Laia Abril

On Rape: And Institutional Failure

Book review by Jilke Golbach

On Rape: And Institutional Failure, Laia Abril’s latest instalment in her ongoing History of Misogyny, uses text and image to offer a carefully orchestrated, rigorously executed journey of photographic investigation into the omnipresent threat of rape, and violence against women in broader terms, writes Jilke Golbach.


Disbelief. It leaks from the pages of Laia Abril’s book On Rape: And Institutional Failure, published by Dewi Lewis, lingering in the air like a horrid smell. Disbelief, not because the countless stories of rape recorded here are unfamiliar (hardly so) or the facts fail to be loud enough, but because they lay bare, page after page, the nauseating extent to which practices, materialities and cultures of rape pervade societies whilst rape victims continue to be discredited and disputed.

An involuntary question, close to denial, keeps popping into my head as I process the most archaic, most barbaric forms of sexual abuse and silencing made visible here: surely, not still? To which the answer is: yes, still. And all the time, everywhere.

The day I write this, accounts of rape emerge from war-torn Ukraine, the London metropolitan police and Iran where, horrifyingly, virgins “must” be raped – in the name of religion – before being executed for protesting in the streets. If Abril’s project makes one thing clear, it is that rape, and violence against women in broader terms, is an omnipresent threat, not confined to borders or circumstances, and one which is to a great extent internalised by 51% of the global population. A frightening UN statistic asserts that as many as ‘one in three women will suffer domestic or sexual violence in their lifetime’.

Covered in bloodred cloth and printed on ink-black paper, this latest chapter of Abril’s ongoing History of Misogyny is a carefully orchestrated, rigorously executed journey of photographic investigation. It was sparked by the Manada, or Wolfpack, story in Spain, Abril’s country of birth: a widely publicised case of the gang rape of an 18-year-old woman in 2016 that mirrors many of the issues Abril uncovers: extreme brutality against women, video-recordings of rape, toxic masculinity, victim-blaming, questions of evidence and consent and a lack of justice for survivors – but also glimmers of hope in the form of feminist protests, the reform of sexual assault laws and ultimately increased sentencing for perpetrators.

‘Why do we still have a society that rapes?’ asks Abril in a conversation with Joanna Bourke, author of Disgrace: Global Reflections on Sexual Violence (2022); a crucial, momentous question that drives the project. Through image and text, Abril seeks answers, all the while unravelling a web of myths and misconceptions, tracing the ancient and historic roots of present-day narratives about women, women’s bodies and what can be done to them. There is the persistent myth of the ‘broken hymen’, the ‘two-finger test’ to assert ‘vaginal tightness’, the fable that rape eroticises women and the excuse that ‘boys will be boys’.

Rape does not only happen to women and girls, but they do constitute the vast majority of victims. The crux of On Rape, following Abortion (2016) and preceding Mass Hysteria, resides in its powerful subtitle: institutional failure. Integrating materials ranging from biblical maps to WhatsApp groups, the work demonstrates that rape is systemic; symptomatic of patriarchal cultures in which male bodies can be weaponised and female bodies subordinated. Rape finds fertile ground in unequal societies and their long male-dominated institutions, where gender violence intersects with class, race and sexual orientation. ‘For centuries, men have made the rules’, notes Bourke, and our laws (as well as criminal and medical protocols) thus fail to protect women. Rape, domestic abuse, murder and forms of institutional misogyny are all leaves from the same book of gender violence.

Nowhere does this become more obvious than in Abril’s testimonies of survivors of rapes which took place in institutional settings (school, the army, a convent), presented alongside black-and-white photographs of the victims’ items of clothing. Modest on the page but displayed life-size in gallery contexts, as the recent Photoworks / V&A Parasol Foundation Women in Photography Project exhibition at London’s Copeland Gallery demonstrated, these forensic-feeling images leave the viewer in no doubt about the confrontation with a real human body.

Rape constitutes bodily harm, but its most grievous effects are the result of psychological trauma; trauma that might cause a lifetime of suffering or may be perpetuated over time, even becoming transgenerational by causing pregnancy or taking place within marriage. In the words of Lluïsa Garcia-Esteve, a doctor of psychiatry specialised in women’s mental health, the trauma of sexual violence constitutes ‘a crack, a rupture in the biography’.

This rupture, Abril shows, has long been pitted as a kind of robbery, as stolen virtue, lost purity; rooted in patriarchal conceptions of women as property. In many societies, rape victims are punished or even killed for bringing ‘disgrace’ to their communities. In certain places, marry-your-rapist laws continue to be legally practised. And yet, only a few years ago, two women in India had their hair shaved off for having the guts to resist a sexual assault by a group of men.

Guilt and shame are powerfully intertwined with sexual abuse and often coerce women into silence. Victim-blaming and victim-shaming are amongst the main reasons why most rapes do not get reported, let alone convicted. On Rape documents a dizzying array of excuses that seek to discredit or delegitimise those who speak out against rape, many of which are so ridiculously mad they’d be laughable if it was not for such a deadly serious subject: ‘If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down’… ‘If you wouldn’t have been there that night, none of this would have happened to you’. She had to be corrected for being a lesbian. She was wearing a lace thong. She had a few drinks. She had her eyes closed.

Silencing women is integral to rape culture. In The Mother of All Questions (2017), Rebecca Solnit writes how it maintains that ‘women’s testimony is worthless, untrustworthy… that the victim has no rights, no value, is not an equal’. And thus, ‘[h]aving a voice is crucial. It’s not all there is to human rights, but it’s central to them, and so you can consider the history of women’s rights and lack of rights as a history of silence and breaking silence.’

Abril follows in a lineage of women artists chipping away at the silence over sexual violence, alongside Zanele Muholi, Ana Mendieta, Tracey Emin, Kara Walker and Margaret Harrison. This work – to make public, to make visible, to make literal, to make undeniable – is an act of resistance, a refusal to cower in the face of oppression and control. On Rape’s remarkable power (and empowerment) resides in accumulation: by laying down the facts, counting the numbers, assembling the pieces, Abril has built a fortress of voices, and it leaves no space for disbelief.

All images courtesy the artist and Dewi Lewis © Laia Abril


Jilke Golbach is Curator of Photographs at the Museum of London.

Images:

1-‘Ala Kachuu’ from Laia Abril, On Rape: And Institutional Failure (Dewi Lewis, 2022). Courtesy the artist and Dewi Lewis.

2-‘Military Rape’ from Laia Abril, On Rape: And Institutional Failure (Dewi Lewis, 2022). Courtesy the artist and Dewi Lewis.

3-‘Mulier Taceat in Ecclesia’ from Laia Abril, On Rape: And Institutional Failure (Dewi Lewis, 2022). Courtesy the artist and Dewi Lewis.

4-‘Merkin’ from Laia Abril, On Rape: And Institutional Failure (Dewi Lewis, 2022). Courtesy the artist and Dewi Lewis.

5-‘Shrinky Recipe’ from Laia Abril, On Rape: And Institutional Failure (Dewi Lewis, 2022). Courtesy the artist and Dewi Lewis.

6-‘School Rape’ from Laia Abril, On Rape: And Institutional Failure (Dewi Lewis, 2022). Courtesy the artist and Dewi Lewis.

7-‘Penis Truth’ from Laia Abril, On Rape: And Institutional Failure (Dewi Lewis, 2022). Courtesy the artist and Dewi Lewis.

8-‘Rapist Brain’ from Laia Abril, On Rape: And Institutional Failure (Dewi Lewis, 2022). Courtesy the artist and Dewi Lewis.

Vivian Maier

Anthology

Exhibition review by Mark Durden

Vivian Maier, the reclusive photographer who made her living as a nanny, has become a fantasy figure for curators and photographers to imagine and shape as they want, argues Mark Durden in response to Anthology, the recent MK Gallery exhibition in Milton Keynes.


The story of Vivian Maier’s discovery and posthumous fame is fantastic. So much so that the trickster artist Joan Fontcuberta, in one of his recent public talks, mischievously said he had created her and asked an historian in Chicago to create the context for her work. He was joking of course.

The work of this reclusive photographer, who made her living as a nanny, came to light when the contents of a storage space she defaulted on was auctioned off in 2007, a couple of years before her death. She has subsequently become, as Fontcuberta suggests, a Mary Poppins figure whose Aladdin’s cave of photographic treasures feeds our desires and fantasies, which in the case of the exhibition Anthology, at the MK Gallery, Milton Keynes, seem to be centred upon the lost art of street photography.

The Chicago historian John Maloof was one of the buyers of Maier’s possessions and subsequently has been integral to the promotion and celebration of her photographic work – he now owns 90% of her output, over 140,000 images as well as 8mm film and audio recordings. It is from this collection this show is drawn – with over 140 photographs it makes quite a substantial exhibition, but at the same time represents a mere thousandth of the mass of photographs she left behind. With much of the exhibition given over to her black and white square format street pictures of New York and Chicago in the 1950s, she is being hyped as a new addition to an old school. Her black and white pictures are both new, in the sense they have not been seen before, and old in that they mark a past moment that we cannot really have again.

The show runs through the familiar array of street photography type subject matter – both observed and unobserved depictions of the carnival of different folk encountered in urban spaces. The picture of two elderly men crouched in contemplation over a coil of piping on a rainy sidewalk introduces the street photographer’s love of the surreal comedies of seemingly inexplicable witnessed events. The photograph of the still smoking remains of a burnt-out armchair on the sidewalk is of similar ilk, a beautiful mysterious incident. There is also the isolation of significant gestures and details, the tender touch of a couple holding hands, secretly observed from behind. The Rolleiflex camera held at waist height and into which she would look down into its viewfinder, was ideal for such surreptitious glimpses.

