Fotografia Europea 2023

Top three festival highlights

Selected by Tim Clark

1000 Words Editor in Chief Tim Clark reflects on the 18th edition of Fotografia Europea held in the Italian city of Reggio Emilia with a programme anchored in the theme ‘Europe Matters: Visions of a Restless Identity’, confronting the politics of inclusion and exclusion and the presence of history and culture in the present moment. Across 20 exhibitions, the curatorial proposition considers the relationship between conceptions of nationhood and democratic community, as well as the multicultural realities of European countries for the purposes of reconstruction, solidarity and alternative ways of existing together. We profile Mónica de Miranda, Simon Roberts and The Archive of Public Protests (A-P-P) – artists and collectives defined by their commitment to social change.


1. Mónica de Miranda, The Island
Chiostri di San Pietro

Upon entering the first floor at Chiostri di San Pietro, the vast sprawling 16th century monastic complex that serves as the hub for Fotografia Europea, visitors are confronted by an enlarged reproduction of the work from Mónica de Miranda entitled Whistle for the Wind. It figures the central protagonist from The Island series who is seen overlooking a vast expanse of water, sombre and subdued, as if expectant for answers. It leads into an exhibition of work comprising photographs, film and installation from the Portuguese-Angolan artist, known for her metaphysical investigations that unify postcolonial issues of geography, history and subjectivity related to Africa and its diaspora.

Though de Miranda has summoned an imaginary island to enact her fable, the reference is in fact the crudely named “Ilha dos Pretos” (Island of Blacks) – a denomination of oral tradition given in the 18th century to a community of people of African heritage that settled in the riverside area of the Sado River, southern Portugal; a place where the ghosts from Portugal’s colonial past intersect with the geological forces of deep time. Therefore, one might assume that what lies beyond in Whistle for the Wind are the vestiges of the past, those easily forgotten by a hegemonic system.

The creative and philosophical perspectives of alternate gazes, such as the queer gaze, the Black gaze and the female gaze, break with the idea of a white patriarchal heterosexual system – the many social clases that are ‘othered’ and too often treated as inferior – in order to find a new grammar or expression. They offer subversive counterpoints to the violence in the act of looking and consuming gendered imagery and ensuing reductive representations, whilst seeking beauty, empathy and valorisation of less prevalent experiences.

Political rebellion and resistance against the repression of a Black person’s “right to look” is what underscores bell hooks’ notion of the ‘oppositional gaze’. The late feminist, scholar and social activist first coined the term in her 1992 essay collection, Black Lives, to refer to a gaze that denies a spectator pleasure from looking, combating voyeurism and submits itself to a self-determined subject. It is not about scopophilia but defiance; looking as a form of communication, understanding and recognition. Therefore the ‘oppositional gaze’ affirms a right to identity and to see and document the world one knows or lives in. Perception can be a political act, as James Baldwin once ventured in a speech: “In the case of the American Negro, from the moment you are born every stick and stone, every face, is white. Since you have not yet seen a mirror, you suppose you are, too. It comes as a great shock around the age of five, six or seven to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance, along with everybody else, has not pledged allegiance to you.”

Indeed, de Miranda commands a way of storytelling and coherent cultural memory as a means of empowerment. Holding up a mirror to project and reflect her model’s face, the four photographs entitled Mirror Me literally bring this into sharp relief: across the suite of images an assertive Black women is depicted wearing a captain’s cap, a cowboy hat and a horse-riding helmet. Costume and masquerade work together to form a protective mantle and the duality of the mirror allows us to discover a new system of reality. It evolves a possibility to imagine a different past, present and potential future – coalescing the women’s complex and multiple ideas of identity. There’s power, prestige and performance at work for these are portraits to dream in; an image gallery of internal visions and outward views, a ‘manifesting device’, a looking glass of self and otherness, an apparatus for transformation.

2. Simon Roberts, Merrie Albion: Landscape Studies From A Small Island
Chiostri di San Pietro

Simon Roberts’ Merrie Albion: Landscape Studies From A Small Island was first released as a monograph with Dewi Lewis in 2017 in the wake of the nationalist triumph of Brexit. Inside its pages, Roberts takes the temperature of the UK, offering insights into notions of identity, belonging and, specifically, what it means to be British at this significant moment in contemporary history. With his customary elevated perspective and tableaux style, we oversee views of places and the people that populate them to form a survey of a nation: on the one hand of the spaces and evolving patterns of leisure, the consumption and commodification of history, militarisation and to the lines of demarcation and exclusion in the landscape; and, in parallel, of subjects and events that have an immediate and enduring significance to Britain’s drastically changing trajectory of the past decade. As David Chandler has written in the book’s introduction: ‘[there is] an overriding sense of uncertainty and anxiety in Roberts’ national chronicle as it moves slowly towards the referendum and Brexit, and then culminates in the terrible iconic image of social inequality, injustice, and trauma formed by the blackened high-rise tomb of Grenfell Tower.’

