≡ The problem is the photograph not what the photograph shows ≡


Susan Sontag died in 2004 and that was a tough year for photography. One difficult to forget. In 2004, the images of Abu Ghraib got out and with them started a revolution in photojournalism. From then on, authenticity, a ‘quality’ so dear to documentary photography, changed hands. Legitimacy and believability were no longer available to the professionals but to civilians who shot everything that moved – from the men paraded around on leashes in Abu Ghraib to the occasional fuck on campus. Soldiers and victims are now the ones holding the power of truth, or so it seems.

On May 23rd 2004, the New York Times published an article by Sontag entitled Regarding the Torture of Others, a reflection on the impact of the Abu Ghraib photos and the role of photograph the so called states-of-exception.

Four years later, in 2008, Errol Morris’ documentary Standard Operating Procedure came out. The documentary revolves around the ‘procedures’ in Abu Ghraib and features soldiers directly involved in the photographs as well as others who portray themselves as passive observers (if there can be such a thing in this situation). Lynndie England, one of the women involved in the tortures and humiliations depicted in the famous Abu Ghraib shots tells us how she used to spend her time, both on and off duty, and we quickly find the why that complements the tale: those actions where made out of boredom and with an entertainment goal, even if she arguments that she was just following the examples given (“that was what we saw”, she says). Ultimately, she justifies her actions saying “I was blinded by being in love with a man”. What an irony.

abuse3 harmansab1

Another female military photographer is featured telling us how she made a photograph of a ‘detainee’ (yes, ‘prisoners’ have rights; ‘detainees’ don’t) that looked like Jesus Christ. In other words, she knows her icons. Apparently, she soon realized what the photographs depicted was wrong and allegedly started to document the tortures not for fun but to show what the USA military where doing, how serious it was.

As we know now, the photographs became the problem, not the events depicted in them, which keep happening in one form or another. Sontag quotes secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld to whom the problem is that soldiers are behaving like tourists «”running around with digital cameras and taking these unbelievable photographs and then passing them off, against the law, to the media, to our surprise.”» The Photographs act as proofs and because of their permanence they hold the power to question moral superiority, a power that serves to legitimize words. If words used to be enough to account for our own lives, build our narratives, tell our stories, now “to live is to be photographed”, says Sontag. Visual language is what sticks, particularly in the form of photographs and it seems that the further one is from the event represented the easier it is for reality to be replaced by an image of that reality. When I think of Abu Ghraib what immediately comes to mind is the photograph of that hooded man, standing on a box with his arms open. That’s how iconic that image is.


«Yes, President Bush said in Washington on May 6, standing alongside King Abdullah II of Jordan, he was “sorry for the humiliation suffered by the Iraqi prisoners and the humiliation suffered by their families.” But, he went on, he was “equally sorry that people seeing these pictures didn’t understand the true nature and heart of America.”» (Sontag, 2004)

Roman Krol, another military featured in Morris documentary, describes what is depicted in some of the photographs or, how I see it, how the society of the spectacle justifies his actions. In his own words: “The yelling was just [pause] it was just for show I believe. To show, the spectators, this would be done to anybody who breaks the rules.” Krol goes on to explain how he thinks the photographs were stupid, there was even a sign saying they weren’t allowed (!), how he never saw a flash, otherwise he would have…

new-toture4 dogs2

Again, the torture isn’t the problem. The existence of the document is. Going back to Sontag’s article, she quotes republican senator Inhofe as saying he was not the only one «”more outraged by the outrage” over the photographs than by what the photographs show.» For Inhofe, the media were responsible for american lives, for they were responsible for spreading the photographs of the events. Sontag kills the argument in an heartbeat:

«There is an answer to this charge, of course. Americans are dying not because of the photographs but because of what the photographs reveal to be happening, happening with the complicity of a chain of command — so Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba implied, and Pfc. Lynndie England said, and (among others) Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Republican, suggested, after he saw the Pentagon’s full range of images on May 12. “Some of it has an elaborate nature to it that makes me very suspicious of whether or not others were directing or encouraging,” Senator Graham said. Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, said that viewing an uncropped version of one photo showing a stack of naked men in a hallway — a version that revealed how many other soldiers were at the scene, some not even paying attention — contradicted the Pentagon’s assertion that only rogue soldiers were involved. “Somewhere along the line,” Senator Nelson said of the torturers, “they were either told or winked at.” An attorney for Specialist Charles Graner Jr., who is in the picture, has had his client identify the men in the uncropped version; according to The Wall Street Journal, Graner said that four of the men were military intelligence and one a civilian contractor working with military intelligence.»

┐ Gazing through the hole I – Julie Schachter └

ablutionx20PowderPuff© Julie Schachter, Powder Obscura Camera & Absolution (20), 2009

OutoftheWOODS© Julie Schachter, Not out of the woods yet

whosWhoWcam© Julie Schachter, Who’s Who 1980 Book on Tripod

more of julie’s work here

┐ Sara Rahbar └

© Sara Rahbar, Untitled, from the series Love arrived & How red, photography, 2008

© Sara Rahbar, Trapped in Dark Night with Nowhere to Run, I Have Died a Million Times Every Night in this Bed (left) + Kurdistan Flag #5 (right), from the series Flags, mixed media + textiles, 2005-2010

© Sara Rahbar, Solitary (left) + Anonymously yours (right), from the series Confessions of a Sinner, mixed media, 2011/12

Rahbar seems to meditate on the flag like a monk would stare at an icon. “It represents my father and so many, many promises and hopes of tomorrow … It represents endless possibilities, escapes, and mirages … it’s a very loaded image for me,” Rahbar explained. “Years and years of memories, experiences and attachments, and what is the work but a direct reflection of my life? What I’m focusing on, and what is boiling, twisting and turning inside of me.”


“And I remember how I worked on one of my first flags. I was traveling from Tehran to Kurdistan with Hossein a very dear friend of mine. He was going to work as a soundman for a film and I was going to photograph Kurdistan and try to figure out my next project and what to do with the rest of my life.”

“We lived in Kurdistan together for months, I would write, take photographs and gather random found objects and textiles that were used for donkeys and horses and sew them onto my flag. I would sit somewhere, sew for a bit, roll up the flag, put it in my backpack, and continue to take photographs, everything was on the go and very natural and in the moment. I worked to work out the turbulence that existed within me; I was healing myself and at the same time communicating an immense pain as I always am with my work. The work is a byproduct of me; emotionally and mentally, it keeps me together. I take care of it and it takes care of me.” excerpt of article by Hrag Vartanian, in Hyperallergic. continue reading here.

More of Sara’s work here

┐ Kirsten Hoving └

© Kirsten Hoving, Birth of the star system, from the series Night Wanderers, 2010

© Kirsten Hoving, Music of the Spheres, from the series Night Wanderers, 2010

© Kirsten Hoving, Orion, the Hunter, from the series Night Wanderers, 2010

© Kirsten Hoving, Cassiopeia, from the series Night Wanderers, 2010

“Night Wanderers is a series of photographs envisioning the cosmos. I photograph objects and nineteenth-century photographs frozen in or placed under disks of ice to create the feeling of galactic swirls of stars, galaxies and spiral nebulae.

For this series, I have been influenced not by the work of other photographers, but by the collage and assemblage art of the American artist Joseph Cornell. In the course of writing an art historical book on the artist, Joseph Cornell and Astronomy: A Case for the Stars (Princeton University Press, 2009), I became aware of the artist’s deep and abiding interest in astronomy. I also came to understand his creative process, which involved juxtaposing objects in often unexpected ways. His working method encouraged me to take risks, to experiment, and to be willing to destroy one object to create another. He also taught me to appreciate the stars.