Maier can be astute in her picturing of the tensions and contradictions of conflict, as in the photograph entitled Armenian Woman Fighting (1956), which shows a stout older woman standing firm and defiant before a young police officer on the street in New York. The picture concentrates us on an intimacy despite their confrontation through the way his hands can be seen tightly gripping one of hers, as he tries to calm her. And there is a great image of disdain before wealth with a photograph of a woman, adorned and wrapped with two dead mink, the creature’s faces and claws all too visible and making a jarring contrast to her carefully refined self-image.  

Maier was not naïve. She was an avid film goer, both mainstream and avant-garde. A footnote in the recent Thames & Hudson monograph on Vivian Maier refers to how a house manager at a Chicago movie theatre said she even took an interest in Andy Warhol’s films. There is a certain Warholian aspect to her witty play with selfhood in her self-portraits, which are not revelatory but deadpan, blank and affectless. Perhaps one can also see her fascination for news stories and newspapers in relation to Warhol. Amongst the black-and-white street photographs, there is a remarkable and unusual close-up picture of the sides of two stacked newspapers – stuttering repetitions of photo images showing serious looking men in one stack, recurring Snoopy cartoon captions for laughter in the other: HA HA HA HA HA!. As one of her employers has recounted in Maloof’s documentary film about the photographer, Finding Vivian Maier (2013), she became an obsessive hoarder of copies of The New York Times, which she read daily and also photographed.

The opening wall text at the MK Gallery declares that this ‘self-taught artist’ now belongs to the canon of photographers alongside Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, Helen Levitt and Garry Winogrand. This is all very well and good, but what really separates her work from those she is compared with, what makes it distinct? The self-portraits begin to signal a break from this street tradition as does her attention and fascination with newspapers, but the show does not make enough of her newspaper photographs and neither does it really emphasise enough the oddity of her self-portraits. The MK Gallery does however register the shift in her work as she started to use the Leica camera and colour film in the 1970s. Here one can find something different and less familiar. Her pictures and picturing are more layered and complex. In a photograph taken in an art museum, she plays upon the subtle interconnections between a smartly dressed woman and two girls and the painted portraits behind them. One child stands apart, rapt in attention, presumably captivated with the strange figure that Maier must have made as she took the picture. In an unusual self-portrait, her shadow and that of another figure is played off against and amongst different images on movie posters, with her shadow overlaying the image of an angel from the film Heaven Can Wait (1978), which is next to the image of an endangered female water skier on a Jaws 2 (1978) poster. And in a display of mirrors etched with the faces of stars, her hatted reflection appears over the face of Marilyn Monroe.

In a few colour photographs, the cropping and cutting of images provides her with a distinctive pictorial strategy. In the close-up of a newspaper, the rack’s Chicago Tribune sign cuts up the face of Nixon as we ponder the absurdity of his headline quote ‘Bombs saved lives’. In her picture of a suited African-American standing before her, she deliberately crops out his head, which draws attention to the way he is holding out a printed copy of The Last Messenger (1979), bearing a portrait of the face of the religious leader Elijah Mohammad.

With the last colour photograph included in the show, dated 1986, Maier has taken her ultimate self-portrait by photographing just her red hat and blue coat spread out on wooden decking. It seems a very knowing image. It beautifully suits what she has now become: a hollow figure to be taken up and reinvented again and again. Fontcuberta’s claim to have created her is then probably not that far from the truth. She is a fiction in that she has become a fantasy figure for curators and photographers to imagine and shape as they want. The problem with the MK Gallery show is a question of how Maier’s work has been filtered. By delimiting her work to more familiar and populist street photography modes, we are in danger of losing all that is weird, rich and complex among the extraordinary mass of images she has left us.  

All images courtesy Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York © Vivian Maier.

Vivian Maier: Anthology ran at MK Gallery, Milton Keynes from 11 June – 25 September 2022.

Mark Durden is a writer, artist and academic. Together with David Campbell and Ian Brown, he works as part of the art group Common Culture. Since 2017, Durden has worked collaboratively with João Leal in photographing modernist European architecture, beginning with Álvaro Siza. He is currently Professor of Photography and Director of the European Centre for Documentary Research at the University of South Wales, Cardiff.

Images:

1-Vivian Maier, Self-portrait, New York, 1953 © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy of Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

2-Vivian Maier, 18 September, 1962 © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy of Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

3- Vivian Maier, New York, 3 September, 1954 © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy of Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

4-Vivian Maier, New York, 1954 © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy of Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

5- Vivian Maier, New York, 1953 © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy of Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

6- Vivian Maier, New York, 27 July, 1954 © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy of Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

7-Vivian Maier, New York, 1954 © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy of Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

8- Vivian Maier, New York, 2 December, 1954 © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy of Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

Paris Photo 2022

Top six fair highlights

Selected by Alex Merola

Within the Grand Palais Éphémère, Paris Photo 2022 is now underway. This year’s offerings are more diverse and demanding than ever, making it a great litmus test for what is going on in the medium today. Here are six standout displays from the fair’s 25th edition – selected by 1000 Words Assistant Editor, Alex Merola. 


1. Boris Mikhailov, The Theatre of War, Second Act, Time Out
Galerie Suzanne Tarasieve

Paris’ multiple tributes to Boris Mikhailov, in the form of his retrospective at MEP and the haunting presentation of At Dusk at the Bourse de Commerce’s Salon, continue to take on new meanings following Vladimir Putin’s razing over the Ukrainian photographer’s hometown of Kharhiv. Galerie Suzanne Tarasieve’s decision to show The Theatre of War, Second Act, Time Out (2013), a rarely exhibited record of Ukraine’s slide into war, is a strong one. Produced during the wave of pro-European demonstrations in Kyiv’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti, these on-the-ground shots depict life behind the barricades – what the artist refers to as a “stage set”. Indeed, the Stalinist square, after which the movement was named, had been rebuilt in the 1930s as a set piece to glorify – or appeal to the memory of – revolution. But what we find here are the architects of a real revolt, ushering in the transformation of a state both deeply ambitious and tragically incomplete. In this regard, the inclusion of prints from Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino (2000–10), chronicling the colourful, plastic realty of Kharhiv in the era of new capitalism, both reflects and disturbs this story. No photographer has captured the complexity of Ukraine’s post-Soviet psyche as eloquently as Mikhailov, whose aesthetic sublimations have kept him on the inside of history, looking out.

2. Jean-Kenta Gauthier, Real Pictures: An Invitation to Imagine

Offering a sensitive dimension to erasure, memory, imagination et cetera – the themes that underpin Jean-Kenta Gauthier’s booth, which feels more like a mini-exhibition – is the installation of Real Pictures (1995) by Alfredo Jaar, who lays to rest the post-traumatic content of his Rwandan photographic encounters by entombing them in black boxes. The site contains a certain sorrow that can only be understood once you read the texts on the boxes, factually describing the photographs. The Real refers to a failure, or impossibility, of representation which sustains Jaar’s engagement with the subject matter of genocide. Whilst Daido Moriyama takes us back to the “beginning” of photography through a shot of his Tokyo bedroom in which Nicéphore Niépce’s “fossilised” View from the Window at Le Gras (1827) hangs (the clock reads 11:03, one minute after the Nagasaki bomb, as memorialised by the melted pocket watch of his mentor, Shōmei Tōmatsu), Hanako Murakami takes us back even further still via Louis Daguerre, whose words, now ignited in neon, “I am burning with desire to see your experiments from nature”, penned in a letter to Niépce. The statement becomes troubled alongside Murakami’s take-free paper stack which cleverly condenses Niépce’s 1829 treatise on the invention of heliography to its front and back covers, respectively illustrating both sides of a single sheet. Murakami’s ongoing, richly researched and poetic archaeologies of the past remind us that the history of photography is full of absences. By questioning the origins of the medium, she questions the memory of the world. 

3. Noémie Goudal
Galerie Les filles du Calvaire

The fragile instability of the world humans desire to see is intelligently interpreted by Noémie Goudal, whose dynamic presentation at the group show of Galerie Les filles du Calvaire really stands out. The complexity of Goudal’s interventions reside in the way it implicates the audience – both visually and spatially – in her fabrications of nature. For example, it is only upon a close inspection that her large snow-capped mountain peak images reveal themselves as paint-coated concrete slabs mounted on cardboard; their initial illusory vastness thus become vertiginous. Yet, if Goudal attempts a trompe-l’œil, it is intentionally flawed, for she does not set out to conceal the models’ constructedness, but instead puts it centre-stage. Her manipulations are even more ambiguous in Décantation (2021), which, on the contrary, are most impactful when viewed from afar. Achieved through a process of printing on water-soluble paper and rephotographing, small, subtle iterations narrate an imaginary washing-out – or “dissolving” – across time. Over the suite of photographs, the rock formations melt, like glaciers. It’s here that Goudal, chillingly, shows us the complicity between the desire to see and the desire to destroy. 

4. Patricia Conde Galería

One of the toughest and most transcendental viewings at this year’s fair comes from Cannon Bernáldez’s El estado normal de las cosas (2022), which is on show at Mexico City’s Patricia Conde Galería. Translating to The normal state of things, the piece sees Bernáldez communicate her experience of being assaulted through the language of fragmentation: an arrangement of 105 silver gelatin prints each depict her wounded hand. By way of burning as well as solarising – extreme, continuous and multiple overexposures of the photographic film – Bernáldez touches on the violence of inhabiting a physical, female body. Just as symbolically loaded is the work of Yael Martínez, represented here by a grid of nine new photographs that tell a dark and fractured tale of contemporary life in Mexico. For all his sublime, fantastical lyricism, Martínez channels an attuned physicality, spirit of resistance and sense of rootedness. Meanwhile, there is a special opportunity to view a portfolio of delectably printed Mary Ellen Mark photographs documenting vibrant happenings at Mexican circuses. Their joyousness and eccentricities make it clear why Mark considered the circus “a metaphor for everything that has always fascinated me visually.” 