Chandler goes on to point out that at its heart, Roberts’ work seeks to quell the visceral drama of events, not through immersing his camera in the drama of a scene but rather by stepping back. That way, the artist encompasses a fuller view of what’s unfolding, creating photographs that resolve into a multi-layered and nuanced array of comparative and linked information – tea parties, Eton College boat races, army recruitment stalls, Stonehenge, the London 2012 opening ceremony, the Royal Wedding, ‘Occupy London’ camps or trading floors of Lloyds Banking Group.

The cumulative effect of Merrie Albion is an offering; a poignant socio-political mood piece, the power and urgency of which never subsides with every year that passes amidst the continual calamities of the current UK government. Leading up to the exhibition installation, England football legend Gary Lineker was forced off BBC’s Match of the Day programme in a row over impartiality after comparing the vile language used to launch a new government asylum policy with 1930s Nazi Germany – the latest debacle in the so called ‘culture wars’, a clear distraction from the actual pressing issues facing the country today, chief among them: the cost of living crisis, wealth hoarding, inflation, energy bills, public health care systems at breaking point, criminalising the right to protest, taking away freedoms, multiple politician scandals and, of course, the failed and immensely costly project that is Brexit.

Roberts’ photograph Beachy Head, Seven Sisters Country Park, East Sussex, 24 March 2017, may serve as a useful coda here. Roberts says it best: ‘Taken in the very same week that the former UK prime minister Theresa May triggered Article 50, the start of the two year negotiation period to take Britain out of the EU, it shows ramblers exploring the chalk cliffs on the country’s south coast. An instantly recognisable symbol of Britain, the cliffs were recently voted one of the top 20 breath-taking views in the UK. But they also represent a boundary, between land and sea, high and low, the known and unknown, Britain and the outside – a potent symbol of Britain’s increasing isolation and political separation from Europe.’

3. The Archive of Public Protests, You’ll never walk alone
Chiostri di San Pietro

The Archive of Public Protests (A-P-P) was founded in 2019 by Rafal Milach, together with other photographers, academics and activists. Its mission is to examine social and political tensions in Poland from 2015 onwards, particularly among the young generation who have taken to the streets in great swathes with increasing regularity to demonstrate against the country’s leadership. A-P-P has now created a significant repository of work via its semi-open online platform and free newspapers centred on particular events or happenings. Dealing with the mounting complexities that define our troubled times, A-P-P’s stated aim is a “duty to archive” matched with a need to study the visual aspects of protest in the struggle against breaches of the law, discrimination and violence of various kinds. Its results articulate various states of ‘unfreedom’. Through a mix of raw footage, slogans used by protestors, bold design, sound and photographs, their exhibition You’ll never walk alone, as a biodimensional experience, is akin to being amongst a protest. It explores issues and inequalities long silenced by the Polish government, ranging from topics including state and police oppression, climate emergency protests, the LGTBQIA+ community, pro-choice Women’s Strike, Belarussian solidarity protests in Poland, the refugee crisis at the Polish-Belarussian border and anti-war and solidarity with Ukraine protests in Poland. The context is the Anthropocene, and histories unfold individually and collectively, at a hyper-local level but, of course, also resonating on the global stage.

Many members of A-P-P are active participants in the demonstrations whilst also observing the events with a critical eye, noting the shifting characteristics particularly around the use of language, which is said to have become more radical, vulgar even, given the levels of frustration and anger. And though the marches are peaceful, the message is always a bold one. The word “Wypierdalac” [Get the fuck out] is routinely shouted from within the crowds. This is combined with a distinct visual spectacle: people marching to the sound of drums and chants, banners hoisted high, flamboyant costumes as well as spontaneous performances throughout city streets and in front of monuments in the heart of Warsaw and beyond. The tools for intervention are both animated and artful. So too is the iconography, such as the symbol of a crimson-coloured lightning bolt that proliferates most notably throughout the Women’s Strike: as both face and body paint, projected onto building and even as fashion accessories. Similarly, red is the colour of choice: red ink, red clothes, red paint – the visual language of solidarity.

As a project dedicated to the relationship between archival practices and publication-making as a site of learning and solidarity (‘solidarity’ being the operative word as it was name of Poland’s first trade union founded in 1980), A-P-P is not interested in representing resistance or “going viral”. Instead, there is a strong desire to correct firmly established and outdated narratives that are propagated from the confines of mainstream media, the latter now almost entirely controlled by the state. Nor is it an attempt at objectivity, especially given the fact that the many far-right marches that frequent Poland’s streets and public spaces are not documented here. It is a partial account – selective and subjective. Yet A-P-P draws us into the efforts of those individuals and groups who are pushing back, those who are laying bare the ideological tactics of control and manipulation through a different kind of massification of images. Milach himself has explained in a recent interview: “By releasing the newspaper and creating this alternative circulation of images, we control the narrative and their usage. This is crucial, especially today – facing all the fake news or half-truths that influence our political and social life more and more. By creating a distribution channel – one of many – we can crystallise the message. It’s a coherent, closed document, which is manifesting certain clear ideas.” ♦

Fotografia Europea 2023 ran from 28 April – 11 June 2023.


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

Images:

1-Mónica de Miranda, Whistle for the wind, Portugal, 2022. © Mónica de Miranda, Commissioned by Autograph London.

