of world politics and states that shut in and shut out citizens depending on where they are considered to belong. At the same time it refers to this small community, which basically functions in the same way, just on a minor scale.


The Society tells several stories about growing up in a rural area that slowly becomes abandoned. A transitional place is formed between the past and the present ways of how the society functions and between the past and the present way ones memory functions.

taken from HIPPOLYTE STUDIO

more of Helga’s work here

┐ Carrie May Weems └

© Carrie May Weems, Untitled, from African Jewels, 2009

© Carrie May Weems, Untitled, from African Jewels, 2009

installation view from African Jewels, 2009

Carrie’s web home here

┐ The Chicago Conspiracy └

A must see! Full video here

This is a trailer for our upcoming feature length documentary based in Chile and the Mapuche indigenous territory of Wallmapu. The concept for the film was born with the death of a former military dictator, Augusto Pinochet. His regime murdered thousands and tortured tens of thousands after the military coup on September 11, 1973.


The Chicago Conspiracy takes its name from the approximately 25 Chilean economists who attended the University of Chicago and other prestigious universities beginning in the 1960s to study under the neoliberal economists Milton Friedman and Arnold Harberger. After embracing Friedman’s neoliberal ideas, these economists returned to assist Pinochet’s military regime in imposing free market policies. They privatized nearly every aspect of society, and Chile soon became a classic example of free market capitalism under the barrel of a gun.


The Chicago Conspiracy is about today. We began this documentary with the death of a dictator, but we continue with the legacy of a dictatorship.


The Chicago Conspiracy is about the Day of the Youth Combatant. On this day, two young brothers and militants of the MIR, Rafael and Eduardo Vergara, were gunned down by police as they walked through the politically active community Villa Francia. March 29 is not only about the Vergara brothers—it is a day to remember all youth combatants who have died under the dictatorship and current democratic regime.


The Chicago Conspiracy is about the students who fight a dictatorship-era educational law put into place on the last day of military rule. Over 700,000 students went on strike in 2006 to protest the privatized educational system. Police brutally repressed student marches and occupations.


The Chicago Conspiracy is about the neighborhoods lining the outskirts of Santiago. They were originally land occupations, and later became centers of armed resistance against the military dictatorship. A number of them, such as la Victoria and Villa Francia, continue as areas of confrontational discontent to this day.


The Chicago Conspiracy is about the Mapuche conflict. The Mapuche people valiantly resisted Spanish occupation, and continue to resist the Chilean state and the multinational corporations who strip Mapuche territory for forestry plantations, mines, dams and farming plantations. The government has utilized the dictatorship-era anti-terrorism law to jail Mapuche community members in struggle. Two young weichafes (Mapuche warriors), Alex Lemún and Matías Catrileo, were recently killed by Chilean police—one in 2002, the other in 2008.


The Chicago Conspiracy is a response to a global conspiracy of neoliberalism, militarism and authoritarianism.

┐ Michal Heiman └



CRITICAL IMAGE: MICHAL HEIMAN, By Dr. Ariella Azoulay

Michal Heiman chose the position of the spectator looking at someone else’s photographs taken by someone else, in which someone else is photographed, which someone else collected. Heiman turns this quintessential position of spectator (in a museum, but not only) into her own, elaboration and giving it back to it to spectator, whom she transforms not only into the subject of the artistic image but also into the subject of the psychological image. This is the spectator who is asked, on several levels, to assume Heiman’s position and to reproduce it. When Heiman looks at these photographs of her mother-in-law, she is following classifications which are latent in the family album, acting within the framework of the restrictions and advantages of her family relations with the photographed (her mother-in-law), attuned to the route she traced on her meticulously planned journeys as well as in random rambles. Though Heiman does this without relinquishing essential activities of the subject’s position, such as sorting, selecting, classifying, etc, she performs these activities as an accumulative sum of activities familiar from two institutions and practices – the musial and the psychological. The images she presents to the “subject” of her “test” are mediated through these two institution/ practices. They are presented in a “test” box by an “examiner”, who also duplicates Heiman’s positioning, obviously without the possibility of identity between the two of them, between them and the photographed, or between them and the “subject” of the “test”. These relations of similarity and difference between the personae/ positions dissolve the established hierarchical relations which institutions/ practices such as the museum and the psychology apparatus seek to preserve, and point to their fluidity. Heiman is attracted to these two systems, seduced by one and functioning within the other, but at the same time she criticizes them, especially by turning one against the other. She bypasses the museal apparatus by way of the psychological apparatus. Within the framework f the museum institution she develops exchange relations borrowed from the psychological apparatus, rather than those practiced in the museum I which the boundaries of the subject are predetermined by the way he or she is placed in front of the artistic object. The relations of replacement that Heiman proposes are those existing in the psychoanalytical situation, with one crucial difference: they are not continuous in time, and the analyst cannot gain knowledge relating to the analysand and take an active part in subjectivizing her. Thus the therapeutic situation is divested of its characteristic power relations. The activating of the general patterns of the structure of the therapeutic situation in a museum setting through the “test” mode of the M.H.T., provides an opportunity to disrupt the museum order. This order is based on complex relations of silence, both on the part of the museum object and on the part of the museum subject, and on the distinction between the different subject of art – -the artist and the spectator. The museum spectator is invited to induce the mute object to speak, but only later, and outside the boundaries of the site. Heiman’s spectator is invited to induce the scene to speak at the site itself. The existence of the images Heiman offers for viewing and voicing violates the standard norms of presentation, and serves as a point of departure for unexpected encounters with conveyor of parallel, contradictory, other images, encounters in which she finds herself being led no less than leading.