5. Jean-Vincent Simonet, Heirloom
Sentiment

Since its inauguration in 2018, the Curiosa sector has been charged with injecting cutting-edge elements into the fair. And this year is no different as Holly Roussell’s energetic curation certainly continues in this vein. Jean-Vincent Simonet’s meta-experiments that form Sentiment’s booth are interesting because they fuse analogue photography and digital techniques in a way that feels more terminal than future. Comprising a classic hang of 12 unique pieces – images of, and made at, the printing factory that has belonged to the artist’s family across three generations – Heirloom (2022) turns its attention to the instruments of production: ink tanks, paper trash and cleaning tools. Whilst they lack the exuberant, excessive fetishism of his fashion work and nudes, they retain all the entropic impulsivity and vivid luminosity that makes Simonet’s work so seductive. Using and abusing industrial printers – through what appears to be a frenzied combination of false settings, plastic foils, drying, washing, rinsing and fingertip smudging – Simonet has manufactured and modified images that bear an uncanny resemblance to painting. Although the ink sometimes seeps into the white bleed, their “aliveness” is actually deceptive, for the lead frames bestow a sense that what we are really looking at are reliquaries: elegiac witnesses of an approaching demise.

6. Kensuke Koike, Versus
Goliga Editions

Kensuke Koike entrances once again with a series of mind-bending photo-sculptures at Goliga Editions, whose presentation is one of the most mesmerising and unique of the book sector. The brass and ebony-wooden frames of Versus (2022) create a kind of playground for the collagist extraordinaire, housing 16 loose acrylic bars that display four original vintage prints on each of its sides. Sliced and spliced with razor-sharp precision (it had to be so, because he had only one shot), Koike’s hand-made assemblages, despite their obvious Surrealist twist, in the end defy any “ism”. For one can switch, rotate and recombine the puzzles to activate wonderful metamorphoses – from human to floral and back again – thereby giving these once abandoned relics the chance to live a large, albeit mathematically finite, number of other lives. As for the rolling, cloud-shaped slider that glides across the base to animate the image, it might border on the gimmicky, but there’s no denying its amusement and charm. Nothing and everything is left to chance for Koike, who offers us a most pure form of visual pleasure: play.

Paris Photo runs at the Grand Palais Éphémère until 13 November 2022.

Alex Merola is Assistant Editor at 1000 Words.

Images:

1-Boris Mikhailov, The Theatre of War, Second Act, Time Out (2013). Courtesy the artist and Galerie Suzanne Tarasieve.

2-Boris Mikhailov, Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino (2000–10). Courtesy the artist and Galerie Suzanne Tarasieve.

3-Daido Moriyama, The Artist’s Bedroom (2008). Courtesy the artist and Jean-Kenta Gauthier.

4-Hanako Murakami, The Immaculate #D5 (2019). Courtesy the artist and Jean-Kenta Gauthier.

5-Noémie Goudal, Mountain III (2021). Courtesy the artist and Galerie Les filles du Calvaire. 

6-Cannon Bernáldez, El estado normal de las cosas (2022). Courtesy the artist and Patricia Conde Galería.

7-Jean-Vincent Simonet, Door (2022). Courtesy the artist and Sentiment.

8-Jean-Vincent Simonet, Untitled #5 (2022). Courtesy the artist and Sentiment.

9-Kensuke Koike, Versus #12 (2022). Courtesy the artist and Goliga Editions.

10-Kensuke Koike, Versus #17 (2022). Courtesy the artist and Goliga Editions.

Prarthna Singh

Har Shaam Shaheen Bagh

Book review by Emilia Terracciano

Far from clichéd photographs of violent protest, Prarthna Singh’s book records dissenting lives amidst the peaceful, female-led protest at Shaheen Bagh, Delhi to form a homage to what keeps the fabric of India bound together, writes Emilia Terracciano.


It’s chilly. She’s wrapped herself from waist to head in a woollen shawl. Swirling pink carnations, little indigo buds, bright saffron crocuses and crimson Kashmiri roses blossom all-over her: a winter garden of delights. She is waiting for her turn to be photographed. Today, the tarpaulin is azure, slightly crinkled in the middle. She stands before it and the photographer does her job. Soon after, she’ll walk away with a moist Polaroid developing her own reduced likeness.

A collection of poems, maps, letters, children’s drawings, photographs of women and children, Prarthna Singh’s Har Shaam Shaheen Bagh was created during the 100 days of a peaceful sit-in protest held at Shaheen Bagh – a working-class neighbourhood located on a trafficked commuter highway connecting Delhi to Noida from December 2019 until March 2020. Women and children, most of them Muslim, congregated at Shaheen Bagh to demonstrate against India’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act and National Register of Citizens – two bills introduced by prime minister Narendra Modi, backed by his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which passed into law in December 2019.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act makes foreign undocumented migrants and religious refugees from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan eligible for Indian citizenship if they are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis or Christians, but not if they are Muslim. Defining citizenship through religion, the Act is widely reputed to be unconstitutional in a country that is (at least in principle) secular and devoted to protecting the right of civilians to practice religious freedom. The Act further marginalises India’s Muslim minority, the third largest in the world. Primarily led by women, the demonstration at Shaheen Bagh rippled across the country in the form of multiple local versions. It was only the spread of Covid-19 that brought Shaheen Bagh to a halt. After lockdown was declared in India, the military moved into the site and destroyed all the structures that grew around it like the rings of a tree: kitchens, chai-stalls, libraries and day-care spaces for children.

The female subject has long been the focus of Singh’s photographic career. Her Champion (2015–ongoing) offers a series of delicate and introspective black-and-white portraits of young female athletes training at government-run sport camps in the northern states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. These pubescent figures, at once vulnerable and strong, defy normative feminine roles: the devoted wife and mother, the familial custodian, preserver of tradition and domestic keeper. “This is not the archetypical female form Indian families recognise,” explains Singh. “For me personally, this figure becomes affirmative in a very patriarchal set up. One of the reasons I get excited about women and their stories is because in the Indian media, ‘woman’ is always the passive object or victim… I want to be surrounded by radical female strength. It is both helpful and hopeful, and this is what keeps me going as a photographer.”

Upon hearing about Shaheen Bagh, Singh travelled to Delhi and took up residency at her grandmother’s home, about a 15-minute walk from the site. It was the second coldest winter since 1901. Joining as a protestor first, Singh sat in, ate, drank chai, sang and chatted to the women who had gathered at Shaheen Bagh. It was later that she became a loving witness, picked up her camera and toyed with the idea of documenting the epic sit-in. Singh organised impromptu set-ups, stretched tarpaulins for backdrops and began to record protestors’ likenesses with her camera. For every portrait taken, she created an identical Polaroid to give back to the sitter. Renamed “magic paper” (jadoo ka kaagaz) by the young girls at the site, the format acquired immediate popularity owing to the advantage of being easily and immediately available. Many more women and children turned up to queue before Singh’s camera.

The photographs included in the book are collaborative and playful; Singh refuses to frame the peaceful crowd as a dangerous collective. Contrasting the demonisation of the mob by Indian mass media, and the erasure of crowds from contemporary art photography, she focused her lens on one demonstrator at a time and delighted in photographing each sitter through a series of frontal, formal and carefully-posed portraits. Each protestor faces the viewer as a proud citizen-subject. We do not find the clichéd photographs of violent protest but a documentation of dissenting lives. There are students, children and mothers – housewives clutching handbags, purses and phones, all wearing several layers of clothes.

Perhaps the salient feature of Shaheen Bagh resides in Singh’s desire to relay something of the protestors’ arguments, intentions, radical disagreements and faith for the future. The portraits and written letters from participants are both important to underscoring this effect. Singh inserts clues and markers of this feminine multitude, and the shape-shifting spaces in which it moved, dwelled, sang, breast-fed, read, cooked and rested in between the individual portraits. Tactile and textile references are threaded into the book as photographs; women lined Shaheen Bagh with fabrics brought from home, but also engaged in acts of exchange: swapping garments, burqas and shawls. The book itself is bound in an off-white, unobtrusive fabric that does not call attention to itself as an object. Singh reminds us of the political and persistent nature of textiles in the history of India, and offers a homage to what keeps the fabric of this country bound together. Shaheen Bagh, set up by women for women, was also an impermanent shelter from the doom of domesticity. The forces of order would rather these women remain invisible and undocumented, be obscured, silenced or tormented. Singh’s book is a memorial to all those who came together to protest, generating in the process a novel vision of solidarity.

All images courtesy the artist © Prarthna Singh



Emilia Terracciano is a writer, translator and lecturer in Modern Art History at the University of Manchester.

Luigi Ghirri

Puglia. Tra Albe e Tramonti

Book review by Luce Lebart

Luce Lebart extols the virtues of the latest monograph dedicated to Italian photographer Luigi Ghirri, Puglia. Tra albe e tramonti, published by MACK, a dazzling testament to the singular vision of the maestro of colour and light as well as his relationship with Puglia — the distinctive region at the heel of Italy.


Puglia, between sunrises and sunsets… The title of Puglia. Tra albe e tramonti, published by MACK at the beginning of 2022, announces its colours. From dawn to dusk, the hues here are slightly faded, as if they were swept by the wind and salted by the sea. The palette is sensitive and, above all, recognisable. It is that of the Italian photographer, maestro of colour, Luigi Ghirri.

Thick but supple in the hand, this beautiful book brings together more than 200 of the photographs that Ghirri, a native of northern Italy, took in the south of the country during his stays there from the beginning of the 1980s until his death in 1992, at the age of 49. There is no doubt that the photographer was marked by the light so different from that of his province of Reggio Emilia in Emilia-Romagna where he took most of his photographs. This light certainly contributed much to shaping his geometric apprehension of the landscape, as explained by those close to him.

