≡ ‘Photography Threatens Fantasy’, she says ≡

In the lecture showed above (TED, 2009) photographer Taryn Simon talks about the quest for hidden truths. She starts by explaining how the majority of her work “is, in fact, not photographic. It involves a campaign of letter writing, research and phone calls to access my subjects”. She then goes on to explain how, unexpectedly, the weirder rejection letter came from Walt Disney World. From that particular letter, she highlights the following sentence before claiming that photography threatens fantasy: “Especially during these violent times, I personally believe that the magical spell cast upon guests who visit our theme parks is particularly important to protect and helps to provide them with an important fantasy they can escape to.”

SIMON_2011ALMDDChapterXI-InstallationSIMON_2011ALMDDALivingMan...ChapterXI-Detail© Taryn Simon, Chapter XI (plus detail), from the project A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I – XVIII, 2008-11.

A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I – XVIII was produced over a four-year period (2008-11), during which the artist, Taryn Simon, travelled around the world researching and recording bloodlines and their related stories. The subjects Simon documents include victims of genocide in Bosnia, test rabbits infected with a lethal disease in Australia, the first woman to hijack an aircraft, and the living dead in India. Her collection is at once cohesive and arbitrary, mapping the relationships among chance, blood, and other components of fate.

Each work in A Living Man Declared Dead is comprised of three segments. On the left of each chapter are one or more large portrait panels systematically ordering a number of individuals directly related by blood. The sequence of portraits is structured to include the living ascendants and descendants of a single individual. The portraits are followed by a central text panel in which the artist constructs narratives and collects details. On the right are Simon’s ‘footnote images’ representing fragmented pieces of the established narratives and providing photographic evidence.

The empty portraits represent living members of a bloodline who could not be photographed. The reasons for these absences are included in the text panels and include imprisonment, military service, dengue fever and women not granted permission to be photographed for religious and social reasons.

Simon’s presentation explores the struggle to determine codes and patterns embedded in the narratives she documents, making them recognizable as variations (versions, renderings, adaptations) of archetypal episodes from the present, past, and future. In contrast to the methodical ordering of a bloodline, the central elements of the stories – violence, resilience, corruption, and survival – disorient the highly structured appearance of the work. A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters highlights the space between text and image, absence and presence, and order and disorder.” official statement about A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I – XVIII.

SIMON2012_PictureCollection.Folder(FinancialPanics)© Taryn Simon, Financial Panics, from The Picture Collection, 2013

SIMON_2007.AIHUNuclearWasteEncapsulationandStorageFacility© Taryn SimonNuclear Waste Encapsulation and Storage Facility Cherenkov Radiation, Hanford Site, U.S. Department of Energy Southeastern Washington State, from  An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar.

SIMON_2010(ed.4)Contraband.OCA(PROHIBITED)_FINAL-Detail© Taryn Simon, Oxalis tuberosa, Peru (7CFR) (prohibited), from Contraband.

SIMON_2010(ed.4)Contraband.ANIMALCORPSES(PROHIBITED)_FINAL-Detail© Taryn SimonBird corpse, labeled as home décor, Indonesia to Miami, Florida (prohibited), from  Contraband.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

٠ on the quest for [visual] intimacy III ٠

ARTHUR PENN: Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

bonnie_clyde_2_540-542ff56725cb6c78cc51bcafd55c11afc71d1f84excerpts from:The Origin of the Work of Art, by Martin Heidegger:

“The opposition of world and earth is strife. We would, to be sure, all too easily falsify the essence of the strife were we to conflate that essence with discord and dispute, and to know it, therefore, only as disruption and destruction. In essential strife, however, the opponents raise each other into the self-assertion [Selbstbehauptung] of their essences. This self-assertion of essence is, however, never a rigid fixation on some condition that happens to be the case, but rather a surrendering into the hidden originality of the source of one’s own being. In the struggle, each opponent carries the other beyond itself. As a consequence, the strife becomes ever more intense as striving, and ever more authentically what it is. The more intransigently the strife outdoes itself on its own part, the more uncompromisingly do the opponents admit themselves into the intimacy of their simple belonging to one another. The earth cannot do without the openness of world if it is to appear in the liberating surge of its self-c1osedness. World, on the other hand, cannot float away from the earth if, as the prevailing breadth and path of all essential destiny, it is to ground itself on something decisive.

