Peter Fraser


Book review by Jeremy Millar

If one wants to take the measure of something, then it is often best to do so from more than one point. More usually these multiple positions occur in space – the same object viewed simultaneously from different places, for example – but they can also occur in time. Let’s consider, for example, something that Peter Fraser noted some years ago: ‘With each series of photographs I choose a different strategy to approach the same underlying preoccupation, which is, essentially, trying to understand what the world around me is made of through the act of photographing it.’ Actually, this was fifteen years ago, and – full disclosure – written to me in preparation for a retrospective exhibition of his work that I was curating for The Photographers’ Gallery, London, yet it could quite easily describe the process that Fraser has undertaken for this most recent book published by Skinnerboox. The title Mathematics might also bring to mind that of an earlier series, Towards an Absolute Zero, but whereas that was metaphorical and referred to ‘a “still” universe’ where a ‘minute shift carries importance’, here the title is to be taken quite literally; as he notes in the afterword, Fraser has made these photographs with the belief ‘that mathematics can explain the world, or at least describe it in a way that approaches an explanation’.

Such a claim, and perhaps the misgivings one might have towards it, is apparent in the first photograph. Here a triangular rack of pool balls recedes upon the cobalt blue felt of the table, the white sitting atop them. While all sports depend to some extent upon numbers – points scored, time taken, distance covered – pool seems amongst the most ‘mathematical’, a table-top exercise of Platonic forms and Euclidean geometry. Even the balls themselves have numbers upon them, yet while these might help us to describe their relative positions within the rack as wrong, could they explain it? Here, one might feel that mathematics is less a structure underlying the world – and the work – than one placed upon it.

The work becomes far more compelling when such an organising structure seems less apparent and given the diversity of pictures here contained, this is often. Indeed, the universalism that mathematics seems to hold for Fraser allows him to photograph far more widely than he has for some time. (I didn’t then mean geographically, although this is also true: whereas many earlier projects were bound by a form of geographic constraint – a particular journey, or city – here the photographs are clearly made in many different countries.) I am reminded often of pictures found within Two Blue Buckets, Fraser’s seminal book, which, through its recent republication as a director’s cut, might itself become another point, or two, from which to view this more recent work. One might also come to think it almost inevitable that there should be two books called Two Blue Buckets, both similar, each different. The irregular curves along the back of a bay horse; the weathered paint of a corrugated building; the arrangement of domestic objects; the interiors of sacred spaces: all can be found in both books, and if the democratic vision he borrowed early from William Eggleston insisted that yes, even this – the merely familiar – was worthy of our consideration, then Fraser now allows that ‘this’ might also include that which is extraordinarily familiar, such as the Matterhorn, or great works of architecture, or of art (or their copies, at least).

To this list we might also include people, who here return to his work. Before making each portrait, Fraser asked each person ‘to imagine that they had just discovered that something they had always believed to be true had just been found to be a lie.’ Whether, in the terms established by this work, such a discovery might be considered an addition to or a subtraction from their sense of the world, or themselves, is left uncertain, as uncertain as their expressions, yet the premise is far less so: ‘had just discovered’ suggests that the knowledge had been accepted in a manner that ‘had just been told’ surely wouldn’t. What we know to be true depends largely upon what we believe to be true, and here we return to the subject that has been at the very heart of Fraser’s practice for three decades or more: the notion of faith. In the mid-Eighties he wrote that, ‘The sacred is everywhere and resides in the most unlikely places’, finding it then in the knotted net hanging in a stable, or the Marian embrace of an Avery weighing scale (although whether this was a Nativity, or a Pièta, one would never know). Now, Fraser’s faith might have shifted, but it is made manifest in similar things. One does not have to hold such a belief to believe that others do, nor that that belief might create things of great beauty and intelligence, whether that is the strange scintillation of what seems to be a flooded quarry, or the calligraphic splendour of the main dome of Blue Mosque.

To consider one last picture: here we are invited to look down, obliquely, across the rooftops – polygons of terracotta and slate – of what one presumes to be a European city. The bright sunlit planes of the stuccoed façades throw into relief the shadow thrown across – and up from – the foreground, spiking flatly across the complex of shapes below. And yet where might we situate ourselves in such a view? Given our downward glance one can assume that we are somewhere high upon the building casting the shadow, yet our position is unclear. We are both elevated and umbral, never knowing how far from that threshold to lucidity we are.

All images courtesy of the artist. © Peter Fraser

Jeremy Millar is an artist, and Senior Tutor at the Royal College of Art, London.