Throughout the pages, the photographs follow one another with regularity, a parade reminiscent of cinematographic travelling: of wandering and strolling with family, friends or simply alone. At times, white pages offer occasions for breathing, punctuating the photographer’s views. The sudden whiteness of the paper echoes the dazzling whiteness of Puglia’s light. Each photograph is surrounded by white margins and seems to emerge into the light. The photographs are silent, as their captions are only run at the end of the book. The book, however, is far from silent. Three beautiful texts follow the picture album and recount it warmly, all written by relatives who are attuned to his work and sensibility.

Snapshots of strong moments give way to more banal ones. The little stories rub shoulders with the big stories. Ghirri’s method, as he himself wrote, is ‘very close to literature, but also to cinema…’ He said: ‘Cinema has moments of greater overall intensity with more narrative moments or with pauses which are nevertheless necessary for the comprehension of the film.’

The photographs published during Ghirri’s lifetime have been included alongside new unpublished photographs taken from his archives and chosen by his family. This book was produced by several hands and brings together different temporalities. It is the tangible reactivation of a project of the same name which, formerly, remained in the state of a maquette.

The first version of Puglia had indeed been designed by those who worked on the concept with his wife Paola Borgonzoni Ghirri, accompanying an exhibition devoted to Puglia which had opened its doors in 1982 in Bari on the initiative of Gianni Leone. Passionate about photography and an adorer of Ghirri’s singular gaze, Leone – then head of Spazio Immagine in Bari, dreamed of exhibiting the works of the native of Scandiano. It was in this context that Leone invited Ghirri to discover his region. Ghirri had started photographing 10 years earlier, in the early 1970s, and became known in particular for his major exhibition organised in 1979 at the Galeria Nazionale in Palazzo Pilotta in Parma, as well as for the monographic book that accompanied it, published by Quintavalle, with an introduction by Arturo Carolo. 40 years after the Bari exhibition, it is again Leone who suggests that the Ghirri family take over this unpublished dummy to tell its story.

“Nothing old under the sun,” Ghirri liked to say. This expression sticks to his vision, a vision that has accompanied the contemporary work made from his archive. For his daughter Adèle Ghirri, who is in charge of the huge collection now kept at the Luigi Ghirri Foundation, the archive is a “living space” that is in no way immutable or fixed. On the contrary, it is “a reservoir from which to extract and reveal new images”. It is with this approach that this beautiful book was designed at the crossroads of different views: that of the photographer, the gallery owner and the photographer’s friends and family. The past works on the present, bringing to life, in a different way, memory and recollections. This approach is actually familiar to the rights-holders of the photographer: also published by MACK was Colazione sull’Erba (2019) made with previous unseen archival images from Ghirri.

The form of Puglia speaks to its content and materialises its concept. The volume is surrounded by a recycled paper jacket, the centre of which displays the image of a deserted square in Bitonto. This image was not part of the original selection of the 1982 model, itself reproduced at the end of the book. On the front cover, we find this same place of Bitonto but with a tiny time lag: a boy with a bicycle has burst into the image here. The human figure was absent from the 1982 version. The Puglia of 2022 incorporates it: we meet the gaze of young communicants on their way to the church; men chatting in the piazza; children passing by; fleeting shadows, like memories brought back to life. These guests are added to the facades of whitewashed houses, to the images of green and white cabbages placed on a makeshift table, to the deserted alleyways, to the closed doors transformed into flat areas of colour with blinding luminosity… And then, an omnipresent coastline. As Arturo Carlo Quintavalle explains in his text: the journey in Puglia is a ‘story not about Puglia but of Puglia.’

For the photographer’s daughter, the form of the book is a privileged way to share the breadth and depth of Ghirri’s work. The collaboration with MACK has now lasted more than 10 years and has been rather productive, from Kodachrome (2012) to The Map and the Territory (2019), and The Complete Essays 1973-1991 (2016) to Colazione sull’Erba. This collaboration has also helped to disseminate the work of the photographer adored by Italians. “Nothing new under the sun.” The links between the man and his work created during his lifetime are still there. Life goes on, and, over time, the immense work of Ghirri extends and branches out. ♦

All images courtesy the artist and MACK © Luigi Ghirri

Luce Lebart is a historian of photography, curator and researcher for the Archive of Modern Conflict.

Images:

1>7-Luigi Ghirri, “Bitonto, 1990”, from Puglia. Tra albe e tramonti (MACK, 2022). Courtesy the estate of the artist and MACK.

8-Luigi Ghirri, “Polignano a Mare, 1986”, from Puglia. Tra albe e tramonti (MACK, 2022). Courtesy the estate of the artist and MACK.

9-Luigi Ghirri, “Grotta Zinzulusa, n.d.”, from Puglia. Tra albe e tramonti (MACK, 2022). Courtesy the estate of the artist and MACK.

10-Luigi Ghirri, “53 Bitonto, 1990”, from Puglia. Tra albe e tramonti (MACK, 2022). Courtesy the estate of the artist and MACK.

Max Ferguson

Whistling for Owls

Book review by Anneka French

Max Ferguson’s debut publication, a contemplative study on paper, nature and the passage of time, transcends the physical limitations of its form to connect readers to their senses and memories, writes Anneka French.


Glassine, a smooth, distinctively rustling, semi-translucent paper, is a material I remember from childhood. My father, a teacher with a weekend philatelic side-hustle, displayed stamps in albums on pages separated by glassine leaves, stamps tweezed into tiny glassine envelopes when he made a sale. I remember scrambling on my knees under tables collecting sequins shed from the hall’s ballroom competitions the night before. Multiple memories surface as I open Whistling for Owls, the debut photobook by Max Ferguson and the first from his Oval Press imprint. Memory and the passing of time are two of the subjects at the heart of the publication, which contains within it a hand-folded triangle of glassine bound into its spine. The triangle is sandwiched between a photograph of three dead butterflies with their own glassine slips on the left-hand page and two transparent glass vases of dried flowers on the right, fitting because glassine is also used in entomological field specimen storage. Here, then, you might insert your own moth or marvel.

Whistling for Owls is filled with small, daily records, although to describe them as simply quotidian would be reductive. Photographs of objects ranging from the domestic to the industrial feature in a mixture of colour and black-and-white. They are undeniably romantic and many objects are gently decaying or have stalled. We find photographs of daisies, foxgloves and tangled weeds; concrete slabs and chunks of stone; a cutlery drawer; rusty oil drums; a broken intercom and an assortment of portraits. There are pairs of objects – two towers of stacked tyres repeated twice in subtle variation; two tomatoes balanced on a checked cloth; two teacups cradled in newspaper as if they have just been unpacked – all rendered symbolic, even if their precise meaning is unclear. Pairings are noteworthy since Ferguson himself places emphasis on the book being formed from two parts. He describes it as “image and text; France and London; memoir and fiction; truth and lies,” telling us everything and nothing. Indeed, much of the book’s impact is derived from its ambiguity, as well as its striking beauty.

Some of the strongest and most curious photographs are the portraits and other depictions of the human body that pepper the book, elevating the quieter still-life studies and cutting through some of the romanticism. These include an older man with grey hair caught out of focus in a hunched, turning movement; a sculptural-looking hand holding a cigarette; the lit underside of two inviting thighs; feet in plastic sliders. Again, we find photographs that echo one another in the close-up of a woman turned towards the right with eyes closed to the sun, followed a few pages later by another turned towards the left reclining on a sun lounger with her eyes closed too. Nearing the end of the book are more doubled images of bodies in repose, this time a woman in striped shirt with soft curls and bare legs preceded by a lumpy body in baggy clothing and boots with a dismembered hand – probably a scarecrow – though clever cropping initially disguises this. There is bliss, intimacy, violence.

A loose, non-linear narrative unfolds through eighty-four pages, revealing photographs in ones, twos and threes which are at times accompanied by fragments of text. Ferguson controls the viewing experience by giving images space to breathe, slowing the reading of the work and enabling connections to be traced through its entirety. Photographs are printed full bleed or on differing parts of the page and the effect is as though the images within Whistling for Owls flicker in and out as beats with a sinuous rhythm. In one photograph, worn render on a wall exposes stones like teeth in a grimace; in others we find a verdant green cricket and a discarded apple core. We are presented with the flavour of fresh, plump tomatoes, placed pleasingly amid pages of hot, dry grass, stone, plastic and skin. The photographs operate on frequencies that overlap with tangible experiences of small pleasures while attention is drawn to the heavy weight of emotion in Ferguson’s pages.

The text within Whistling for Owls is largely similar to the content of the photographs: paper, the weather, the passage of time. There are texts that introduce characters into the mix by way of the printer, the birdwatcher and the poet, giving rise to speculation about which portrait we might attach each of these labels too. The text is, in many instances, abstract and seemingly personal, with one page showing a sequence of apparently randomly spaced numbers, though pages are also given over to occasional descriptive lists. Narrative fragments are brief and yet full of possibility, as is the book’s title. The text is overtly poetic, dealing with feelings of desire and yearning. ‘The proximity of what you love makes you so lonely,’ reads the last line of a short passage set on the deck of a ferry. The feeling of loneliness connects with an earlier section describing coping with long months through therapeutic, repeated morning rituals. While most likely symptomatic of enforced periods of lockdown during the past two years, this sentiment remains implicit.