2-Mónica de Miranda, The Lunch on the beach (after Manet), Portugal, 2022, 350 x 230 cm (6 parts of 115 x 116.50 cm) © Mónica de Miranda.

3-Mónica de Miranda, Double force, Portugal, 2022. © Mónica de Miranda.

4-Simon Roberts, Beachy Head, Seven Sisters Country Park, East Sussex, 14 March 2017. © Simon Roberts.

5-Simon Roberts, Equestrian Jumping Individual, Greenwich Park, London, 8 August 2012. © Simon Roberts.

6-Simon Roberts, Broadstairs Dickens Festival, Isle of Thanet, 19 June 2008. © Simon Roberts.

7-Rafal Milach, Women’s Strike Protest against nearly total abortion ban, Warsaw, Poland, 22.10.22. © Rafal Milach, courtesy The Archive of Public Protests.

8-David Zieliński, Protest in defence of free media, Krakow, Poland, 12.08.21. © David Zieliński, courtesy The Archive of Public Protests.

9-Rafal Milach, Women’s Strike Protest against nearly total abortion ban, Warsaw, Poland, 22.10.22. © Rafal Milach, courtesy The Archive of Public Protests.

Sem Langendijk

Haven

Exhibition review by Jilke Golbach

Jilke Golbach visits Haven, Sem Langendijk’s current exhibition at Foam Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and leaves wishing for more fruitful avenues of critique via a deeper dive into what sustains squatter communities, in the process asking: what can photography uncover when we look closely, and listen carefully alongside?


‘City air will set one free,’ goes an old German saying, carved into the gates of medieval Europe’s main trading cities. It referred to a law that freed city residents from feudal conditions, fostering a new sense of autonomy, spurring migration from country to city, and turning towns into vibrant centres of trade and commerce. Long since, urban life has been associated with liberty. Great cities thrive on the unrestricted coming together of people and ideas, of different ways of thinking and modes of being. And it is in cities that collective struggles for rights and freedoms have been most fiercely fought.

By the middle of this century, cities are projected to house three quarters of the planet’s population. But what’s left of our urban freedoms? This question lies at the heart of Sem Langendijk’s documentary project Haven, which is on show at Foam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, until 18 June, and was published as a book by The Eriskay Connection in 2022. Through stark urban landscape photographs and sympathetic portraits, Langendijk explores the transformation of post-industrial areas in London, Amsterdam and New York. Crossing borders between these urban centres, he examines the processes of regeneration, gentrification and privatisation in an effort to chart the double meaning of the word ‘haven’ as both a harbour and place of refuge.

Langendijk’s own childhood forms the point of departure for Haven. The photographer was raised in a community of squatters, creatives and workers in the western docklands of Amsterdam, where his parents set up home in an abandoned railway station. At the age of ten, this transient community was demolished to make way for new residential development. Langendijk only came to appreciate his extraordinary youth much later. He now fondly remembers growing up with a sense of unbounded freedom and adventure. “For me this project was about homecoming,” says Langendijk. “The goal was to create a narrative about my childhood, about what I experienced growing up in Amsterdam, and to pay tribute to that.”

His pictures of current squatter communities holding onto the industrial fringes of Amsterdam against an encroaching skyline of new-built apartment blocks reflect this search of a home that no longer exists. In the defiant gaze of a boy, photographed in mismatching socks whilst stood on a weathered table, we might see a translation of Langendijk’s own experiences but also a provocation to consider who or what is lost when alternative ways of urban living are erased.

Langendijk is preoccupied with the urban processes that make cities increasingly unlivable for everyone but monied metropolitan elites, where historical ties and neighbourhoods are replaced with new, often dystopian realities of anonymity, surveillance and governance. With Haven, he seeks to place the transformation of the Amsterdam docks in dialogue with the Docklands of London and the Red Hook neighbourhood of New York – all formerly industrial waterfront areas where local or creative communities once thrived but which are now dominated by private, often global interests.

The subject of urban change has long captivated photographers, be it post-war reconstruction, industrial ruination, sites of memory, suburbia, council estates, or community life. Today, a critique of the processes and flows of capital that are causing widespread urban displacement, social exclusion and socio-economic inequality is much needed. The photographs on display here show stark contrasts: on the one hand, we are confronted with alienating architectures of glass and steel; on the other hand, we come face-to-face with people living on the margins.

Haven offers few contextual anchors, with the photographs remaining untitled, undated and unlocated. This disorientation serves to emphasise the increasing homogeneity of these cityscapes but also allows subtle resonances to emerge between the works. Only in a few places does text support interpretation, sometimes in the form of quotes from well-known urbanists such as Kevin Lynch, Jane Jacobs and Richard Sennett, which feature in the book as well as the exhibition.

The result is visually striking, yet one wonders whether a critique of these issues might not benefit from a greater inclusion of voices and research-based documentation. If what is at stake with gentrification is the disappearance of locality, the loss of place specificity, and the social exclusion of entire groups or classes of people, doesn’t abstraction further add to the erasure of a human scale? Even if strong similarities exist between the development of London, Amsterdam and New York (certainly in terms of their architectural aesthetics and capital flows), shouldn’t they also be understood within their own historical, political and social contexts? Are the creatives, ravers and festival-goers of the docklands of Amsterdam really the same as the residents displaced from Brooklyn, New York?