Alexandra Lethbridge

Other Ways of Knowing

Essay by Lisa Stein

In his introduction to Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought, Martin Jay observes that ‘we are often fooled by visual experience that turns out to be illusory, an inclination generated perhaps by our overwhelming, habitual belief in its apparent reliability’. Distinguishing between ‘the “natural” and the “cultural” component in what we call vision’, Jay maintains that it is not only our scientific understanding of the function of the eye – its superior capacity to process external data, and the rate at which this information is transferred to the brain via the optic nerve – that led to the privileging of vision over the other four senses. His opening paragraph testifies to what Jay refers to as the ‘ocular permeation of language’; containing numerous visual metaphors, it reveals that our ability to interpret, negotiate and make meaning from what we see is likely to have played an equally important role in locating vision at the top of the sensual hierarchy. However, Jay proceeds to demonstrate that the ‘permeability of the boundary between the “natural” and the “cultural”’ – take the word “image”, which can ‘signify graphic, optical, perceptual, mental, or verbal phenomena’ – would ultimately lead to the very premises of “ocularcentrism” being called into question. Still, it is not only the ambiguities inherent in any one language, but the ‘wealth of visually imbued cultural and social practices, which vary from culture to culture’ that Jay believes further complicate the idea that ‘knowledge is the state of having seen’.

Other Ways of Knowing, Alexandra Lethbridge’s ‘exploration into the illusion of magic and misdirection in comparison to ideas of hoax, deceit and trickery’, draws on the discrepancy between visual and cognitive perception, and examines the role of photography within that binary. The type of magic represented in the series, which combines found photographs, archival imagery and the artist’s own, ‘constructed’ photographs, is often referred to as “stage” or “street” magic to distinguish it from the paranormal or ritual kind, which aims to control supernatural forces. Using items such as playing cards, coins, cups or balls, the stage or street magician entertains an audience by performing tricks, effects or illusions; everyday objects are made to disappear, to defy gravity or to pass through other, solid objects. The magic performance disrupts and alters the relationship between our sensory and cognitive processes; by exploiting our belief in the infallibility of vision, the magician is able to perform seemingly supernatural feats that challenge the way we think. For instance, while we cannot actually “see” a coin passing through the wall of a glass because we know it is an illusion, we think we see it happening because we expect to, or indeed, because we want to. In that moment, our desire to believe that what we are seeing is possible leads to a reversal of visual literacy; we are no longer decoding, but encoding. In other words, our pre-existing knowledge influences what we see and how we choose to interpret this information or, in the case of the magic trick, to disregard it. For a brief moment, we do not want to know.

Like a magic performance, the photographs in Other Ways of Knowing ‘are designed to promote uncertainty in the viewer’s understanding in what they see’. Indeed, Lethbridge’s still-lifes, abstract compositions, portraits and sequenced photographs do not allow for a straightforward “reading”. By layering images, using multiple exposures and strategically placing graphic elements throughout her photographs, the artist controls our gaze; like the magician, Lethbridge instructs us where to look, what to see. Black arrows and bright colours direct our eyes and initially, consumed with wonder, we give into the performance. However, wonder at even the most thoroughly crafted magic trick soon gives way to scepticism, and as our eyes begin to move through her photographs more naturally we grow suspicious of Lethbridge’s visual interventions. Particularly upon revisiting a sequence of images depicting hands performing a magic trick, or a set of photographs revealing the construction of an impossible object, we ask ourselves whether these visual “clues” and “solutions” are being offered up too readily. Even Lethbridge’s censorship of elements one might consider fundamental to reading a photograph, like a face or a hand, seem like a deliberate distraction. However, if this is misdirection, which ‘deceives not only the eye of the spectator, but his mind as well’, it begs the question what exactly Lethbridge is trying to distract us from. What are we missing? Considering that the success of a magic trick lies in the extent to which it can challenge our cognitive processes, perhaps the question is not what we know about these photographs, but what we do not know.