Whistling for Owls is bound in bright orange cloth with dark green endpapers and a lime green ribbon. These choices serve to highlight Ferguson’s precise and minimal use of colour within the photographs, particularly in leaves, grasses, berries and warm, glowing light. A reader can follow their own path here, from the front to the back of the book or leaf through pages more casually, and all these journeys into the book are fruitful. Images and lines of text touch one another physically and metaphorically, lying stacked on top of each other when the book’s pages are closed or pulling apart as the book is opened. The photographs of Whistling for Owls are lifted by the insertion of the audible and textural, glassine fragment folded into three-dimensions, but the photographs are evocative and emotive in and of themselves. In the end, what is significant is the way that Ferguson offers images that frequently move beyond their own physical limitations as flat images by extending out to our senses and our memories. ♦

All images courtesy the artist and Oval Press © Max Ferguson

Anneka French is a writer, artist and independent curator currently working with Coventry Biennial. She regularly contributes to Art Quarterly and Photomonitor, and has had writing and editorial commissions for Turner Prize 2021; Fire Station Artists’ Studios; TACO!; Photoworks+ and Grain Projects. She previously worked as Co-ordinator and then Director at New Art West Midlands, as Editorial Manager of this is tomorrow and has worked at Tate Modern, London; Ikon Gallery, Birmingham; The New Art Gallery Walsall, and Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

Les Rencontres d’Arles 2022

Top three festival highlights

Selected by Tim Clark

1000 Words Editor in Chief, Tim Clark, reports back from the opening of Les Rencontres d’Arles 2022, the 53rd edition of the bright, bushy-tailed festival set across the evocative Roman town in the south of France. Among the many exhibitions to salute are Norwegian-Nigerian artist Frida Orapabo’s How Fast Shall We Sing at Mécanique Générale in the dazzling new Parc des Ateliers at LUMA Arles, Rahim Fortune’s I can’t stand to see you cry as part of the Louis Roederer Discovery Award curated by Taous R. Dahmani and Sathish Kumar’s Town Boy, resulting from the first Serendipity Arles Grant in 2020. However, three particularly ambitious thematic exhibitions stand out for their complex visual dialogues and multiple vantage points onto the world and world of images.


1. But Still, It Turns
Musée départemental Arles antique 

The wall text that introduces But Still, It Turns, the exhibition Paul Graham has curated at Musée départemental Arles antique – which, among many notable bodies of work, features Emanuele Brutti and Piergiorgio Casotti’s Index-G, Vanessa Winship’s she dances on Jackson and Curran Hatleberg’s Lost Coast – states, brazenly: ‘there is no didactic story here, no theme or artifice. None is asked, none is given.’ Isn’t no story, like when artists claim their work as ‘apolitical’, a story in itself? In this case, the ‘story’ – or rather, quasi-framework or exhibitionary complex – is that of a statement of positions on a mode of photography identified as so-called ‘post-documentary’. Its meta-narrative draws from a shared approach, or attitude, propagated by this judiciously selected group of photographers who, in one way or another, turn their lens on intimacies and small episodes of contemporary social realities in the US. Specifically, working in the observational mode, they opt to summon quiet or unremarkable moments as a means of possessing the weight of the world: a town and its inhabitants gripped by industrial decline, sounds and situations at the fault lines of race, environment and economy and so on. Yet there are no easy narratives – all is posed as fleeting and messy but also empathetic and genuine; what Graham refers to as ‘a consciousness of life, and its song’.

Originally staged at ICP, New York, But Still, It Turns in the context of Les Rencontres d’Arles is ultimately a hymn to traditional yet enduring forms of photography, its serious artistic application allowing ‘a kind of pathway through the cacophony – a way to see and embrace the storm.’ Graham writes: ‘It could guide you through the randomness and grant the simple mercy of recognising life in all its prismatic wonder’. That such complex dialogues emerge across these meaningful articulations from life, demonstrates the artists’ deep levels of understanding of the bonds between looking and caring, perceiving and visualising. And, unsurprisingly, there are echoes of Graham’s own work at every turn, redolent of a mountain towering over a landscape, whose image can only be glimpsed through its reflection in a lake below.

2. Songs of the Sky. Photography & The Cloud
Monoprix

More curatorial (in the sense of thematising a group exhibition around a singular subject) is Songs of the Sky. Photography & The Cloud at Monoprix, the vast and industrial first-floor area above the French supermarket of the same name. As its title suggests, the show takes the motif of the cloud in photography as a starting point as well as the metaphor of ‘the cloud’ as a technological network that enables remote data storage and computing power commonly associated with the Internet. Of course, the empirical mass of photographs, i.e. those that exist on our smartphones and laptops – baby and cat photographs, holiday snaps, selfies, sunsets and pictures of food – or, by a similar token, those which have been generated by surveillance cameras and satellites, exist ‘up there’ in the cloud, finding in cables, screens and hard drives material form as part of the techno-capitalist system. Artists, on the other hand, have attempted to subvert and critique its principles, infrastructure and structures, ergo this exhibition.

Upon entering, one’s eyes don’t know where exactly to look; there are multiple sightlines onto numerous works from different artists but that’s certainly not a bad thing. As such, striking juxtapositions between historical material from the 19th century, such as Charles Nègre or Louis Vignes’ photographs, and contemporary works by Lisa Oppenheim, Trevor Paglen, Andy Sewell and Simon Roberts come to bear. What emerges is a tension between the sky as something sublime, as something which, for centuries, represented a way of ‘divining the future’ as James Bridle has put it, versus the far-from-romantic means we conceive of it today: a digital phenomenon that transfers and commodifies our data, with dramatic consequences for climate emergency and geo-politics. ‘Will the immense carbon footprint of the technical cloud accelerate global warming to such an extent that in the future it will be rare to see many faced cloud creatures floating by in the sky?’, is just one of the powerful research questions driving the exhibition. Organised with skill and clear focus, Songs of the Sky. Photography & The Cloud has been curated by Kathrin Schönegg of C/O Berlin, who was also the recipient of the 2019 Rencontres d’Arles Curatorial Research Fellowship.

3. Ritual Inhabitual, Geometric Forests: Struggles on Mapuche Land
Chapelle Saint-martin Du Méjan

Native to the temperate rainforests in southern Chile are medicinal plants and a rich biodiversity that have bore witness to endless cycles of construction and destruction. Monocultures of pine and eucalyptus have now come to dominate in service to the hugely lucrative paper pulp industry in the region, Chile being the world’s fourth largest producer from its 2.87 million hectares of plantations after all. The Mapuche (“people of the earth”), meanwhile, have lived on this land long before the country was founded and now find themselves at the heart of an ongoing battle: their spiritual relationship with the environment is at odds with an aggressive, global economy based on the exploitation of natural resources, leading to violence between nationalist organisations, industrialists’ private militia and the army’s specialist anti-terror squad. In response to this conflict, Chilean collective Ritual Inhabitual, created by Florencia Grisanti and Tito Gonzalez García, embarked on a five year photographic and ethnobotanical investigation that encompasses delectable Wet Collodian plates as well as large and medium format colour photographs of members of the Mapuche community, plants, trees and cloning laboratories of a forestry company. That this project encompasses a broad range of cohorts is one of its strongest features, for it offers a multi-vantage point perspective onto the subject at hand. Deftly translated by the exhibition’s curator, Sergio Valenzuela-Escobedo, whose careful choreography of the space highlights these competing factions, Geometric Forests: Struggles on Mapuche Land mediates the political desire to open up a debate on the nature of consumption at large.

While aesthetics may write the script in other environmentally-concerned exhibitions, here a form of infrastructural activism that reflects on the actual conditions and implications of its own making is evident. The exhibition is therefore highly commendable for harnessing the possibility of thinking and talking otherwise about making art in a less extractive fashion, allied with the admission that an entirely eco-friendly exhibition of images is an impossibility. One obvious example of mitigating impact has been to reuse existing frames from previous exhibitions. Similarly, printing directly onto material surfaces bypassing the need for paper or gluing the print onto an archival cardboard as opposed to an aluminium substrate in the event the former cannot be achieved. Even some of the temporary exhibition structures are stripped back to show the bare bones utilisation of wood, itself dismountable and reusable. There is also a kind of in-built critique present in the blurb of the accompanying book, published with Actes Sud, with a particularly striking section revealing a consciousness and self-awareness. It reads: ‘3029 kilos of Munken Kristall paper and 814 kilos of Soposeet paper were used for the book, as well as 220 kilos of Munken Kristall paper for the cover. Based on 24 trees for one tonne of paper, 96 trees were needed to transform those 4,063 kg of paper into 2,200 copies of this book.’ Clearly, in Geometric Forests, its participants take up the responsibility to call for new socio-environmental-political forms of collaboration. Maybe, via the propositions and practices contained in this exhibition, there is a way forward together, a sustainable means of co-existence.♦

Les Rencontres d’Arles 2022 runs until 25 September 2022.



Tim Clark is Editor in Chief of 1000 Words and Artistic Director for Fotografia Europea in Reggio Emilia, Italy, together with Walter Guadagnini. He also currently serves as a curatorial advisor for Photo London Discovery 2022 and 2023 and teaches at The Institute of Photography, Falmouth University.

Images:

1-Vanessa Winship, from the series She dances on Jackson, 2013, part of But Still, It Turns. Courtesy the artist and MACK.

2-Curran Hatleberg, from the series Lost Coast, 2016, part of But Still, It Turns. Courtesy the artist and MACK.

3-Kristine Potter, Drying Out, from the series Manifest, 2018, part of But Still, it Turns. Courtesy the artist and MACK.

4-Trevor Paglen, CLOUD #865 Hough Circle Transform, 2019, part of Songs of the Sky. Photography & The Cloud. Courtesy the artist and Pace Gallery 

5-Andy Sewell, Known and Strange Things Pass, 2020, part of Songs of the Sky. Photography & The Cloud. Courtesy the artist and Robert Morat Gallery.

6-Noa Jansma, Buycloud, 2020-21, part of Songs of the Sky. Photography & The Cloud. Courtesy the artist.