Without attention to specificity, there is a chance of reproducing a simplifying narrative that pits “true creatives” against “elite ghettos”, poor residents against trendy coffee bars, and corporate bodies against the man on the street. Whilst this goes some way to answering one of the project’s central questions – “Who owns the city?” – the mechanisms of gentrification are typically far more complex than simple dichotomies would allow. Gentrification is a symptom, not just a cause of accelerating cycles of change, a spiralling housing problem, and a growing cost of living crisis. The true problems of cities are problems of capitalism – an illusion of unlimited growth that endlessly reproduces the same inequalities in space. We are all caught up and complicit in the forces that drive it. But whilst the processes are global, the effects are hyper local.

How do we engage with such enormous complexity through photography? What questions can we ask? And what pitfalls should we aim to avoid?

Langendijk takes the decades after 1960 as a counterpoint to today’s urban transformations, drawing inspiration from urban scholars and grassroots movements active in the second half of the 20th century. In those years, deindustrialisation and suburbanisation in Western cities left large parts of cities empty, with one result being that space was, for a time anyway, easier to come by. Seen through Langendijk’s lens, post-industrial areas became “fertile playgrounds” for outsiders and creatives, and abandoned docklands “a free haven for the adventurous”. But what if we approached these spaces through a more critical lens that included questions of race, gender and class? Were they really such safe havens, and for whom?

Nostalgia runs the risk of glossing over the rougher edges of complex circumstances. Concerns over the homogenisation of cities and the destruction of social and historical urban fabric had already taken root in the 1960s, leading to vigorous academic and mainstream debates about the “urban question”. Authors such as Jane Jacobs were influential in such debates but have also since been heavily critiqued for their own positionality and blind spots with regards to the intersectionalities of urban injustice.

A nostalgic view of squatters’ communities, authentic neighbourhoods or other ways of living, born from a longing for one’s childhood, a desire for homecoming or simply better days gone by, is a relatable impulse in a world that seems to slip ever more quickly through our fingers. But perhaps a deep dive into what sustains certain communities, sometimes against powerful odds, would be a more fruitful avenue of critique. What does urban resistance look like? What lessons can be drawn from such communities that might offer hope for different ways of city-making? What can photography uncover when we look closely, and listen carefully alongside?

Cities have always been sites of struggle. In the words of the highly influential urban theorist Henri Lefebvre, they are ‘conflictual and dialectical, open to becoming, to encounters (both fearful and pleasurable), and to the perpetual pursuit of unknowable novelty’. The struggle is about shaping our cities after ‘our heart’s desire’. But it is this freedom to struggle, to even be part of the city to begin with, that is increasingly under pressure today. In many ways, we already know the answer to the question: “Who owns the city?”. But how we exert our right to it, how we protect, assert and demand our urban freedoms, is a far bigger task. Any effort to grapple with such questions – through photography or otherwise – can only begin from a critical place of situated and intersectional understanding, and an open-ended engagement with both place and people. ♦

All images courtesy the artist and Foam, Amsterdam © Sem Langendijk.

Installation views of Haven at Foam 3h, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, until 18 June.


Jilke Golbach is an independent curator specialising in photography. She was previously Curator of Photographs at the Museum of London. Alongside her curatorial practice, she is completing a PhD project at University College London on the subject of heritage, neoliberal urbanism and the right to the city.

Images:

1-“Summer” (2018) © Sem Langendijk.

2-“Tommy” (2018) © Sem Langendijk.

3-“Canary Wharf” (2019) © Sem Langendijk.

4-“Dog” (2018) © Sem Langendijk.

5-“New York Grain Terminal” (2016) © Sem Langendijk.

6>10-Installation views of Haven at Foam 3h, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, until 18 June.

Arko Datto

Kings of a Bereft Land

Interview with Willemijn van der Zwaan

Arko Datto speaks with Willemijn van der Zwaan about Kings of a Bereft Land currently on display at Fotomuseum Den Haag, the Netherlands. They discuss the challenges of portraying the psychological effects of the ongoing planetary crisis, creating hyper-structures for multiple projects and the fundamental role of the artist in altering perception and shifting viewpoints by proposing new ways of seeing.


Willemijn van der Zwaan: Climate change is the global problem on everyone’s mind, and we’re inundated with images of rivers that have dried up, flooded cities or starving children. We seem to have become quite apathetic as a consequence of this. Was that an inspiration for you, to make a project about a story within a story – in this case, how the people of the Sundarbans in the Bay of Bengal are bearing the brunt of the consequences of our consumption – but also to do it in a way that is a more visually interesting approach to documenting this crisis?