Looking at the images in Other Ways of Knowing we might ask ourselves whether what is “true” about a magic trick resides in the performance of the magician or in the mind of the audience. We might ask ourselves where the “magic” happens. One could argue that what makes a trick “real”, what defines it as magic, is our wonder at what we (think we) can see, not what we know about how it is executed. By focusing on ‘aesthetic judgment rather than abstract reasoning’, Lethbridge forces us to reconsider our understanding of “truth” in relation to the photograph, which registers numerous ways of “seeing”. Indeed, while Jay’s notion that vision is informed by culture might not mean that a photograph cannot depict reality, it suggests that what is considered “real” might differ in the mind of the photographer versus that of (a) viewer(s), say. This leaves the question of what we can gain from what we do not know about a photograph. In Photography is Magic, a survey of artists that engage ‘with experimental approaches to photographic ideas’, Charlotte Cotton observes that a magic trick, like all performative art forms played well, creates the conditions for us to explore imaginative possibilities’. In other words it is the experience of not knowing that forces us to reflect upon ourselves and how we “see” the world. If a photograph that we do not understand is more likely to make us reconsider our (visual) culture, there is more truth to the manipulated images in Other Ways of Knowing than the most visually accurate of photographs.

All images courtesy of the artist. © Alexandra Lethbridge

Lisa Stein is a London-based writer and researcher specialising in photography. Managing Editor of the photo-literary platform Photocaptionist and Editorial Assistant at The Burlington Magazine, her writing has also appeared in The Philosophy of Photography.

Mathieu Pernot

Les Gorgan 1995-2015

Essay by Natasha Christia

A highlight of this year’s Les Rencontres d’Arles, Mathieu Pernot’s Les Gorgan 1995-2015 welcomed visitors with respectful silence. Hosted under the high ceilings of la maison des peintres, a new venue located near the calm premises of the village cemetery, the exhibition is presented as a multi-layered narrative comprising ten murals each dedicated to members of the Gorgan, a small Roma family from Arles living along the shores of Rhône. Spanning over two decades, it told the story of their individual destinies, and through it, the journey of photographic imagery that has accompanied them.

Importantly, Pernot’s gorgansiene universe created a precise and honest statement beyond visual and conceptual effects. In comparison to the noisy theatricality of Roger Bailen’s installation in the adjacent space wherein photography was unceasingly striving to find its place in the misty waters of contemporaneity, there was nothing redundant or unnecessary in it. Stretching exclusively across photography’s genres and practices – black and white portraiture, mug shots, Polaroids, iPhone and vernacular images – it was in many ways a slap in the face. A straightforward confrontation with photography and its evolution over the last twenty years, a prosaic testing of its normative modes, and, above all, an involuntary and yet consistently ruthless reminder of what straight images can do.

It was back in 1995, while still a student at L’École supérieure de la photographie d’Arles, when Mathieu Pernot first came across a group of gypsy kids in the area surrounding the village’s railway station. Pretty much everything has happened since his introduction to the whole family and the debut show of The Tsiganes (1995-1997) at Les Rencontres d’Arles in 1997. Seasons have alternated, kids have become teenagers, teenagers parents and former adults grandparents. Life has bestowed upon the Gorgan joys, farewells and irretrievable losses. Likewise, he ‘who once met those people as a photographer’ has found himself involved in a long-lasting relationship with them. By 2001, when Pernot left Arles for Paris, he had become godfather to their children, had inquired into the family history that extends over one century, and had funded Yuk, an association committed to the education and integration of gypsy children in the local community.

In the years that followed up until to the present, Les Gorgan has been continually revisited and naturally reflects how Pernot’s conceptual approach and strategies has evolved. The development of the project incorporated various chapters, distinct ideological and symbolic layers and diverse points of view. Over the course of two decades, the artist published different bodies of work in the form of seemingly disconnected series, yet all parts of the same puzzle. Unconsciously he was building a cartography, a universe, a whole.

The current assemblage, as displayed in Arles, is a remixed version after Pernot’s reunion with the family in 2012, a programmatic dismantling of the preexistent bodies of work that have been reedited and shaped anew. Many different projects and years have been spliced together in a new formulation. From the early children portraits in Tsiganes (1995-1997) – fusing a documentary approach at the crossroads with humanist photography and the detached observational documentalism akin to Walker Evans – to correspondent mug shots in Photo booths (1995-1997) in the tradition of anthropometric portraits; from their penitentiary choir, as teenagers, outside the prison of Avignon in The Shouters (2001-2004), to the whole family watching the deceased Rocco’s caravan burning in Fire (2013), photography here appears closely attached to a changing liquid reality.

Similarly, from the early Gorgan posing timidly before the camera to determining their self-representation in snapshots photographs of births, family gatherings, lazy afternoons that have been extracted out of their own albums and mobile phones into the sacred realm of the gallery space to Pernot’s fine art photography being re-appropriated by the Gorgan and serving as post-mortems on their family graves, these images reveal an infinity of uses, practices and dynamic relations between the subject and the photographer.