Using ice as a still life object is always a challenging process. I partially thaw the ice to create transparent and translucent areas, then work quickly to photograph it. While I choose objects and photographs that recall earlier times (an outdated globe, old cartes-de-visite) to help remind us that star light is old light, the ice that encases them underscores the elegance and fragility of our place in the universe.” Kirsten’s statement

More of Kirsten’s work here

This work made me think of Laura Marling‘s Night Terror, so here it is:

┐ Scott Alario └

© Scott Alario, all Untitled, from the project Our Fable

“I’m in the process of building a folk tale for my daughter. It is a paternal inevitability to make up stories for one’s children, and for me, doing so has recently become the passion in my creative practice.

There are two photographs I remember from my childhood that play directly into this work. The first is a studio portrait of my father’s mother, made immediately before leaving Italy to immigrate to the United States. We would call the photograph the “gypsy picture” while I was growing up, and in doing so the image has taken on a magic, epic role. In the picture, my grandmother stands stoic as an eight year old. Her timeless eyes represent so much to me. In her face is the face of the 100-year-old woman I know now and it’s the face of my daughter. It is one of wisdom and will, and it fills me with awe.

The second picture that I carry in my mind is a portrait of a Sami family, reindeer herders of northern Scandinavia. Magic fl ows out of this image, too. It comes from my mother’s mom, whose Norwegian bloodline is only fi ctitiously connected to the Sami. Although I imagine being related to these people, the image hangs in the house like an offering to our ancestry. I see the face of my late uncle in the proud, piped and weathered hero of the portrait. Having a child has got me thinking about the importance of cultural myth and ideas of ancestral wisdom. In my baby I can see our connection to the past, as well as the potential to leave bits of ourselves to posterity.

My recent work deals with my fear of failing as a father, and attempts to make something of the successful moments. I use photography to engage my daughter. Together we construct images, she leads at times, and at others I beg her to stay still. She has become, simultaneously, the impetus, a participant, and the audience. Ideas for pictures come through play; dressing in costumes we make, becoming characters, going back into nature, erecting forts, and telling stories. Inspired by those two relic-like portraits, and driven by a deep love, these images are a collaboration with my whole family through time.”

Scott’s statement. More of his great work here

┐ The Aesthetics of Vandalism – the consequences of having no consequences └

the twenty mugshots of Black Bloc protesters arrested Saturday in San Francisco.

The detained protesters are now facing charges of conspiracy, riot, refusing to obey a lawful order from a police officer and resisting, delaying and obstructing a police officer, and assault and battery on a police officer. The bail for each person is VERY high, from $36,000 to 51,000.

more details here

(…)Gentrification is all about private property and the primacy of property rights over human needs in a market society. Vandalism of the property of wealthy invaders is an organic automatic response to the threat of dispossession gentrification brings. But sometimes a brick through a window is only a brick in a window. In fact, in most cases a broken window is just a broken window, a mere expression of atomized powerless rage. Context is everything.(…)

(…)In a period of relative social peace, authentic revolutionary extremist action is all about communication. It is about communication to the virtual complete exclusion of all else. If an action or event fails to communicate, then it has failed completely — and it doesn’t matter how much fun it was for the people doing it. Subjectively radical individuals have to try to communicate an uncompromising subversive message, on as wide a scale as possible, of direct relevance to the mundane everyday life concerns of mainstream working people. And this is usually best done as capitalist society itself generates opportunities for it.(…)

an excerpt from Max Crosby‘s In San Francisco’s Mission District, the Black Bloc Breaks Some Windows and Fails to Make an Impact. Continue reading here

┐ Anne Collier └

© Anne Collier, Questions (Viewpoint), 2011

© Anne Collier, Questions (Evidence), 2011

© Anne Collier, Questions (Connection), 2011

“I only work in the studio and use a large-format plate camera. It’s a very laborious process that allows almost no room for improvisation. Everything has to be perfectly aligned and calibrated. I’m typically photographing things that are two-dimensional: book and magazine covers, record sleeves, film stills, etc. or objects that have very little physical depth such as the developing trays or audio cassette tapes. I’m interested in this flatness. My approach to making images is very influenced – and informed – by commercial and technical photography, where there is no ambiguity as to what is being depicted. Like commercial photography I’m interested in establishing an aesthetic clarity but at the same time, through the nature of the objects I shoot, I’m equally interested in creating a sense of emotional or psychological uncertainty. This tension – between what is depicted and the nature of its depiction – is central to my approach.