Arko Datto
: As an artist, I am constantly looking for interesting ways to portray something as challenging as the ongoing planetary crisis. The particular difficulty in this case was to reconcile the localised context of the crisis facing the inhabitants of the Delta with the philosophical implications of a global crisis facing humanity at large. A vast majority of imagery related to the climate crisis is related around cataclysmic events as they unfold: forest fires, cyclones, earthquakes, floods. Yet in places like the Bengal Delta, sea level rise and river erosion are ongoing phenomena affecting the lives of the inhabitants on a continual daily basis. When a catastrophic event unfolds, there is a bustle of activity and chaos centered around that event and that leads to a particular form of imagery. This project is concerned more with the ongoing effects of climate change, particularly during the non-event moments when climate change gradually extends from the environmental into a more psychological realm.

WVDZ: That extension into the long-term effects of climate change is an important aspect of what drew me to your work. I could sense the chaos and panic of what it must be like to have to flee your home when the water comes. As someone who lives in a delta here in the Netherlands, I’m very aware that we have this whole infrastructure of dams and dikes to protect us from the same fate (for now). An important aspect of the project and the exhibition is in making a larger public aware of these psychological effects of the climate crisis: the constant threat of your home, village and even family and friends being taken away from you takes a heavy toll. How did you approach visualising anxiety and dread?

AD: Away from the bustling metropolises of Dhaka and Kolkata, the Delta lies shrouded in darkness. At night, faced with an all-encompassing darkness, the spectre of the waters taking away home, friends and family increases manifold times. Water is envisioned as the object of terror in this conceptualisation of the site of climate change as a conflict zone. A slippery, wet, water-borne world is presented where the human lives are completely predicated by their interactions with water. My project tries to give form to this multi-variate sense of helplessness in the face of this crisis with the use of flash photography at close quarters on one hand, and infra-red imagery on the other.

WVDZ: The two series we’re showing at Kings of a Bereft Land at Fotomuseum Den Haag (Where Do We Go When the Final Wave Hits and Terra Mutata) are part of a larger trilogy, entitled Shunyo Raja. Working in trilogies seems to be a pattern for you, as seen with earlier projects. What attracts you to this kind of storytelling?

AD: I work primarily on long-term projects and am interested in creating hyper-structures within which to house my projects. Trilogies hence present an exciting prospect for me, allowing the development of a particular theme in depth by incorporating a plurality of ways of visualising and conceptualising.

WVDZ: On the subject of storytelling and trilogies, you seem to relish exploring the possibilities of photographic techniques and how to best utilise these to emphasise a particular subject. Each chapter in Shunyo Raja has a different feel. Was that a conscious choice for you?

AD: The different trilogies I have worked on progress along different conceptualisations. The Night Trilogy (the first two chapters of which were published by l’Artiere Editions) explores the night and nighttime in three different geographical locations. The Cyber Trilogy, which I developed roughly a decade ago, investigated three distinct cyber phenomena.

The three chapters of The Shunyo Raja Monographies propose different ways of visualising and reading the same site of climate change, which is the Bengal Delta in this case. Each has a distinct feel that stems from the conceptualisation of that particular project. The first chapter, Kings of a Bereft Land, uses a more formal approach, presenting landscapes and portraits shot during daytime. The second chapter, Where Do We Go When the Final Wave Hits, uses flash photography at nighttime. This chapter depicts an unfolding dystopia by exploring the psychological ramifications of climate change at night when the omnipresence of water transforms into a veritable symbol of terror. The third chapter, Terra Mutata, uses full spectrum and infra-red imagery to envision the site of climate change as a conflict zone, looking at the haunting remains of architecture and people, refracting time to present the unfolding crisis as a near future post-apocalyptic spectre.

WVDZ:
For the exhibition at The Hague, we’re showing your projects more as an installation than a traditional photography exhibition. So, there are no frames or prints on the wall this time, but instead light boxes stacked on top of each other and suspended from the ceiling. Because the works themselves are literally glowing and illuminating the space, it has quite a dramatic effect. It can be even confronting, walking in between the images. Does a presentation like this add another layer to the project for you?

AD: I am interested in the possibilities of photography exhibited within installation and/or sculptural frameworks and this exhibition realises that in a really effective way. In addition to the sizes of the images in the lightboxes, walking around the space in between the constellations of images heightens the feeling of being inside or within this zone of climate change. One really encounters the psychological realms that the darkness engenders in the Delta via this installation framework. While photobooks circulate in smaller, niche specialist circles, this show opens up new possibilities. Being up for five months also allows a wide and general public to visit and interact with the show.

WVDZ: When you think about what environmental activism actually is, I think a lot of people go to Greta Thunberg organising a school strike, throwing soup against famous artworks or protesters blocking highways. But it’s of course a multi-faceted movement, in which artists and photographers are playing a key role. How would define environmental activism and how do you think your work relates?

AD: I do not see myself as an activist. My projects are not outcome-oriented nor driven with specific objectives in mind other than a broader framework that serves as a general plea for humanity and humankind to save itself from the difficult futures we are racing towards. I would hope, however, that the works inspire others to become activists or artists or artist-activists in their own stead and also serve as a repository or archive or point of reference for future discourses on the planetary crisis.

The artist has a fundamental role to alter perception and shift viewpoints by proposing new ways of seeing. By doing so, the artist enables the artwork to inspire the audience towards taking action, thereby enabling change. While art could in some instances provide solutions, the real concrete solutions need to come from science, technology, architecture and stronger democratic frameworks. I hope my art will motivate people to push for these solutions or start demanding for change in more concerted ways.