7-Ritual Inhabitual, Paul Filutraru, Rapper in the group Wechekeche ñi Trawün, Santiago de Chile, 2016, part of Geometric Forests: Struggles on Mapuche Land. Courtesy the artists.

8-Ritual Inhabitual, Biotechnology series, Chile, 2019, part of Geometric Forests: Struggles on Mapuche Land. Courtesy the artists.

9-Ritual Inhabitual, Geometric Forests series, Chile, 2018, part of Geometric Forests: Struggles on Mapuche Land. Courtesy the artists.

Seiichi Furuya

First Trip to Bologna 1978 / Last Trip to Venice 1985

Book review by Alex Merola

A poetic chronicle of the first and last trips with his late wife, Seiichi Furuya’s latest synthesis of photography and narrative probes the photobook’s potential to reimagine the archive ad infinitum, writes Alex Merola.


Invoking Sigmund Freud’s idea of melancholia as unresolvable mourning, Susan Sontag, in On Photography (1977), describes photographs as melancholy objects that express the ‘vulnerability of lives heading toward their own destruction’. Yet, in the partaking of nostalgia, the fascination with death that photographs exercise is, as Sontag warns, ‘also an invitation to sentimentality’.[i] Few knew this better than Roland Barthes, who found a premonitory suggestion of an open wound in every indexical mechanical trace. His own Camera Lucida (1980) is of course a meditation on absence, compounded by his decision to withhold publication of the very photograph at the core of his musings: his deceased mother as a child in a winter garden.

Sentimentality might be too cloying a word to use in relation to Seiichi Furuya’s Mémoires, but it isn’t too wide off the mark either. Haunted by guilt ever since that catastrophic Sunday of 1985 – the “dull thud”, the strewn sandals by the open window – Furuya has revisited, over and over again, the vast archive of photographs made during the life he shared with his late wife, Christine Gössler. The resulting synthesises of photography and narrative are amongst the most powerful reflections on love, death and memory we have seen, and, indeed, few artists of our time have booked as faithfully as Furuya has. The Mémoires series was actually said to have been laid to rest on two occasions: the respective publications of the 2010 and 2020 editions. The fact that Furuya has returned with another book, however, should be unsurprising considering the sentiments he expressed at the end of Christine Furuya-Gössler: Mémoires, 1978–1985 (1997): ‘The more one blows on a fire trying to put it out, the larger the flame becomes. One stops blowing. The cold blue of the flame changes to a soft red. Why is that I tried to extinguish that warm, gentle fire?’[ii]

A beautiful volume containing a gorgeously varied narrative fabric, First Trip to Bologna 1978 / Last Trip to Venice 1985 is Furuya’s second collaboration with Chose Commune, and arguably his most experimental yet. It is divided into two chapters which literally bookend his and Christine’s seven-year-long relationship. The first, entitled First Trip to Bologna 1978, is comprised of stills extracted from rolls of Super 8 film which Furuya shot during his and Christine’s trip less than one month after they met. (The films were subsequently forgotten in Furuya’s attic, lost within the depths of memory.) Across black-paged spreads which open completely flat courtesy of the otabinding, the stills are laid out in spontaneous grid and linear arrangements, expanding upon the cinematic sequencing sporadically at work in Mémoires 1983 (2006). Furuya does not so much record a blossoming romance as remake it, the presence of Christine, ever insouciant in her grace, fluttering in and out of view like a soft red flame.

If the stills – which have been extracted with extreme precision, often to the extent that their lapses in time are almost imperceptible – represent the artist’s attempt to integrate moments both registered in the imagination and archived in memory, the black spaces that border them represent the abyss against which they compete. Measured irregularly in width and scale, they unravel like the fragmented rhythms of (mis)remembrance. ‘Despite this more than sufficient evidence, I cannot remember a single moment of the events’, Furuya’s words conclude the chapter’s climactic episode: Christine getting out of bed, in reverse. With the vertical strips resulting in lovely, undulating flickering effects, the filmic debt is strong. However, where, in cinema, the succession of frames is jointed by the vision and continuity provided by spectator’s nervous system in order to attain the flow of time, here, the stills are indefatigable in their stasis. Whilst one is reminded that these are indeed images, bearing, as Barthes articulated, a ‘lacerating emphasis’ on the that-has-been,[iii] the reversal speaks to something even more profound altogether: that they conform to what we think we remember, or want to.

At the book’s mid-way point, one realises that the strategy of reversal is essential to the book’s formal manifestation, too. The “second” chapter reads back-to-front, requiring the reader to flip the book in order to view the photographs their right way up. There’s a sparser, celestial quality here, the result, perhaps, of the shift to white paper (then again, the end is always in mind). The couple appear in a photobooth portrait: the intensity of Christine’s gaze – the evidence of her advanced schizophrenia – is more pointed. What follows is a revised sequencing of Last Trip to Venice (2002), a small, modest book chronicling the couple’s time in Venice, one week after Christine was discharged from hospital in 1985. ‘The destination did not matter’, Furuya wrote in a text in the original, recalling the wishes of Christine: “Somewhere far away… Just the two of us.”

The imagery of Venice derives from two rolls of accidentally re-exposed film overlapping photographs from that trip and Furuya’s subsequent shots of East Berlin. Whilst some of these “accidents” bear a surreal aesthetic charge – the light flares scattered across the canal bridge, the luminous starfish drifting into a dissolving sky – most are at odds with the technical and compositional sharpness of Furuya’s previously published photographs. That said, the artist’s motivation has never been to show great photographs – though there have been many – but to probe or renew their effects under the accumulative weight of time and human destiny. Following the arc of Mémoires, one can observe the ways in which Furuya has gradually relinquished his authorial command. Where Face to Face (2020), his previous book, credits Christine as a co-author, this book has been independently (re)edited by Chose Commune’s director, Cécile Poimboeuf-Koizumi, whose soft, considered hand can be felt throughout. Furuya’s next book, he has said, will go one step further and compose, in some 650 pages, photographs made by Christine: a total fulfilment of the aspiring actress’ ambitions.

Although Furuya has always considered Mémoires a collaboration with Christine, its tragic motif is that they can never coexist; she is here because he has turned to her. And because Furuya’s troubled wife, in 1985, chose not to be, the risk has always been that she might serve as a tragic heroine. Some readers have, for example, conflated personal loss with collective loss, made all the more convenient by way of the fact that it was during the television broadcast of the parade celebrating the 36th anniversary of the soon-to-collapse German Democratic Republic that Christine threw herself from the apartment window. Indeed, the spatiotemporal paradoxes – the ‘anterior futures’[iv] – invariably feel like poetic fate: Christine, in Venice, superimposed by the bleak cityscapes of East Berlin, an environment yet to be experienced; a catastrophe that has already occurred.

However, Mémoires, in its entirety, is less a premonition of loss than it is an exercise in how Furuya actively remembers – or (re)constructs – the world. After all, Christine was not the always the centre of the photographer’s eye, even if she was his “I”. Take, for instance, Mémoires 1995 (1995), which laces alternate impressions of the couple’s stays in East Berlin and Dresden with views of flowers, plants and portraits of Bosnian war refugees, or indeed the inaugural Mémoires (1989), which moves through displays of architecture, animals, streets, ephemera, landscapes and portraits. Likewise, his latest book finds Christine floating within a sea of disparate images: of East German architecture; Venetian church façades; political demonstrations; city squares; mountains; shop interiors. Despite Furuya’s photographic compulsions, there is no sense of possession here – as there is, for example, in Masahisa Fukase’s photographs of his wife Yoko – but, rather, of being possessed. The arbitrary superimpositions of Venice embody Christine’s literal entanglement within the author’s perception of his past, further materialised in the book’s vulnerably-thin, translucent jacket, on which montaged frames overlap with alternating degrees of opacity: the stuff dreams are made of.

Resisting the sentimental even as he invokes it is Furuya’s quiet triumph, for the books of Mémoires are ultimately meditations not in the past tense but the eternal present. In response to Furuya’s Last Trip to Venice, Sally Stein suggested that Furuya’s compilation of “accidents” – supposedly salvaged from the ‘bottom of the archival barrel’ – indicated that he may have reached the end of his ‘archival possibility’.[v] Yet, this book, with its innovative visual strategies and anti-chronologies, attests, perhaps even more eloquently than its precursors, to the ways in which the archive can be reimagined to infinity. The destination did not matter… To my mind, a subtle metaphor for Furuya’s life’s work – his ultimate journey – for mourning can never know closure. Christine was, and will never cease being, the start of everything. ♦

All images courtesy the artist and Chose Commune © Seiichi Furuya

Alex Merola is Assistant Editor at 1000 Words.

References:

[i] Susan Sontag, On Photography (New York: Dell Publishing, 1977), pp. 70–71.

[ii] Seiichi Furuya, “Adieu Wiedersehen” in Christine Furuya-Gössler: Mémoires, 1978–1985 (Kyoto: Korinsha Press, 1997).

[iii] Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981), p. 96.

[iv] Ibid., Barthes, p. 96.

[v] Sally Stein, “Seiichi Furuya: Last Trip to Venice” in Camera Austria #81 (2003), p. 14.

Images:

1>5-Seiichi Furuya, Bologna, 1979

6>9-Seiichi Furuya, Venice, 1985

10-Christine Furuya-Gössler, Venice, 1985

Gloria Oyarzabal

Usus Fructus Abusus

Exhibition review by Sergio Valenzuela Escobedo

Sergio Valenzuela Escobedo examines images from Gloria Oyarzabal’s new work in progress, to interrogate the idea of the museum as a mere neutral or beneficial protector of the objects and artefacts it owns, currently on display as part of Fotografia Europea in Reggio Emilia, Italy, and Romo Kultur Etxea during GETXOPHOTO in the Basque Country.