In setting up world and setting forth earth the work instigates this strife. But this does not happen so that the work can simultaneously terminate and settle the conflict in an insipid agreement, but rather so that the strife remains a strife. By setting up a world and setting forth the earth, the work accomplishes this strife. The work-being of the work consists in fighting the fight between world and earth. It is because the strife reaches its peak in the simplicity of intimacy that the unity of the work happens in the fighting of the fight. The fighting of the fight is the continually self-surpassing gathering of the agitation of the work. The repose of the work that rests in itself thus has its essence in the intimacy of the struggle.


Truth establishes itself in the work. Truth is present only as the strife between clearing and concealing in the opposition between world and earth. As this strife of world and earth, truth wills its establishment in the work. The strife is not resolved in something brought forth specifically for that purpose, but neither is it merely housed there. The strife is, rather, opened up by the work. This being must, therefore, contain within itself the essential traits of the strife. In the strife the unity of world and earth is won. As a world opens itself up, it puts up for decision, by a historical humanity, the question of victory or defeat, blessing and curse, lordship and slavery. The dawning world brings to the fore that which is still undecided and without measure and decisiveness.

As a world opens itself up, however, the earth rises up. It shows itself as that which bears all, as that which is secure in its law and which constantly closes itself up. World demands its decisiveness and measure and allows beings to attain to the openness of its paths. Earth, bearing and rising up, strives to preserve its closedness and to entrust everything to its law. The strife is not rift [Riss], in the sense of a tearing open of a mere cleft; rather, it is the intimacy of the mutual dependence of the contestants. The rift carries the contestants into the source of their unity, their common ground. It is the fundamental design [Grundriss]. It is the outline sketch [Aufriss] that marks out the fundamental features of the rising up of the clearing of beings. This design [Riss] does not allow the contestants to break apart. It brings the contest between measure and limit into a shared outline [Umriss].
Arrabal y Bonnie and Clyde


Truth establishes itself as strife in a being that is to be brought forth only in such a way that the strife opens up in this being; the being itself, in other words, is brought into the rift-design [Riss]. The rift-design is the drawing together into a unity of sketch and fundamental design rupture and outline. Truth establishes itself in a being in such a way, indeed, that this being itself occupies the open of truth. This occupying, however, can only happen in such a way that what is to be brought forth, the rift, entrusts itself to the self-closing that rises up in the open. The rift must set itself back into the pull of the weight of the stone, into the dumb hardness of the wood, into the dark glow of the colors. As the earth takes the rift back into itself, the rift is for the first time set forth into the open and therefore placed, i.e., set, into that which rises up in the open as the self-closing and as the protecting.

This strife which is brought into the rift-design, and so set back into the earth and fixed in place, is the figure [Gestalt]. The createdness of the work means: the fixing in place of truth in the figure. Figure is the structure of the rift in its self-establishment. The structured rift is the jointure [Fuge] of the shining of truth. What we here call “figure” is always to be thought out of that particular placing [stellen] and placement [Ge-stell] as which the work comes to presence when it sets itself up and sets itself forth.”

str**ming here

٠ on the quest for [visual] intimacy II ٠

JEAN-LUC GODARD: Le Petit Soldat (1963)


excerpts from: Being Singular Plural, by Jean-Luc Nancy, Stanford University Press, 2000, pp.10-81:

“As a consequence, gaining access to the origin, entering into meaning, comes down to exposing oneself to this truth.

What this means is that we do not gain access to the origin: access is refused by the origin’s concealing itself in its multiplicity. We do not gain access; that is, we do not penetrate the origin; we do not identify with it. More precisely, we do not identify ourselves in it or as it, but with it, in a sense that must be elucidated here and is nothing other than the meaning of originary coexistence.


The “outside” of the origin is “inside” – in an inside more interior than the extreme interior, that is, more interior than the intimacy of the world and the intimacy that belongs to each “me.” If intimacy must be defined as the extremity of coincidence with oneself, then what exceeds intimacy in inferiority is the distancing of coincidence itself. It is a coexistence of the origin “in” itself, a coexistence of origins; it is no accident that we use the word “intimacy” to designate a relation between several people more often than a relation to oneself. Our being-with, as a being-many, is not at all accidental, and it is in no way the secondary and random dispersion of a primordial essence. It forms the proper and necessary status and consistency of originary alterity as such. The plurality of beings is at the foundation [fondment] of Being.

In and of itself transcendent, the subject is born into its intimacy (“interior intimo neo”), and its intimacy wanders away from it in statu nascendi (“interfeces et urinam nascimur”). “To exist” is no longer “to be” (for itself, in itself), to-already-no-longer-be and to-not-yet-be, or even to-be-lacking, that is, to-be-in-debt-to-being. To exist is a matter of going into exile. The fact that the intimate, the absolutely proper, consists in the absolutely other is what alters the origin in itself, in a relation to itself that is “originarily plunged into mourning.” The other is in an originary relation to death and in a relation to originary death.