WVDZ:
I also like to think about the arts as a place for progress, where artists can play an important role in both bringing people together on an issue, but also challenging audiences (and themselves) into thinking about unusual solutions to problems. Do you share this perhaps overly optimistic view?

AD: I am against tinting projects or creative discourses with hope unnecessarily. It is a given that things will become much worse before they eventually get better. The point of this work is to prepare consensus and convince people to decisively come together to get to the point where things can get better: therein lies the optimism of this work. Coming from a science and technology background, I do believe that the main solutions will come from there, however the arts can motivate or inspire people to think about the world and respond to its needs or to look for those solutions in science and technology.

WVDZ: You are moving into film, and you are incorporating infrared imagery into this as well. Do you see film as a logical step in the evolution of your visual language?

AD: Increasingly, I am working with film, extending hitherto existing photography projects into video. I am interested in the changes that manifest in the passage from still to moving image and the artistic possibilities contained therein. We return to the landscapes and people that figure in my long-term photography project, across India and Bangladesh. Through an elaborate and complex interweaving of photography from my trilogy, low-res mobile phone video archives from those impacted by climate change, new hi-res video footage, text and poetry, I have not only ruminated on the effects of time and the role of the image, but also on memory, landscape and loss. ♦

All images courtesy the artist and Fotomuseum Den Haag, the Netherlands © Arko Datto.

Installation views of Kings of a Bereft Land at Fotomuseum Den Haag, the Netherlands, until 21 May 2023.


Arko Datto is an artist, lecturer and curator. His photographs have been published in TIME, National Geographic, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Trouw, de Volkskrant, Vrij Nederland amongst others. His work has been exhibited at venues around the world, including SFO Museum, San Francisco, US, Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, Germany, and the Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Frankfurt, Germany. He has published three photobooks: Pik-nik (Editions Le bec en l’air, 2018), Mannequin (Edizioni L’artiere, 2018) and Snakefire (Edizioni L’artiere, 2021). He co-curated the Chennai Photo Biennale in Madras, India, in 2021. Datto is represented by East Wing Gallery, Doha.

Willemijn van der Zwaan has served as Curator of Photography at Fotomuseum and Kunstmuseum Den Haag since 2019. She studied Art History at the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands, where she specialised in photography during her masters in Modern and Contemporary Art. After graduating in 2012, she worked as a gallery manager, independent writer, researcher and critic. She has contributed to multiple photobooks, including Sanne Sannes: Copyright/Archief (2015), Bastiaan Woudt: Hidden (2019), Popel Coumou: Paper and Light (2020) and Jeroen Hofman: Island (2022).

Images:

1-“Sagar Island, India” (2019), from Where do we go when the final wave hits. © Arko Datto.

2-“Mousuni Island, India” (2018), from Where do we go when the final wave hits. © Arko Datto.

3-“Along the Meghna river, Bangladesh” (2017), from Where do we go when the final wave hits. © Arko Datto.

4-“Chakariya Upazila, Bangladesh” (2020), from Terra Mutata. © Arko Datto.

5>11 Installation views of Kings of a Bereft Land (2023) at Fotomuseum Den Haag, the Netherlands. © Arko Datto.

Photo London 2023

Top five fair highlights

Selected by Alex Merola

With 125 galleries from over 50 cities, the eighth edition of Photo London proves that amidst the emergence of ‘disruptive’ new technologies, the miracle of the darkroom is as alive today as it has ever been. Here are five standout displays from the UK’s largest photography fair – selected by 1000 Words Assistant Editor, Alex Merola.


1. Prince Gyasi
Maât Gallery

Prince Gyasi steals the show at the booth of Paris-based Maât Gallery, which has newly-established a small but exciting roster of artists with close ties to west Africa. A bold and fresh talent who shot to fame with his inspiring iPhone shots offering alternative visions of daily life in an around Accra, Gyasi is staging brilliant new works here which will bounce your senses like a pinball machine. Enlivened by an Afropop-dubbed palette – packed with colours as vibrant as if squeezed directly out of a paint tube – these exuberant, dreamlike utopias channel Gyasi’s synaesthetic sensibility, in turn prizing perception over objectivity. Making a memorable appearance is a paper plane-hurling fisherman whose image appears unburdened by stereotypical Western visual scripts of “Africa”. As for the other protagonists, they are equipped with cardboard wings, fish and giant eggs. Gyasi utilises everyday symbols that border on the mundane, and edits them into the sublime.

2. Sakiko Nomura and Chieko Shiraishi
Galerie Écho 119

Never failing to disappoint is the Discovery section, where Galerie Écho 119 is amongst the many young galleries making a strong first impression. Unmissable are the Polaroid triptychs of Sakiko Nomura, which are characterised by a soft, female gaze. Curiously, in the early 1990s, she served as the (only ever) assistant of Nobuyoshi Araki, who is also represented with a selection of Polaroids. But it is Chieko Shiraishi’s spine-chillingly beautiful, moonlit prints which make this booth a standout. Splayed across the wall in a way that makes one wonder where each begins and ends, they are products of zokin-gake, an old Japanese retouching technique involving the wiping of a rag. By way of Shiraishi’s conjuration of an intricate web of gradual transformations – one which evokes the twin figures of experience and emptiness with nuanced sensitivity – subject becomes subservient to content. The subject may be a mass of fog that swallows a spiralling staircase, or the footprints that creep up a desolate, snow-clad alley. The content is Shiraishi’s response to what she saw; shorthand notes from her spirit. 