Photography, by its nature, encourages various forms of framing – whether it’s in the camera’s viewfinder, the format of the film used, or the dimensions of the subsequent print, you are constantly made aware of how a photograph edits things. The studio is increasingly present in my work as a kind of stage where objects are presented and documented. This is perhaps most evident in the images of stacks of records leaning against the studio’s grey floor and white walls. I’m interested in the apparent neutrality of these kinds of spaces, which include the monochromatic backdrops I also use in my work. Like the white cube gallery space, these visual devices serve to distance individual objects from their original circumstances or context, creating a space that is somehow both specific and ambiguous.”

excerpt from an interview by Alex Farquharson

More of Anne’s work here

┐ Lucas Blalock └

© Lucas Blalock, Portrait Study (Nina), 2009

© Lucas Blalock, W.M.t.M.M.B.M, 2010

“I feel that in my own practice I use various strategies to alienate the viewer from the picture but the pictures figure as stand-ins for the world at large.(…) I don’t feel my work is particularly concerned w/ content except in terms of the kind of flexibility you have mentioned. When I say my pictures are “stand ins” I mean that I am interested in the photograph’s power to direct and focus attention. I feel that any strategy/category, whether documentary, studio, appropriated, abstract, snapshot or whatever greatly defines the viewers interaction, and can act as a real impediment to a picture opening onto the world in a resonant way. My work over the last few years has involved borrowing elements from these traditions, as well as developing these more gestural methods, and yet trying to undermine these ready made systems of meaning.”

source: Humble

More of Lucas’ work here

┐ Anne Leighton Massoni └

© Anne Leighton Massoni, Summer’s calling wishful pennies, from the series Holding Nancy

© Anne Leighton Massoni, Woman wind woodard warehouse, from the series Holding Hila

© Anne Leighton Massoni, My prom sunday promenade, from the series Holding Leighton

“I’m interested in combining photographs i’ve made of empty spaces (spaces once inhabited or currently inhabited, but with no one present) with found photographs of times that no longer exist (images that are empty of personal memory) and then inking a thin line (in this case white) to draw a literal point of connection from one image to the next. the titles are constructed by using two identifying words for each image used in the diptychs. the spaces in my photographs are identified by their non-present owner or descriptively; the appropriated images are titled by that which seems most relevant to me about their denotative content – in a few this may include information from the back of the image. appropriated images are stripped of their tone and cropped but nothing else is disturbed in the image (scratches, imperfections, contrast etc), where as my “space” images are adjusted in the same way i would in the darkroom.”

More of Anne’s work here

┐ Devin Yalkin └

© Devin Yalkin, Untitled, from the series Hades (work in progress)

© Devin Yalkin, Untitled, from the series Hades (work in progress)

“In HADES Devin Yalkin is not so much photographing people, but rather the way they move in space, individually and collectively. He records the culmination in blurring faces, constantly changing gestures and melting bodies. The work suggests a series of illusions, the treacherousness of outward appearances. These are apparently images from a dream of an underworld, dark and gritty.”

source: Noorderlicht Metropolis Photofestival

More of Devin’s work here

┐ Kathleen Robbins └

© Kathleen Robbins, Untitled, from The Hostess Project

“In an effort to further inhabit my grandmother’s memories as a young wife, I began an autobiographical, photographic record of my experiences with her recipe journal. This ongoing project is as much a social experiment as a nostalgic experience. I dress in her clothing, prepare meals based on her hand-written recipes, serve invited guests, and perform the role of hostess. I prepare dishes based on her hand-written instruction: her recipes. Aspics, croquettes, meatloaf with pickle and egg garnish . . . And I photograph the results.