This sustained demystification of the photographic image, which both recovers its status as an extinct amulet and quotidian object bestows on the work an unforeseen authenticity. It is a level of authenticity achieved not out of fascination nor by means of attempting to build a bridge with the ethnographic ‘other’, but naturally, in an unhindered way. Here photography is actually about and for something.

As noted by both Clément Chéroux and Johanne Lindskog in essays from the accompanying publication by Xavier Barral, Les Gorgan project transgresses with wit the boundaries of the ethnographic, the cultural and the anthropologic. For those who wish to detect in the project folkloric clichés and ethnographic archetypes, gypsy matriarchy and palm reading, it is indeed all there. And yet crucially and suddenly the Gorgan turn from characters to people. Expanding idly on the surface of the image, their bodies are humanised under the weight of time and human destiny. At the same time, they are infused with an awareness of the confined territory they occupy between the lens and the world.

Beyond the personal, the familiar and various trappings of the photo community or art world, Les Gorgan resonates with history. While accessing the Camargue local archives as a historian for an exhibition in 1998, by chance he came across hundreds of police identification files of former Saliers gypsy camp inmates under the Vichy regime. He also discovered that Bietschika Gorgan, the patriarch of the family, was deported to Buchenwald in 1944. In this knowledge, the formidable face and side portraits of the children in Photo booths can inevitably be seen under a novel, dark perspective. They involuntarily awake memories of seclusion, deportation and extermination of these minorities during World War II. Likewise, they speak eloquently of the implementation of photography as an authority and means of control. In fact, they still do given the recent evictions of Roma migrants from France in 2009, turning the whole work into a cumulus of embedded history, memory and trauma.

Silence in Les Gorgan is suggestive. For the story remains untold and is crude and partial. The gaze is distance, and the ‘other’ a fabricated construct to accommodate it. Visually exuberant at first glance, Pernot’s narrative gradually reveals itself as a complex object of relations among subjects, gazes and modes of representation. By abolishing hierarchies between the artistic, the quotidian and the banal, and by dissolving the status of narration and voices, ‘it recreates’, in Pernot’s words, ‘the circumstances of each member of the family, and recounts the story that he and the Gorgans wrote together; face to face, then side by side’. As such, it daringly takes a stance to reconstruct the dialogical structure of history from the viewpoint of the ones who have not written it, recovering and ultimately surpassing the proper experience of photography.

All images courtesy of the artist and Xavier Barral. © Mathieu Pernot

Natasha Christia is a writer, curator and educator based in Barcelona. 

Salvatore Vitale

How To Secure A Country

Essay by Max Houghton

Switzerland has long enjoyed its reputation as ‘the safest country in the world’, not least for anyone wishing to keep financial affairs private. Since the Treaty of Paris in 1815, self-imposed political neutrality has been central to Switzerland’s security. This decision saved thousands of Swiss – though few Jewish – lives during WWII, when the country was encircled by Axis powers. Neutrality, however, does not equal pacifism. With every male citizen aged 18-34 mandated to military service, Switzerland is a gun-nation, the third most heavily armed country in the world, after the United States, and Yemen, and where it is common-place to see a ten year-old loading SIG SG 550 or FAS 90 (similar to the AK47, but also customised for sport). In case of invasion, hyper-vigilant Switzerland is ready to defend its territory.

Making citizens feel safe comes at a price, of course, as Josef K. found out, to his detriment and eventual voluntary suicide, in Kafka’s The Trial. Kafka was matchless in describing what happens to a person, when everything and everyone is perceived in terms of a threat; a kind of disintegration at the level of the soul. Spiritual bankruptcy.

A question hovers, and remains ever-present: when does a threat become a risk? Looking for the answer has preoccupied photographer Salvatore Vitale, a Sicilian, who has been living in Switzerland for the past twelve years. One imagines the initial shock of experiencing the smoothness and visibility of a Swiss road at night. His adopted home, surrounded by mountains, enfolded into the very centre of Europe, offers unique social, political and financial protection to its citizens; it is palpable. Vitale could feel it in the air. Over time, his observations of differences in efficiency and state protocols inspired a desire to create an extensive visual research into How To Secure A Country. He began to collaborate with the prestigious ETH university in Zurich, a relationship which has proved essential in both trying to assess one of the most complex security systems in the world and in gaining permission to access places otherwise sequestered. The collaboration functions at many levels and is used by Vitale specifically to be responsive to interests outside the art world. By being guided by specialists within various institutions, he aims to show how the system works from the inside. This approach to research is as refreshing as it is rigorous.