Michal Heiman’s “test” is intended for women. It suggests that they look at a number of pictures of a woman-a mother figure and her own mother-in-law – and a few pictures of women who were inscribed in a history which is not only theirs. The first photographed figure is like a magnified stereotype of the (Jewish) mother figure. She is more (and less) than a citizen of the (Jewish) state. She doesn’t tour like a tourist, looking rather like the proprietress who comes to collect the rent or to be nice to the tenants and improve their conditions of living. She embodies much of what is repressed in that State, and precisely the close relationship to her presents an opportunity to take a straight look and see how it “really” looks. How the overbearingness, excessiveness, and unusefulness of this figure looks. She has herself photographed incessantly, in any place, on any occasion. She is always ready with the camera “just in case”- this may be the decisive moment, so she had better have proofs, evidence, in her hands. For one mustn’t let destiny rule the world alone. Together with her, in the same box, there are seven other women. These are women whose “decisive moment” indeed caught up with them. Each of them experienced a “crucial” moment, performed an act, and this actually justified a portrait, an image, an immortalization, but there was no camera to immortalize the moment. The portrait that they bequeathed is thus a portrait which does not bear witness to the incisive moment but keeps manifesting the decisive relation between them and the social order they disturbed and whose rules they sought to suspend. It thus constitutes a double portrait- a portrait of them and of the social order they challenged. The first one is of the three (surviving) quintuplets the Dionne sister, who having been put on public display as children together with their two other sisters, eventually broke the silence to bring this glaring abuse of a child’s body to light (and to claim damages for themselves). The second is of Ulrike Meinhof, leader of the Baader Meinhof group, from whose portrait it is always possible to revert to the boundaries of the rules of the game of the democratic state, a game in which everything is negotiable, except the rules of the game and so allowing the exclusion o any player attempting to put those rules I question. The third photograph is of Leila Khaled, the Palestinian freedom fighter who became famous for skyjacking in which she was involved. Khaled expropriated the time of the flight passengers to point to the time and the place of which her people, the Palestinian people, had been robbed. The fourth portrait, of Eva Hesse, an artist who put her body in the center of her art long before the artistic discourse could have contained such a manifestation, evidenced an apparatus saturated with violence and the tensions between an individual, a body, and a position from which to see, speak out, and act, and the last portrait, of Kochava Levy, who found herself in a hotel that was occupied by terrorists, and masterfully played – with her unprecedented feat of conducting negotiations with the terrorists – the role assigned to her by history.

(Dr. Ariella Azoulay, D’Israel: Barry Frydlender, Michal Heiman, Efrat Shvily, and Dana & Boaz Zonshine, Le Qartier, Center of Contemporary Art, Quimper, 1999 [pp. 33-34] )

More of Michal’s work here

┐ Burkhard von Harder └

@ Burkhard von Harder, untitled, from the project Cold war in a trash bag

@ Burkhard von Harder, untitled, from the project Cold war in a trash bag

@ Burkhard von Harder, untitled, from the project Cold war in a trash bag

Cold War in a Trash Bag is based on recently found anonymous Cold War photographic footage from the Ukraine. In the summer of 2010 thousands of abandoned black and white negatives were discovered in Vinnitsa, a place only 250 km away from Chernobyl. In miserable condition, the ripped, scratched and torn filmstrips obviously had been completely forgotten and left decaying through the first 20 years of the country’s independence. They could be saved from disposal and taken abroad where 5000 of them were put through a painstaking scanning process so far. The results show solarisation processes and other signs of deterioration leading to new imagery – more publications on the subject to follow.