In all of my work, I am interested in trying to create larger units of meaning through editing. With The Hostess Project, the photographs and the handwritten recipes are interwoven into sequences and pairs, which illustrate a more complex experience, divided in time and space. Tiny’s recipe journal includes details about intimate family gatherings. I prepare the recipes, not to recreate their associated events. (To recreate any of these gatherings, a deceased family member’s birthday celebration for instance, seems oddly irreverent; see Figure 2.) Rather, the performance of the meal is about inhabiting certain aspects of my grandmother’s memory. The recipe book reveals something compelling about Tiny’s friendships, her marriage, my grandfather’s suicide, and her subsequent years spent alone on the farm. Lists of ingredients are scrawled on the backs of envelopes and scraps of yellowed paper. The book is stained with drips of grease and drops of cream. If my grandfather enjoyed a dish, this is noted in the margin. Recipes are revisited and journal entries revealed first, the details of dinner parties and holidays and, later, why it was too unbearably sad to prepare my grandfather’s favorite dishes. In this respect, the food becomes almost beside the point.”

excerpt from Kathleen’s article on The Hostess Project

More of Kathleen’s work here

┐ Christina Z. Anderson └

© Christina Z. Anderson, Great Catch, from the series Family of Origin, 2009

© Christina Z. Anderson, Summer Sun, from the series Family of Origin, 2009

“Growing up the youngest in a family of 7 girls and 1 boy was a unique opportunity to be an observer of the social landscape, particularly of the female variety. In 2000 after the death of both parents, I became the archivist for my family of origin’s photographs. This archive includes both black and white and color images from the 1800’s to the 1980’s, about 25,000 images in all. Most of the images are damaged, moldy, and dusty. Over the past 8 years this work has been edited and reedited and is now woven into the fabric of my present work to express a sort of continuum of universal family “reality.” All images are printed in the tricolor gum bichromate process. Images are printed “as is,” with damage not Photoshopped out. Quirk and humor exist alongside sadness and darkness, because, in this family as well as in most, there were darker dramas going on beneath the smiling Kodachrome faces.”

More of Christina’s work here

┐ Aline Smithson └

© Aline Smithson, Untitked, from the series Daughter

© Aline Smithson, Untitked, from the series Daughter

© Aline Smithson, Untitked, from the series Daughter

“Daughter: As a photographer, I explore a variety of subjects, styles and processes, but the one consistent element in my photographic journey has been my daughter, Charlotte.
As I continue to grow and explore as an artist, she continues to grow and explore as a person. Her willingness to participate in my work has been immeasurable. I look back at the past ten years, grateful to her for helping me realize my vision, but I am also grateful to have a photographic record of my very special daughter and the time we have spent together.”

More of Aline’s work here and her blog “Lenscratch” here

┐ S. Gayle Stevens └

© S. Gayle Stevens, Walking, from the series Calligraphy, 2011

© S. Gayle Stevens, Cornucopia, from the series Calligraphy, 2011

Calligraphy: beautiful writing or drawing
photography: light drawing
taxonomy: the science of the classification of living things
Calligraphy consists of a series of wet plate collodion tintype photograms of plant and animal specimens I have collected on my daily walks. Inspired by cabinets of curiosity, my collection contains diverse specimens such as leaf skeletons, snakeskins, wings and many toads, frogs and insects. I have always been inspired by the overlooked and these objects, which would normally be passed over, are found and cherished for the unique beauty of their sparse remains. Often all that is left is a “skeleton,” a drawing of a being that no longer exists.
I have rendered my drawings as wet plate collodion tintypes. my hand coated plates, collected specimens and light complete these drawings. Black marks of the photogram are similar to brush strokes in Chinese calligraphy, sparse yet expressive. The plates themselves are unvarnished and therefore changeable. The silver rich plates will tarnish with age; the speed and degree will depend on their environment.
These images are my memento mori; an acknowledgement of lives passed, a rendering of fleeting shadows.