Looking at Vitale’s meticulous, clinically clean Switzerland, we might begin to comprehend that the landscape we more stereotypically associate with skiing or yodeling or Heidi is in fact weaponised, to use a popular term, or we could say ‘securitised’. Mountains are hollowed out to house entire army divisions. Fake stonework conceals artillery; domestic residences in chocolate-box pretty villages harbor canons; bridges are stuffed with dynamite, ensuring all roads become dead-ends in the event of an attack.

‘Pre-emption.’ Brian Massumi writes, ‘is the generative logic of our time.’ He is writing, in Ontopower, about post 9/11 USA, but the Swiss approach might operate as a kind of antecedent. The experience of looking at Vitale’s chilling imagery reminds us how ‘[t] his incipience of an event as yet to be determined, overfull with really felt potential, carries an untenable tension.’ Vitale has striven to find an aesthetic approach that bears witness to this tension. He has restaged the contents of instruction manuals, spent time in border control rooms, weather stations, and airport watch-towers, and been present at simulation exercises in order to understand the production of security. Vitale’s eye also takes in the environment in the shape of mountain valleys, nocturnal foliage, a lake inhabited by a police diver. To further the connection with Massumi’s thinking, Vitale’s enterprise reveals how state power is a significant factor in shaping the very environments in which we live. Eventually, it all becomes entirely natural.

Vitale is also spending time – the project is ongoing – at MeteoSwiss, which supplies vital meteorological analysis via its super computer in Lugano. There is a productive connection between the weather and state security, which Vitale is exposing, in terms of air traffic, both civil and military, or chemical or nuclear accident, for example, as well as providing forecasts for climbers or hikers, who would be at risk from extreme weather. In wealthy Switzerland, the profitable insurance industry relies on such risk analysis.

Piecing together the many links in this unwieldy network, via Vitale’s imagery, we begin to see how a politics of knowledge is created through power relations. He brings us a sonar image, used on a rescue mission undertaken by Swiss lake police, who provided the image. Sound wavelengths in water are approximately 2000 times longer than those of visible light, which makes it possible to ‘see’, when light can’t penetrate far enough. The resulting image can only be interpreted by a highly-trained expert, leaving the layperson to consider it purely as visual spectacle: a narrow, symmetrical chasm between two masses, with an unidentifiable circular ring to the top right. Scientists have employed sonar imaging techniques in Lake Neuchatel to find evidence of tectonically active zones that might trigger earthquakes, for example. Seek and you shall find.

As might be expected, technology is at the forefront of security production. While older methods of detection are still utilised – as we see in the image of the sniffer dog – the most advanced robotics technology is playing its role too. Vitale introduces us to ANYmal, which (it is tempting to say ‘who’) is being developed for rescue missions, and is designed for autonomous operation in challenging environments. Robotics research has been focused predominantly in this area since Fukushima. The inclusion of ANYmal in this series seems ominous. The human body begins to feel superfluous.

Perhaps the most revealing glimpse into the production of security is the series of still images, the title of which translates as The six errors with regard to security threats. Classic stock imagery of elegant ballets dancers, or three generations of a healthy Swiss family, is juxtaposed with more sinister pictures – a hooded person at a keyboard, a raging fire. The original video is a Swiss Army production, at once bane and antidote: one the one hand, it educates the public on possible dangers to their culture or economy, while at the same time, presents the army as the necessary solution; guarantor of peace and prosperity.

A couple of images offer brief respite from the tightly-calibrated visual regime. Vitale’s research began with border control, where, outside the inspection rooms and the extraterritorial space of the airport, he observed traces in the landscape, left by refugees. The viewer is affected by this fleeting human touch. A hand-written note in Tigrinya, the Eritrean language, offers reassurance for those that might follow in their footsteps: ‘We are here. You are in Switzerland.’ Elsewhere, a vivid red map acts as a warning to fellow refugees, to make clear that Switzerland is in fact a country in its own right.

A final image in this illuminating series shows a white cross on a red square, one of the most-recognised flags in the world, or the looking-glass version of a never-ending state of emergency. The disaster-to-come is always already present.

All images courtesy of the artist. © Salvatore Vitale

Max Houghton writes about photographs for the international arts press, including FOAM, Photoworks and The Telegraph. She edited the photography biannual 8 Magazine for six years and is also Senior Lecturer in Photography at London College of Communication – University of the Arts, London.