Proximity is the correlate of intimacy: it is the “nearest,” the “closest,” which is also to say “the most approximate” or “infinitely approximate” to me, but it is not me because it is withdrawn in itself, into the self in general. The proximity of the nearest is a minute, intimate distance and, therefore, an infinite distance whose resolution is in the Other. The nearest is that which is utterly removed, and this is why the relation to it presents itself as an imperative, as the imperative of a love, and (3) as a love that is “like the love of myself.” The love of self, here, is not egoism in the sense of preferring oneself over others (which would contradict the commandment); it is an egoism in the sense of privileging oneself, one’s own-self [le soi-propre], as a model, the imitation of which would provide the love of others. It is necessary to love one’s ownself in the other, but reciprocally, one’s own-self in me is the other of the ego. It is its hidden intimacy.


This is why it is a matter of “love”: this love is not some possible mode of relation; it designates relation itself at the heart of Being — in lieu of and in the place of Being — and designates this relation, of one to another, as the infinite relation of the same to the same as originarily other than itself. “Love” is the abyss of the self in itself; it is the “delectation” [“dilection”] or “taking care” of what originarily escapes or is lacking; it consists in taking care of this retreat and in this retreat. As a result, this love is “charity”: it is the consideration of the caritas, of the cost or the extreme, absolute, and, therefore, inestimable value of the other as other, that is, the other as the self-withdrawn-in-itself. This love speaks of the infinite cost of what is infinitely withdrawn: the incommensurability of the other. As a result, the commandment of this love lays out this incommensurability for what it is: access to the inaccessible. Yet, it is not sufficient to discredit such love as belonging to some intemperate idealism or religious hypocrisy. Rather, it is a matter of deconstructing the Christianity and sentimentality of an imperative the openly excessive and clearly exorbitant character of which must be read as a warning to us; I would even go so far as to say that it just is a warning to us. It is a matter of wondering about the “meaning” (or “desire”) of a thinking or culture that gives itself a foundation the very expression of which denotes impossibility, and of wondering how and to what extent the “madness” of this love could expose the incommensurability of the very constitution of the “self” and the “other,” of the “self” in the “other.”

٠ Thomas Susanka’s ‘The Rhetorics of Authenticity: Photographic Representations of War’ (I of II) ٠

What follows are excerpts from a very interesting article by Thomas Susanka, published in “Paradoxes of Authenticity”, pp.95-113, edited by Julia Straub and published by transcript Verlag, Bielefeld, 2012

In the context of the following paper, as Susanka clarifies, ‘authenticity’ should be understood “as one strategy to achieve verification and hence persuasion, namely by demonstrating or suggesting realness or truthfulness.” (p.98)

officers and men of the 8th hussarscirca 1855: Officers and men of the 8th Hussars, the ‘King’s Royal Irish’ during the Crimean War (1853 – 1856). Photograph by Roger Fenton.

Since its invention, photography has been discussed in terms of authenticity, of truthfulness to reality . Fox Talbot, one of the inventors of photography, entitled the book series that features his first successful attempts in photography ‘The Pencil of Nature’ – an expression of his conviction that in photography, the subject of an image would depict itself and hence guarantee its own truthful representation. The influence of the image’s creator, according to Talbot, would cease to be decisive of whether a depiction is  faithful to the original or not. Indeed, great fascination was aroused by the fact that the photographer does not even seem to have final and absolute control over the image – rather, the things seem to imprint themselves on the photographs. 


There seem to be essentially two ways by which authenticity in photography can be approached. The first is the discourse about the medium of photography and its potential to depict reality truthfully. The second is concerned with how photographers try to create the impression of authenticity within their photographs– i.e. within the semiotic fabric of the photograph, so to speak. While the first aspect conceives of authenticity as an inherent property of the medium, the second sees it as a communicative strategy of the photographer. (…) The main question is: how do photographers construct images that have the appeal of being authentic representations?


my-lai-page-a1---half-page-15ec9996b53962aephoto by Ron Haeberle (U.S. army), the case of the My Lai Massacre, 1969


Two major foci can be identified in the discussion of authenticity in photography. The first is media-theoretical since it circulates around the idea that photography is authentic because of the implications of its medium, i.e. essentially the light-sensitive surface of the plate, film or chip. The other focuses on the semiotic fabric, i.e. how authenticity is generated on the surface-structure of the image by means of signs. In a simplified way, we could say that the first perspective asks, for
example, if and why a portrait photograph might strike the beholder as superior in terms of authenticity as compared to a portrait painting of the same person. The second, semiotic perspective inquires what elements in terms of style or choice of subject matter add to the authenticity of an image. I think it is fundamental to the discussion to distinguish authenticity as a discursive ascription to the medium from that generated by the actual image, i.e. the semiotic text. In contemporary theory, however, the levels of medium and semiotic text are often intermingled. There is a tendency to call those communicative phenomena that use a different semiotic system rather than a natural language (be it written or orally performed) a ‘medium.’