more of Gayle’s work here

┐ John Divola └

© John Divola, The Little Man, 1987-89

© John Divola, Rock Falling Through Water, View From The Bottom Of the Pond Looking Up, 1989

“This body of work is based on some personal observations about photographs. I am fascinated by the concept of the photograph as an impression from, or remnant of, that which it describes. To stretch a metaphor – the photograph as an object has an relationship to that which it represents something like the relationship the snake skin has to the snake that sheds it. The relationship of something dead to something living. I would like to make images which are about opacity, muteness, and distance.
The subjects in this body of work are all signifiers of the natural, expression, and the sublime. The specific subjects are cyclones, rocks falling into or through water, animals, mountains, the woods, and phases of the moon. Further, all of these fabricated scenes involve the use of expressionistic gestures (e.g. brush strokes, splashing paint, staining, etc.). While this work may be rather self conscious, it is not my desire to illustrate a premise. Rather, these ideas are a basis for a subjective investigation and involvement. While these images are about distance and loss in relation to gestural and iconographic potential, they are equally about accident, gesture, process, and a melancholy faith. They are about both possibilities and limits.”

John Divola, 1989

More of John’s work here

║ Santiago Mostyn ║

© Santiago Mostyn, from the series Excerpt: All Most Heaven

© Santiago Mostyn, from the series Excerpt: All Most Heaven

Particularly difficult to do a post on this work. There is a lost of passion within and in between the photographs. Worth seeing it all here

║ Katie Koti ║

© Katie Koti, Tangle, from the series Asunder, 2008-current

© Katie Koti, Fall, from the series Asunder, 2008-current

“The images in my current project, “asunder”, reflect my continuing exploration of gender and its relationship to sexuality through the means of photography. The landscape works on various levels in my images. I use the landscape to seduce and engage the viewer with its beauty and textures. The landscape also acts as both an ambiguous form as well as a means to speak a shared and tangible language. The viewer can recognize the landscape as part of our world, it is ordinary and evokes a sense of comfort. The universal voice of the landscape creates a common thread for viewers to access ideas of gender and sexuality that may otherwise be foreign to them. I build symbolic connections, through metaphor, between the human body and the natural forms of the land. These connections allow the viewer to break away from a more literal, confined context, and in turn enables them to identify with the familiarity of the landscape. Aspects of the figures identity are revealed when they have partial or no clothing on. Our society has attempted to rigidly define gender and sexuality into a binary divide. There is often a sense of disconnect that one can experience as a result of not fitting into these boxes. I hope to challenge these dichotomous roles as well as expose the struggle an individual can go through inside of their skin. A struggle that is not only psychological, but also social and physical. I am particularly fascinated by the intersection of pain, clarity, and spirituality, that can come from this struggle. “

More of Katie’s work here

║ Claire Martin ║

© Claire Martin, Untitled, from the series Slab City

© Claire Martin, Untitled, from the series Slab City

“Slab City has been created by a small but committed community of squatters in the Colorado Desert of South Eastern California, USA. Taking its name from the concrete slabs that remain from an abandoned World War II base, it is a tragic yet romantic landscape that commands its residents to possess the same balance of beauty and beast. Unbearable temperature highs in summer weed out the many who inhabit the free space in winter leaving only the most resilient, or the most unfortunate, as permanent residents. These same people maintain the ad-hoc infrastructure that makes it such a desirable community to visit in the cooler months. Those who stay year after year could be described as poverty stricken; living in some of the worst conditions in America. Some residents would tell you this is the truth. Others fiercely defend their lifestyle as a deliberate choice of rejecting mainstream society. For these people Slab City provides a freedom they’d never experienced before. There are others who were forced here through circumstance; society won’t tolerate them due to their pasts as felons, addicts or vagrants, but who wholeheartedly embrace the opportunity to live in a community that won’t judge them. Slab City is a place for the broken and desperate and for the fierce defenders of freedom from tyranny. But more than anything else, it is what this small group of people call home.”

More of Claire’s work can be seen here