3. Jack Davison, Photographic Etchings
Cob Gallery

Photography-as-magic – as uncloaking the image through rag-rubbing, Polaroid-shaking or otherwise – is also evidenced in a dazzling presentation by London’s Cob Gallery. Those who were impressed by Jack Davison’s Photographic Etchings exhibition last year – and left wanting to see more from the artist’s archive – will welcome this latest outing. The booth compiles an absorbing selection of Davison’s black-and-whites – previous photogravures, new works as well as unseen artist proofs – that, together, relinquish such immersive drama. They are tactile things, suspended in frames like fragments wherein truth is always out of reach. Any of photography’s indexical factualness that remains in these introspective gravures lingers only as a vague aura of the technology which aided in their production. After all, although they are derived from photographs, they appear as distant cousins of the source image. For Davison, the camera is a tool, and, if the photograph endures, it is merely as a material memory of the process, squarely situated within the tradition of etching.

4. Hideka Tonomura, mama love
Zen Foto Gallery

Since the families of Nan and Mann, respectively, redefined the stakes for documenting one’s own tribe, one particularly dramatic case of a photographer probing the ambiguous relationship between the camera and intimacy is undoubtedly Hideka Tonomura. Arranged alter-like on a wall at Zen Foto Gallery – one of several galleries at this edition hailing from Asia – mama love unveils a vital and cathartic threesome: the revenge of the artist’s mother against her tyrannical husband; a rebellion against the ordeal she endured for years. Whilst Tonomura becomes less a witness and more an accomplice in this adulterous affair, by “burning out” the male protagonist in the darkroom, the artist seems to suggest that he, if anything, gets in the way. Tonomura’s series is not deliberately provocative, nor does it revel in sexual voyeurism. Instead, it is the patient record of a conversation between a mother and daughter, and a rediscovery of their love for each other. It’s both radical and radiant.

5. Chris Killip and Graham Smith
Augusta Edwards Fine Art

Off the back of 20/20, last year’s very special joint presentation at Augusta Edwards Fine Art, it is satisfying to see the two great British photographers Chris Killip and Graham Smith side-by-side once more. The latter is lesser known, of course, but there is a strong case to be made that the two really ought to be mentioned in the same breath for their exceptional, community-focused documents of people living in the North East’s edges during the Thatcher years. Where Smith very much belongs to Middlesbrough, the industrial town in which he was born and raised, Killip was an outsider determined to earn the trust of Tyneside’s working-class. Nevertheless, their respective works lack any critical distance from their subjects and are both borne from a similar time-intensive, personal involvement. There is graft and there is grace in these two peerless photographers. Smith’s shot of the historic Forty Foot Road is powerful, sobering and formally beautiful, whilst humming as a scene of life is Killip’s portrayal of Helen – upside down and limbs akimbo – who stars elsewhere in his seminal chronicle of Lynemouth’s sea-coalers. Within this little facet of social history, one finds humanity in spades. ♦

Photo London runs at Somerset House until 14 May 2023.


Alex Merola is Assistant Editor at 1000 Words.

Images:

1-Prince Gyasi, Airbon II (2023). © Prince Gyasi. Courtesy Maât Gallery.

2-Prince Gyasi, Limitless (2023). © Prince Gyasi. Courtesy Maât Gallery.

3-Sakiko Nomura, Untitled (date unknown). © Sakiko Nomura. Courtesy Galerie Écho 119.

4-Nobuyoshi Araki, Untitled (c. 1990s). © Nobuyoshi Araki. Courtesy Galerie Écho 119.

5-Chieko Shiraishi, Notsuke, Hokkaido (2012). © Chieko Shiraishi. Courtesy Galerie Écho 119.

6-Jack Davison, Untitled (2023). © Jack Davison. Courtesy Cob Gallery.

7-Jack Davison, Untitled AP2 (2022). © Jack Davison. Courtesy Cob Gallery.

8-Jack Davison, Untitled (2023). © Jack Davison. Courtesy Cob Gallery.

9>10-Hideka Tonomura, mama love (2008). © Hideka Tonomura. Courtesy Zen Foto Gallery.

11-Graham Smith, The Forty Foot Road in the Old Iron District of Middlesbrough (1978–79). © Graham Smith. Courtesy Augusta Edwards Fine Art.

12-Chris Killip, The Laidler family, Lynemouth, Northumberland (1983). © Chris Killip Photography Trust/Magnum Photos. Courtesy Augusta Edwards Fine Art.