More of Burkhard’s work here and a preview of the book “Cold War in a Trash Bag” here

┐ Farhad Ahrarnia └

© Farhad Ahrarnia, ballet pars no.3
HAND EMBROIDERY ON DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY PRINTED ON CANVAS
SILK & COTTON THREAD AND NEEDLES, 2008-10

© Farhad Ahrarnia, beautiful is the silence of ruins II
photography on canvas and embroidery, 2011

More of Farhad’s work here

┐ April, 25th └

© family archive, 1974

WHAT ARE THE REVOLUTIONARY COUNCILS?

Prior to 1933. the Portuguese working class had been able to conduct its economic struggle openly through the trade unions. On September 23 of that year. a fascist trade union law was passed. modelled explicitly on the repressive .. Carta Lavori” instituted byMussolini in Fascist Italy. The existing trade unions were abolished and highly-fragmented. state-controlled labor syndicates. which existed right up to the coup of April 25. 1974. came into being.

The response of the Portuguese working class to this repressive 1933 law was immediate and widespread. Among the most militant responses was the insurrection in the Marinha Grande. the glassproduction belt 25 miles north of Lisbon where the entire population had built a long tradition of struggle. Militants of the regional Communist Party. of the CGT [the national anarcho-syndicalist trade union federation]. and numerous local organizations collaborated in a Revolutionary Committee. defining a strategy for taking control of the region so that the economic and political struggle could continue. Prior to April 25. 1974. the Revolutionary Council (also called a Soviet] of Marinha Grande marked the high tide of workingclass struggle in Portugal. The proposal to construct Revolutionary Councils in Portugal today also comes from this industrial region. It is an outgrowth of the particular conditions of struggle imposed by the rule of the Armed Forces Movement since the 25th of April.

(…)

Tapping the experience of France in 1968. militants of various factory committees. with the support of the PRBIBR. convened a Congress on April 19. 1975 which was attended by delegates of more than 200 factories and 60 military units. A Provisional Secretariat was established by the Congress to coordinate the work of building the Councils. It had some 50 seats. 35 of which were filled at the Congress itself. Eleven foundry and steel workers. a cork worker. an office worker. an electronics worker. a teacher, a hotel worker, a graphic-arts worker. one unemployed worker. and 11 military people [soldiers. sailors. and junior officers] joined regional representatives from the North. from Alentejo and Algarve. Marinha Grande. Viana do Castelo. and the Covilha.

The Revolutionary Councils have enabled some of the groups participating in the revolutionary process in Portugal to transcend the “revisionist/orthodox” debate which has hampered the growth of the working-class left. This the Councils do by questioning the existence of the concept of orthodoxy. The Communist Party’s preference for working within the state apparatus and for being “responsible” to the MFA is viewed by the Councils as a function of material interests. not bad ideas and deviations from orthodoxy. The Communist Party. the Councils charge. is constructing state capitalism. not “betraying” the working class. This analysis has enabled the Councils and some other forces to benefit from the Communist Party’s real strength – its mass base in the working class – in building the revolutionary movement. rather than consigning themselves to perpetual. harping criticism of the PCP.

The Councils have also attempted to address themselves to clarifying the relationship of the MFA to the revolutionary sectors of the working class. They established a specific form in which. for the first time. revolutionary elements in the MFA and throughout the armed forces could collaborate. in an on-going organizational form. with the rest of the working class. This was a big switch from the endless streams of proposals for more “democracy” and “participation” proposed from above by the MFA and the Provisional Governments.

To date. the largest single show of strength by the Revolutionary Councils acting alone was the march of June 17. 1975. attended by some 40.000 and led by the workers of Lisnave. This march demanded that the Constituent Assembly be dissolved and that the authority to constitute a new regime be passed on to the Revolutionary Councils.

It is important here to distinguish the Revolutionary Councils from the Factory Committees. The Councils are a specific organization. They are. at the moment. the political front. the movement for direct assault on state power. of the most militant sectors of the working class. The Interempresa. or Inter-Enterprise Committee. still exists and coordinates the day-to-day struggles of the factory committees. Similarly. the Secretariat of Revolutionary and Autonomous Neighborhood Commissions. a coordinating body representing the most militant neighborhood commissions. still functions and recently held a Congress to evaluate the work of the last year and elaborate a program for the next. Independent groups such as the Soldiers United for Victory. an insurgent group who defied the new “Moderate” government and held a march in the streets of Porto in mid-September. 1975. are still defining their relationships to the other independent organizations of the class. The Revolutionary Councils do not claim or attempt to subordinate or take over the struggles in each neighborhood. barracks. village. or factory. The continuation of these struggles. they say. will be as decisive a factor in enabling the Councils to take power some day. as they were in the very birth of the Council organization.


Stu Gedal, Documents of the Worker’s Struggle