Usus Fructus Abusus is an exhibition by Gloria Oyarzabal, selected as part of the Open Call for Fotografia Europea 2022 in Reggio Emilia, Italy. It draws attention to some complex issues considering the relationship between aesthetics, institution and race, doing so in the guise of what the artist calls “a reflection that starts out from a critique of the museum, viewed as an act of historical prevarication on the part of the winners over the vanquished”. Analysing the idea of the museum means rethinking the provenance of the collections, but also understanding the idea and consequences of collecting, conserving and protecting from a Western, white perspective. Criticising the “museum mission” in one of the countries in which the concept of the museum was born is a worthy mission, even more so when the artist admits to being a white privileged woman on the side of the “winners”.

As a starting point, we find the painting La Blanche et la Noire (1913) by Félix Vallotton. We know that it is a mise-en-scène because it is possible to recognise the original printed in a small postcard and glued in the sceneography. It is inspired by Édouard Manet’s Olympia (1863), which, at the same time, takes its cue from Titian’s Venus of Urban (1538). The idea here is not to make an umpteenth commentary on Manet’s painting, but to understand the consequences of using a Western painting as a model for a photographic project. Oyarzabal appears to delve into the “nude” as one of the official genres of works kept in museums. However, the omission of naked male bodies specifies the framework: the use and abuse of the nude female body in Western representation in 19th century. It is also worth mentioning that the omission of Black bodies in the history of Western art serves to underline the fact that many of the Black models are unnamed, exoticised and forgotten.

When using a painting as a model, its whole history inevitably comes with it. As we know, history has not always been told accurately, with minority perspectives on nation-building typically underrepresented. How fraught and crucial is the role of the museum then in sharing histories and providing context and meaning? For example, the exhibition Le Modèle Noir de Géricault à Matisse (2019) at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, allowed the audience to discover the name of Laure, the Black model who appears in Manet’s painting. The exhibition demonstrated that the African, Caribbean and Afro-American diaspora is an indisputable fact of an institution devoted to culture and, in particular, to ‘Paris, Capital of the 19th century’ to quote Walter Benjamin.

Whilst, in the Musée d’Orsay exhibition, annotations detailed all the changes in the titles of the original paintings by the Black model’s name, Oyarzabal uses national flag installations: six banners introduce the audience to an artform that deals with the display and regulation of hereditary symbols employed to distinguish individuals, armies, institutions and corporations without any information. Oyarzabal’s omission of the names of the models raises a question: who are these unknown, naked women who adopt the staging in a photograph that copies a Western painting?

Here, the mise-en-scène becomes dangerous: it is difficult to know if we have to consider this series of photographs as fragments of a fiction, or representations of a constructed documentary. Regardless, perhaps Oyarzabal should show the ideological construction that most ethnological photographs contain. This is an interesting affair when it comes to analysing the collection of plates brought back by scientific missions. They become clear examples of a colonially organised system of representation, showing scenes that correspond more to the images colonisers wanted to see than to reality. They are themselves the image of the aesthetic scaffolding that the white man designs to represent the people from beyond, by doing so the ethnographical collections allow us to talk about scenes, sets, actors, directors, as well as the backstage, which could also give to this series a better understanding using the re-enactment as an artistic tool.

It’s well known that during the Renaissance, the concept of the museum appeared and marked a step towards a more scientific understanding of the world. The “Cabinet de Curiosité” was created by objects that were brought from all over the world. This is directly related, not only to the technical and economic capacities of the richest kingdoms to travel and come back from “exotic” places, but also to assume the philosophy that the scientific mind is destined, by an inexorable law of the progress of the human spirit, to replace theological beliefs and metaphysical explanations. But science has always been at the service of politics. The artefacts found in European museums are not only proof that cultures existed in remote places, but they are faithful witnesses to the fact that these places were now named and conquerable.

Consider how Oyarzabal shows an interesting set of images of empty museum cabinets. Whilst Oyarzabal’s purpose is somewhat unclear, the aim seems to be to shed light on the issue of the museum’s restitutions of what the European colonialists plundered and ransacked, pondering who might now judge and repair the fractures of history – a brave task when the same institutions that Oyarzabal criticises are the ones that have written the norms and rules on how to promote decolonisation via such means. Let’s also not forget that states do not orchestrate such returns without diplomatic exchange; action of this kind continues to serve heavy financial, industrial and military interests. The actual question is not if white empires should or shouldn’t give back the artefacts with the risk of leaving European museums empty, but about the real exchanges that the cultural industry will generate in their restitution practice. Are they really working for a common future?

On the other hand, it is interesting to study how African museums will exhibit these objects. Whilst museums with ethnographic collections are aware that they have to change, new African museums largely look identical to their European counterparts. Since the 1990s, many across Europe have closed, been defunded or packed up their inventories. Others have become museums that embrace other cultures by acknowledging their colonial histories to varying extents, the most critical example being Belgium’s Royal Museum for Central Africa (where Oyarzabal’s images have been taken). Reopening in 2018, the museum has chosen to retain the original presentation of exhibits with explanations as to their historical contexts. So, instead of giving the art back, they inform visitors that all of their objects are stolen. And by providing this interpretation, the scars of the terrible past of Belgians in Congo should become visible, as well as their responsibility or disavowal of their guilt by replacing the void with new artefacts hiding the history, again under the light of the glass vitrines. This how the void should be read in Oyarzabal’s images. But let us not be naïve, the latest trend is making ethnology a thing of the past by opting for highly beautiful display presentations. This is a key moment for the future of Oyarzabal’s ongoing project (it is noted that it is ‘work in progress’): the Dogon join the ranks of the Mona Lisa. So, what happens with the art market then? We know that some museums today buy from auctions, so what will happen if they have to return items because of their problematic provenance? Will this market lose its appeal?

Perhaps this commercial aspect is of no interest to Oyarzabal who addresses the myriad ways in which museums have been and often remain the beneficiaries of Europe’s violent expansion and exploitation, as well as the purveyors of the stereotypical imaginary. However, this seems to be one of the problems facing museums today. Certainly, the concept of the museum, dating back more than 100 years, has created ideas of identity and preserved the most precious treasures of the most powerful nations, but there is something else we tend to forget; it is not common knowledge that the beginning of collecting by European powers in Africa is strictly related to a small cultural clause born after the Berlin Conference that protects anyone – missionaries, scientists and explorers alike – who all collect objects. This is why, from the 1880s, springing up all across Europe were either huge departments of ethnology in existing museums like in the British Museum, whose collections mushroomed, or the remarkable new buildings specifically built for these new collections, like the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadero, Paris. Between European powers meeting in Berlin to decide how they would divide Africa and the construction of empty museums helps give a new understanding to the symbol that evokes the void of the empty museum cabinets in Oyarzabal’s work. The purpose of Oyarzabal’s research is to review the relationship between ethnology and museum collections from a largely plundering colonial present, to contrast the idea of museums as creators of imaginaries and to show them as a form of institution that is not, nor has it ever been, a mere neutral or beneficial protector of the objects and artefacts it owns.

Elsewhere in the exhibition, two women find themselves dancing by way of staged photographic scenes. Their body-image reminds us of the work of Faith Ringgold, who balanced stories of harsh realities with hopeful visions; her Dancing in the Louvre (1991), preconfigured Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s takeover of the museum decades later, straddling R&B and rap in the great galleries where the Victory of Samothrace, the Venus de Milo and the Great Sphinx of Tanis are located. The assault on, and appropriation of, the museum world by popular culture makes it a flagship of Western society that must be seized in the reversal of symbols. At the same time, the clip makes the museum the last bastion of the inequality of wealth distribution. The Carters do not in any way overturn the established order and the Louvre can surely only benefit from this global spotlight.

Certainly, many of the interventions based on artistic reappropriation emanate from a Black culture that enters the conflicting time and paradoxical space of the museum institution. But under a “time of transfer”, what institutions are doing to rethink the monumental history of its collections is not interesting anymore, because the loss of animism is not going to be cured with the devolutions of objects from the past. It is the side of history that we see all the time, but which does not show itself: after all, the architecture of power has no image. But if the counter perspective would no longer focus on the victims but on the perpetrators, presenting the troubling history of whiteness, describing its lies, paradoxes and oppressive nature, maybe it will take shape. Because if we follow the same direction, the risk is to reinforce and recentre white anger. Oyarzabal presents us with the relationship between white and Black bodies but it is only the beginning of the performance that she allows us to see. We will be watching to see how she finishes this dance.

Western magic presents an unjustified omission: European science, so to speak, already installs a primitive animism. Only it is Greek and is read as a literary effect. The myth of the Platonic cave installed in history the role of the simulacrum, on the one hand, and on the other, the story of the potter’s daughter of Corinth enabled representations of our desire for that very representation. Let it be clear that the aim is not to critique the scientific research that speculates on the mathematical nature of phenomena. I am suggesting that it is the children of those early consumers of myths, who have travelled the seas in their ships, to have at their disposal the objects and images of other bodies in spite of themselves. Then there would be no such European science, but a mythology of progress accompanied by mathematics dictating the fate of the mechanical images attached to the epic navigations essential to every nation with colonial pretensions at the end of the 19th century. Oyarzabal’s ambition is to make a work that exposes all the nostalgia of the mythical, the epic and the sacred. Borrowing the words from a particular high school student once residing Reggio Emilia, who insisted so much on nostalgia for the sacred and how it remains attached to ancient values, Pier Paulo Passolini said: ‘I sometimes have the feeling that they are victims of an artificial acceleration, of an unjustified, premature oblivion…’ [i]

Albert Camus wrote: ‘We live in a desacralised history.’ [ii] The relationship between Black bodies and white bodies that pull forcefully from one side to the other in Oyarzabal’s photographs represent the spirit of change; it is the character of modernity in rupture with the whole ancient world. White Western thought often arrives to desacralise. This dance can be approached as a reliquary in which Europe appeases the anguish that has haunted it for centuries: animism. ♦

All images courtesy the artist and Fotografia Europea © Gloria Oyarzabal

Usus Fructus Abusus is on display at Galleria Santa Maria, as part of the Open Call for Fotografia Europea 2022, Reggio Emilia, Italy, from 29 April to 12 June 2022, and at Romo Kultur Etxea during GETXOPHOTO 2022 until 26 June 2022.