Krakow Photomonth 2017

The War From Here

Exhibition review by Duncan Wooldridge

We are encouraged to perceive of it as a striking, spectacular occurrence, but war is not one eventful instance of violence: it is the layering of multiple small violations that accrue and erupt. Thus conflict is sustained until one side is so dominant that any attack it makes is no longer legitimated by the promise of a reciprocal threat. It is a longer proposition than the spectacle of conflict: it begins before a gun is fired, and is felt long after. The political theorist Carl Von Clausewitz infamously stated that war is the continuation of politics by other means: not just a means of getting your way through violence, and the sign of a political project that goes beyond typical coercion. It emblematises an antagonistic, immovable politics, getting its way.

If war is the continuation of politics by other means, then the reverse must also be true: in our everyday politics and interactions, instances of war are also played out. There is war in forms of nationalism and patriotic fervour that posit the supremacy of a nation amongst more than 200 others; and there is war in the gains we seek over each other in the neo-liberal workspace. Violence can be tracked back from the site of armed conflict, to our sofas, and our devices, and our material wealth. That we do not draw connections between our material wealth and the conflict or exploitation it requires is one of the great achievements of capitalism.

The War From Here, curated by Gordon Macdonald as one of the keynote exhibitions of Krakow Photomonth 2017, is an exhibition of five artists who approach war from a different set of proximities, setting it much closer to us. They choose to be distant from the ‘theatre’ of war: they seek not theatricality, but origins, traces, and consequence. As such, it is one of the most striking exhibitions of war in recent times, because it resists the ‘over there’ condition of photojournalistic tradition, stressing tangible experiences, scars, and roots of violence.

At its entrance, Sophie Ristelhueber’s Eleven Blowups teases and undermines the reportage photograph, and acts an initial disruption of our expectations for the image. Installed as large-scale prints directly mounted to the surface of a phalanx of walls, they problematise photography’s rhetoric of de-authored transparency. This is the image not as a window, but as blockade: montaged from multiple images of bomb craters, some of which are Ristelhueber’s own and others that are drawn from media outlets, a composite real is made that brings together the image’s connection to the place it depicts, with its place of reception and encounter.

Nina Berman works within a recognisable documentary tradition, but uses it to show the domestic manifestations of America’s war on terror, challenging the way that that country’s militarisation is figured in daily life as elsewhere. Her project Homeland captures the full extent to which life is laced with military simulation and rhetorics of American power. One image shows B2 Stealth Bombers passing over beaches of Atlantic City. They participate in a celebratory display of military might that is triumphalist but exposing of the silent, lingering threat of a secretive military industry. Berman also depicts the militarisation of labour, as ordinary Americans are employed to act as Iraqi ‘terrorists’ in emergency drills. The war’s relationship to home is revealed by Berman as a series of constructs that produce the image of state power at the same time as constructing personal-imaginary images of terrorists and otherness. Here, war is a fantasy that displays little concern for that which exists outside of an American sense of might: documentary is suddenly a form that has courage to show a view beyond the generic humanism of the eyewitness.

At the centre of the exhibition is Martha Rosler’s Bringing The War Home. Rosler’s montages directly equate the purpose and trauma of conflict with the luxury of the western home. Rosler makes clear that it is a largely exploited international labour force that extracts and forms the products of domestic luxury, which conflict maintains through its expansive project of installing democratic capitalist nation states. Rosler’s montages use the technical surfaces of the home (phones, televisions, pictures, and glass windowpanes) as openings to this conflict, as scenes that are mistaken as distant apparitions, but which are closely interlaced in a luxury that we have come to see as a desirable and freeing. Her later montages draw upon our various bodily postures with our mobile devices: laying upside down on a sofa, checking our pictures in our phone screens.

In a convincing and clear-sighted diversion from the usual obsession with war as a space of heroic individualism, Macdonald’s exhibition is unrepentantly social: it understands that war impacts upon a people, a multitude. As Ristelhueber, Berman and Rosler reveal how representations of war have been used to frame and limit our understanding, Lisa Barnard and Monica Haller evaluate the impacts of war through research upon the short and long-term experiences of conflict, whatever its ‘physical’ distance. Haller’s Veteran’s Book Project is structured around the first-hand encounter. 50 books present individual accounts from war, reclaiming the notion of the war veteran to include not just soldiers and military personnel, but also Iraqi and Afghan survivors. Each presents their own experience, an account that is always moving between the past and its impact upon the present. Some accounts are harrowing in places of course, but they are human and relatable first and foremost. Haller’s collection of a plethora of voices has a distinctive effect that repels the conventional desire to defer the war to some other place: it takes place between humans, as Judith Butler reminds us when she recalls the precarity of each human being as underwriting the necessity of the social. Haller posits that an array of voices can displace the dominant narratives of conflict and their contest the drive towards individual gain, and the illusions of a consequence-less accumulation.