The medium always functioned as a point of reference in attributing authenticity to photography. And hence, it is not so much the fact that the digital tum implies a fundamental change in photography, but it is our conception of photographic authenticity that is altered by the change. Photography did not suddenly become susceptible to manipulation, but with the advent of digital technology the knowledge about photography’s malleability became paramount. And that is why the heated debates about digital photography of the past few years have also shown that it is not sufficient to conceptualize photographic authenticity merely on grounds of the involved medium. Media theoretician Peter Lunenfeld seems to be right when he claims that photography is no longer a privileged realm of communication since its authenticity now ranges on the same level as that of the written word.

LA_RAZON_357999_008LRD19FOT1Photograph by Ron Haviv, Erdut (Croacia), 1991


Given the strict control on the pan of militaries and the overall suspicion of deception, the authenticity of war photography seems to be in bad shape. Yet despite all doubts and objections, we use war photography on a daily basis. We consume it as regularly a our daily newspapers. Despite its patent unreliability, we cherish it as a helpful device for spreading and gaining information about the conflicts of our time.

But how can this be? Clearly, the question of authenticity in photography cannot be answered merely by reflections on the medium. When we talk about the authenticity of photography, and especially of war photography, it is apparently not the epistemological reliability of photography that is our primary concern. But what is our primary concern? A good starting point in making sense of this is to notice that we have already progressed far into the field of rhetoric, whose central concern, according to Aristotle, is to find out what is credible about a subject matter and what seems to be convincing. The reference to the properties of the medium may elucidate an important aspect of photography, but it answers only half the question. It may explain some general attitudes and expectations ascribed to photography, but it completely ignores what is actually shown in the photographs. Furthermore, just like in written texts, there are ways of suggesting the truthfulness of the depiction by means of subject matter and style. From the perspective of rhetoric, we could conceive of this as a communicative strategy that aims at verifying the subject matter, i.e. by claiming its truthfulness. How do communicators establish truth-claims? In the following, I would like to tum to those procedures that aim to authenticate a photograph and re-establish the claim that what we see in the picture is ‘the real thing.’


The larger discursive framework within which we can locate war photography, then, seems to include all kinds of representations of war – it is not restricted to documentary, nonfictional accounts of war but at the same time includes fictional renditions of war. Reports in newspapers, magazines or on television, stories written about war, movies, television series and even computer games- they all add to the cognitive framework with which consumers of news approach war photography. All these ways of depicting war seem to partake in an intertextual and intermedial realm that defines their conceptions about war. And hence these accounts certainly provide a ready resource for producers of representations of war, which they use as blueprints in order to verify their own depictions of war.(…) The content and form of preceding representations of war provide the beholder of war photographs with expectations regarding the subject matter as well as the overall appearance of these photographs, and these expectations are brought to bear in assessing the authenticity of the photographs. At the same time, photographers use them as resources in order to accommodate their addressees’ conception of authentic depiction of war and thereby to verify their photographs. Consequently, authenticity in war photography is not merely linked to reality and a truthful depiction of it, but it also seems to be fundamentally connected to a strong tradition of authentic depiction: the beholder of a photograph may know nothing about war – but he surely knows what it is supposed to look like on a photograph.

(to be continued)

┐ Alessandro Nassiri Tabibzadeh └

© Alessandro Nassiri Tabibzadeh, la verità non esiste (the truth does not exist), 2005

© Alessandro Nassiri Tabibzadeh, I won’t change the world

If a man die
it is because death
has first
possessed his imagination.
But if he refuse death–
no greater evil
can befall him
unless it be the death of love
meet him
in full career.
Then indeed
for him
the light has gone out.
But love and the imagination
are of a piece,
swift as the light
to avoid destruction.
So we come to watch time’s flight
as we might watch
summer lightning
or fireflies, secure,
by grace of the imagination,
safe in its care.

excerpt from the poem “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower“, by William Carlos Williams

More of Alessandro’s work here