Sergio Valenzuela Escobedo is an artist and curator with a PhD from the École nationale supérieure de la photographie (ENSP), Arles. After one year at the National School of the Arts (NSA), Johannesburg, he graduated in Photography in Chile and completed his Masters of Fine Arts at the Villa Arson, Nice, in 2014. He has curated exhibitions including Mapuche at the Musée de l’Homme, Paris, and Monsanto: A Photographic Investigation at the Rencontres d’Arles, which has been on tour for five years under his permanent supervision, and the forthcoming exhibition Geometric Forests at Les Rencontres d’Arles 2022. Valenzuela Escobedo is a guest tutor at international art schools and institutions, most recently at the Institut d’études supérieures des arts and Parsons, Paris, International Summer School of Photography, Latvia, and Atelier NOUA, Bodø. He is co-founder of doubledummy studio, a platform that creates a space for producing and showcasing critical reflections on documentary photography.

References: 

[i] Jean Duflot, Entretiens avec Pier Paolo Pasolini (Éditions Pierre Belfond, Paris, 1970), p. 51. 

[ii] Albert Camus, Homme révolté (Éditions Gallimard, Paris, 1951), p. 35. 

Photo London 2022

Top five fair highlights

Selected by Alex Merola

Bringing together over 100 exhibitors from around the globe, Photo London has returned to Somerset House for its seventh edition. Brimming with bold impressions on the medium from early trailblazers through to today’s most exceptional talents, it has something for all tastes. Here are five standout displays from the capital’s premier photography fair – selected by 1000 Words Assistant Editor, Alex Merola.


1. Once Upon the War in Kharkiv
Alexandra de Viveiros

Maintaining a robust commitment to the dissident photographers of Ukraine’s Kharkiv School of Photography – borne in the early 1970s out of a city now besieged by Russian troops – Alexandra de Viveiros’ presentation prompts a particularly urgent viewing. Of marked significance here are the pieces by Evgeniy Pavlov, one of the co-founders of the Vremia Group, which set out to create a visual opposition to dominant Soviet narratives and the aesthetic canon of Social Realism. Pavlov’s Archive Series (1965–88) italicises scenes of everyday life with a quiet, personal lyricism through colour retouching, whilst his ragged photo-collage, dated 1985, keeps the mind busy and ambiguity open. Sharing these walls with Pavlov are father and son Victor and Sergey Kochetov, whose wonderfully expressive hand-tinted prints – referencing Boris Mikhailov’s art of luriki – communicate both the backwardness of Soviet technology as well as a nostalgic attachment towards it. With the inclusion of the School’s newest wave of activities – Vladyslav Krasnoshchok’s harrowing hallucinations of the medical emergencies at a Kharkiv hospital, for instance – de Viveiros has staged a small but powerful constellation bringing together three generations of Ukrainian photographers, all united in their upholding of the right to independence and the freedom of artistic gesture.

2. Anastasia Samoylova, Floridas
Galerie—Peter—Sillem 

Concurrent with showing at The Photographers’ Gallery as part of the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2022, Anastasia Samoylova’s solo booth with Frankfurt’s Galerie—Peter—Sillem is an unmissable affair. Hung in handsome, white-wooden frames, the artist’s prints prevail for their technical brio: sleek, delectable renderings of colour which magically transcribe that distinctly brilliant Floridian light. However, what’s alluring is also alarming, for they convey the contradictory lives of a state totally distracted by its own self-image whilst in the throes of ecological implosion. Though these layered photographs contain subtle references to Walker Evans’ extensive but oft-overlooked body of work made in “Sunshine State” – a kinship teased out in Floridas (2022), her exceptional new book which is available to peruse here – Samoyolova is very much her own artist. Her merging of meticulous observation, deceptive aesthetic and sharp socio-environmental concern marks her out as one of the most intelligent and sophisticated photographers working today – and, indeed, one of the most important to reckon with the fallacies of Florida.

3. Christine Elfman, All solid shapes dissolve in light
EUQINOM Gallery

With an eye for experimental and rigorous photo-based practice, San Francisco-based EUQINOM Gallery has delivered a dynamic display as part of this year’s Discovery section – dedicated to emerging galleries and overseen by 1000 Words Editor-in-Chief, Tim Clark. Commanding a particularly slow and conscious appreciation here are the variously violet-hued anthotypes of Christine Elfman, who, with her series All solid shapes dissolve in light (2019–22), has developed an exquisite technique involving light-sensitive dyes harvested from lichen and month-long solar exposures to produce photographs whose chemical properties mean they are constantly fading. Boasting breathtaking degrees of detail, these capricious pieces reveal those infinitesimal shifts in colour, contrast or density to only the most patient and attentive observers. That these studies are at once disappearing and also becoming is perhaps their most confounding and, ultimately, magical quality. Elfman is evidently as curious about philosophical questions as by photographic ones, and how thrilling it is to find an artist employing such an early analogue process whilst, in turn, upending that dusty, medium-old fantasy of ‘fixity’.

4. The Gallery of Everything

Few in the UK have done more to further the integration and celebration of so-called “outsider artists” – historically sideswiped by the mainstream – than James Brett has, and the fine line he has drawn between the professional and the vernacular at The Gallery of Everything’s (debut) outing makes it one of the most stimulating of this year’s fair. There’s a charming amateurism in the air, with some of the superstars of self-taught image-making packing these walls. Miroslav Tichý’s small, weathered objects – stolen glimpses of female forms through cameras constructed from cans and junk – wind up with a melancholic resonance, as do the mise-en-scène of Morton Bartlett, a fascinating figure who, in the 1940s and ’50s, built and photographed a cast of life-sized dolls that sublimated his lack of “real” relatives (there’s a unique opportunity to see one in the flesh, too). In the company of William Mortensen’s beguiling studio shot of a witch flying a broom, Bartlett’s works surprise for their uncanny awareness of the power of light, shadow and composition. Turning it up a notch are Pierre Molinier’s silver gelatin prints: formally-classic yet thoroughly transgressive propositions on gender, fetishism and narcissism. Flailing an impossible number of limbs encased in stockings, he’s seen through a peep hole, like this booth in general.

5. The Countess of Castiglione
James Hyman Gallery

For their rarity alone, the private, performative self-portraits of the Countess of Castiglione are a must-see. Yet, what is most successful about James Hyman Gallery’s tightly-curated booth, comprised of over 50 prints from three periods (1856–57, 1861–67 and 1893–95), is the way in which it offers a complex narrative arc charting the seductress’ mutating identities and inner-realities. However compliant in the eye of the camera the Countess might appear – self-masqueraded with masks, ballgowns and crowns which, as Abigail Solomon-Godeau argued, saw her act as a ‘scribe’ of predetermined and delimited feminine tropes – she is a rare example of a 19th century woman constructing images for her own gaze: a subject tricking us into thinking she is an object. Whilst the cynosure here is a pair of gold-framed, elaborately-painted photographs which have been unveiled for the first time ever, the most poignant pictures are the final ones through which the aristocrat confronts the impermanence of her beauty. This is a very special tribute to a practitioner whose place within the canon, one feels, should be radically reconsidered. After all, before Cindy Sherman and indeed Claude Cahun, there was the Countess, delving into the work images do and the lives they somehow lead us, or free us, to live.♦

Photo London runs at Somerset House until 15 May 2022.

Alex Merola is Assistant Editor at 1000 Words. 

Images:

1-Evgeniy Pavlov, ‘Untitled’ from Archive Series (1965–88). Courtesy the artist and Alexandra de Viveiros.

2-Viktor and Sergiy Kochetov, ‘Untitled’ (1990). Courtesy the artist and Alexandra de Viveiros.

3-Vladyslav Krasnoshchok, ‘Untitled’ from Bolnichka (2010–18). Courtesy the artist and Alexandra de Viveiros.

4-Anastasia Samoylova, Venus Mirror (2020). Courtesy the artist and Galerie—Peter—Sillem.

5-Anastasia Samoylova, Rust, Hollywood (2019). Courtesy the artist and Galerie—Peter—Sillem.

6-Anastasia Samoylova, Chain Link Fence, Miami (2018). Courtesy the artist and Galerie—Peter—Sillem.

7-Christine Elfman, Cloth Water Stone II (2021) (Variation II). Courtesy the artist and EUQINOM Gallery.

8-Christine Elfman, Reproduction I (2020) (Variation II). Courtesy the artist and EUQINOM Gallery.

9-Christine Elfman, Reproduction III (2021) (Variation III). Courtesy the artist and EUQINOM Gallery.

10-Miroslav Tichý, ‘Untitled’. Courtesy The Gallery of Everything.

11-Morton Bartlett, ‘Untitled’ (c.1950). Courtesy The Gallery of Everything.

12-William Mortensen, Myrdith on Broom (c.1930). Courtesy The Gallery of Everything.

13-Pierre Molinier, ‘Untitled’ (1966). Courtesy The Gallery of Everything.

14-The Countess of Castiglione in collaboration with Pierre-Louis Pierson, L’innocence, variation sur La Reine D’Etrurie (1863). Courtesy James Hyman Gallery.

15-The Countess of Castiglione in collaboration with Pierre-Louis Pierson, La toilette (1861–67). Courtesy James Hyman Gallery.

16-The Countess of Castiglione in collaboration with Pierre-Louis Pierson, La Comtesse de Castiglione (1894). Courtesy James Hyman Gallery.