As Haller also suggests that we need to place the human back into the field of conflict, Lisa Barnard explores the military strategy of drones (or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, UAV) operation, one manifestation of a technological war without the human (at least, this is what is claimed by its manufacturers and agents). The industry of war’s technological development – what Manuel De Landa calls the ‘machinic phylum’, feeding technological development that makes it to the consumer thereafter – seeks to displace the human in the place of machines, with a simplistic comparison between machinic efficiency and bodily fatigue. Barnard shows that the human effect remains.

As Adam Greenfield argues in his book Radical Technologies: The Design of Everday Life, the adoption of machinic and technological systems produces human effects in each of its manifestations. In Barnard’s work Whiplash Transition, an opening is found in the 40 minute drive between the military base and a drone pilot’s home. Whiplash transition is a term used by UAV pilots to describe the rupture between the locked-down enclosure of the drone mission, and the all-too-nearby comforts of the American city. In her installation, Barnard draws potent connections between the machinic vision of military devices, or the flying patterns of drones in strategic formations, and the fantasy-world of Las Vegas. In another part of the installation, a shipping crate displays a map of an arms fair on its top side: the uncomfortable meeting of armaments and basic human needs (food service counters, restrooms and cafes) is starkly revealed by the diagram.

Photography, with its concern for a slice of the action, is a common agent in the compression of war as something distant and unthinkable. The War From Here is an extraordinary call to see how it occurs right in front of us. Photography is capable of something more contextual, more critical, more enduring and penetrating. In this, one of the most convincing exhibitions about conflict and its reaches, we are called to see how war is something that surrounds us.

Duncan Wooldridge is an artist, writer and curator. He is also Course Director of the BA(Hons) Photography at Camberwell College of Arts, University of the Arts London.

Image credits:

I-Opening of The War From Here at Bunkier Sztuki/Krakow Photomonth 2017, curated by Gordon Macdonald featuring Lisa Barnard, Nina Berman, Monica Haller and Sophie Ristelhueber.

II-Lisa Barnard, Lawnmower, from the Mapping the Territory series © Lisa Barnard.

III-Lisa Barnard, Object #3, from the Primitive Pieces series © Lisa Barnard.

IV-Lisa Barnard, American Flag, from the Not Learning from Anything series © Lisa Barnard.

V-Nina Berman, Bomb Iraq, Times Square, New York City, from the Homeland series, 2003 © Nina Berman | NOOR

VI-Nina Berman, Stealth bomber, Atlantic City, New Jersey, from the Homeland series, 2007 © Nina Berman | NOOR

VII-Monica Haller, The Veterans Book Project (VBP), library of 50 books, print on demand, page length varies, 2009–2014.

VIII-Monica Haller,Page spread from book by Ehren W. Tool, 2010.

IX-Martha Rosler, Cleaning the Drapes, from the series House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home, 1967–1972 © Martha Rosler.

X-Martha Rosler, Gladiators, from the series House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home, New Series, 2008 © Martha Rosler.

XI-Martha Rosler, The Gray Drape, from the series House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home, New Series, 2008 © Martha Rosler.

All images courtesy of Krakow Photomonth.

STOP + FIX Publishing

The Shackleton Collector’s Edition Box Set

Book review by Gerry Badger

It’s not often I begin a book review with a physical description of it, but this is a package rather than a single volume. The Shackleton Collector’s Edition Box Set must be the most complex book object since the Chinese photographer Peng Yangjun and Chen Jiaojiao’s Box – Pass It On (2012). Like that memorable achievement, it’s another ‘book in a box’, or rather two books in a box. The first publication of STOP + FIX, led by photographer and Mumford & Sons bassist Ted Dwane, graphic designer and artist Ross Stirling, and photographer and director Marcus Haney, is a collaboration between Dwane, Stirling, and musician and composer Paul Frith.

As the subject is Sir Ernest Shackleton’s fabled Antarctic expedition of 1914-17, this box is a replica of a Venessa case, a reinforced plywood box that served as the original cargo boxes packed aboard Shackleton’s ship, the Endurance. Inside are the two volumes comprising the book, and a folding gramophone sleeve containing four 10 inch vinyl records plus an MP3 download. This is a photobook with attitude, combined with a newly composed symphony by Paul Frith, written to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Endurance expedition, a powerful piece by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Then, just as a piece of icing on the cake, the first two hundred and fifty copies of the publication include a replica glass positive plate similar to those used on the expedition.

There are two principle names in this story. Firstly, there is Shackleton himself, Britain’s greatest Antarctic explorer, and the photographer who took these excellent photographs, including many in colour, under the most adverse circumstances. The photographer was an Australian, Frank Hurley, but he has an important place in British photographic history, as following his exploits on Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914 to 1917, he served as an army photographer at the end of the First World War and made some memorable images of the conflict.

The story of Shackleton’s great trip of 1914-17 is one of the great tales of heroism, pluck, and endurance and being typically British is one of triumph snatched from the jaws of disaster. After the race to reach the South Pole – a race Britain was desperate to win – ended in December 1911 with the Norwegian Ronald Amundsen gaining the prize, Shackleton, who had come within 97 geographical miles from the Pole in 1909, turned his attention to crossing Antarctica from sea to sea, via the Pole. But the expedition ran into early problems when the Endurance became trapped in pack ice, and was slowly crushed before the shore parties could be properly landed. The expedition escaped by camping on the sea ice until it broke up, and Shackleton ordered everyone to the lifeboats in a bid to reach Elephant Island and ultimately the inhabited island of South Georgia. This involved a hazardous ocean voyage of 720 nautical miles, accomplished successfully and regarded as one of the most notable exploits in Antarctic exploration.

The two part photobook features never-seen-before images from Hurley’s archive, and follows the chronology of the expedition and Frith’s original symphony. It’s worth considering for a moment the effort required to get these great images. Hurley was using large wooden view cameras taking glass plates and lugging these around in sub-zero temperatures, up to the top of Endurance’s masts or the tops of mountain peaks on South Georgia. If photography is about persistence, the Australian exemplifies this to perfection. If that weren’t enough, he also shot cine film and made a renowned movie of the expedition.

In all, Hurley shot over 550 plates. When the Endurance was lost and the expedition was camping on the ice prior to taking to the lifeboats, a episode that produced some of the most iconic images, the photographer sat with Shackleton on the ice and they decided between them which plates should be taken and which should be left in order to preserve weight. Apparently the rejected plates were immediately broken to avoid any prevarication. Hurley had rescued many of them by returning to the half submerged wreck, diving bare chested into three feet of icy water to retrieve lead-lined cases of negatives. In all, 150 of the best plates were saved and form the basis for the two books while some 400 were lost or destroyed.

Of course that the photographs took a lot of effort to make is irrelevant, it’s the quality that counts. Fortunately, Hurley was an above average photographer, that is, he had an eye. Stylistically, he hovered between an art photographer and a reportage photographer – albeit at a time when such distinctions were largely meaningless – but the whole body of work is much more than a basic record of the expedition. There are stunning landscapes, moving portraits of the expedition members, and fascinating glimpses of daily life on the pack ice. But the most iconic and best-known images are of the Endurance stuck in the ice and gradually breaking apart, including one extraordinary nocturnal shot of a spectral boat in the Antarctic dark. As a footnote, it is worth noting that the odd image from the First World War is included, just to remind us what was happening thousands of miles away at the time.

In all this is a splendid and complex package. I have been critical of late about overly complicated photobooks, but here it is fully justified. It seems only appropriate to end with the inspirational words of Sir Ernest Shackleton himself, which apply to bookmaking as well as Antarctic exploration: ‘I believe it is in our nature to explore, to reach out into the unknown, the only true failure would be not to explore at all.’

All images courtesy of Ted Dwane. © Frank Hurley Archive/STOP + FIX

Gerry Badger is a photographer, architect and photography critic of more than 40 years. His published books include Collecting Photography (2003) and monographs on John Gossage and Stephen Shore, as well as Phaidon’s 55s on Chris Killip (2001) and Eugene Atget (2001). In 2007 he published The Genius of Photography, the book of the BBC television series of the same name, and in 2010 The Pleasures of Good Photographs, an anthology of essays that was awarded the 2011 Infinity Writers’ Award from the International Center of Photography, New York. He also co-authored The Photobook: A History, Vol I, II and III with Martin Parr.