Oliver Frank Chanarin

A Perfect Sentence

Exhibition review by Mark Durden

In response to Oliver Frank Chanarin’s new exhibition at FORMAT23, Mark Durden argues that the artist’s conceptual trick of revealing the printing process is a means of vivifying a conventional photographic portrait practice and chimes with the project’s quirky index of Britishness. 


The photographic portrait is arguably the central genre and tradition of photography. Oliver Frank Chanarin offers a new take on this important and longstanding tradition through an old process in A Perfect Sentence, his exhibition at The Museum of Making, as part of the 11th edition of Derby’s FORMAT International Photography Festival.

Chanarin’s portraits of people in Britain have been drawn from multiple journeys across the country over the last year, commissioned and produced by Forma, in collaboration with an impressive network of partner arts organisations and funders. This show of around 100 colour photographs amounts to about a third of the pictures that make up the total project. It will be followed by further exhibitions as well as a publication from Loose Joints.

August Sander was an initial point of departure, but, as Chanarin acknowledges, “the cool archival approach” soon stopped being helpful. As it evolved, he felt his work was closer to that of Sander’s contemporary Helmar Lerski. An actor and cameraman, Lerski made multiple portraits of his sitters, with a variety of expressions, people drawn from the streets of Berlin — beggars, hawkers, street cleaners, housemaids, porters — but abstracted from their social roles through his aesthetic vision. Chanarin’s portraits are not as manipulated as Lerski’s. But in the theatre and dramaturgy of many of his subjects, one senses the Lerski connection. Chanarin is not so much interested in people’s social role; despite having visited factories, there is little interest in describing labour and working conditions but instead a presentation of British life as bizarre spectacle.

The work sets up a friction between the familiar convention of the photographic portrait and a conceptual strategy that makes visible the process of C-type colour printing. The colour casts, bands of differing exposure, double printing, as well as all the markings and annotations upon many of the prints, affirm and display the darkroom work of making these portrait pictures — the craft and labour and time integral to this now vintage, noxious and disappearing chemical process. In resisting the closure and fixity of the final image, these imperfect images, according to the wall text that accompanies the show, are intended to “allude to the mercurial nature of identity and the subjectivity inherent in image-making.” But great photographic portraits have and will always continue to draw attention to the mercurial nature of identity. I don’t need to see the process of the portrait’s printing production to be made aware of this.

What then does making the printing process visible do? Is the disclosure of the colour printing process intended to revive interest in an old and disappearing process? Chanarin’s turn to the darkroom does seem to chime with the way in which he describes this project. After a successful two decades’ long artistic collaboration, he wanted to return to what drew him to photography in the first place: “encounters with strangers and the beautiful accidental moments that come with getting lost in the world with a camera.”

The visibility of the printing process does make us aware of colour as a filter, as an artificial application. In this respect, it links up with the make-up abundant and excessive on some of the faces he has pictured. There is a certain aesthetic pleasure and joy in the deviation from the straight colour print and it could be seen in keeping with the Photoconceptualists’ dismantling and disclosure of photographic form. At the same time, it could also be seen just as a gimmick, a means of vivifying a conventional photographic portrait practice.      

Drawn to the theatrical, the strange and the unusual, Chanarin’s is a carnivalesque portrait of Britain — encompassing carnival troupes, protestors dressed as chickens, model railway enthusiasts, a volunteer couple at a local zoo with snake and tarantula, the bondage rituals from the Shibari class for a local fetish community and pictures he has made with volunteers of the Casualties Union, people who use make up and acting skills to play the role of casualties for the emergency services and medical profession. The latter portraits introduce a realm of simulation, confuse and unsettle the documentary basis of the project. Chanarin’s interest in performance and dramaturgy in the portrait transaction is evident not just through all those he pictures costumed and made up. It is also there in less adorned subjects: his brief sequence of portraits made in homeless shelters, the calm communique of the man who makes enigmatic gestures and signs with his hands to his photographer (and us) or the woman whose nervous energy means she cannot hold a pose.

For this show, the photographs are all printed the same size (10 x 8 inches) and framed the same way. Their arrangement and sequencing are however playful and break uniformity — pictures are hung in corners, above eye level and, in one, presented as a diagonal drawn out across a long wall. The diagonal line of pictures presents us not with portraits but with photographs of a seemingly random assortment of objects and details drawn from the communities he has been given access to and places visited — a quirky index of Britishness ranging from stacks of buttered white toast to a Rolls Royce plane engine.  

None of the photographs on show have labels or captions. Instead, there are a series of 12 short, condensed stories delivered as a spoken narrative by the photographer and accessed on our mobile phones through a QR code. Chanarin’s poetic, open-ended and suggestive auto-narratives provide an effective alternative to captions and convey often interesting reflections, thoughts, ideas and observations from his travels across the UK, meeting and photographing different people. They are also refreshingly open and honest in their admission of the difficulties and problems of picturing people. After a photography workshop with teenagers and posting a portrait of a student helper on Instagram, he tells us how he had to remove the image and destroy all photographs made with the teenagers because he had broken safeguarding issues.

A happier story is attached to his portrait of three young women in bikinis standing before rocks on a beach, all hands raised shielding their eyes as they look into the sun. When he wrote to them with a copy of the photograph, one of the bathers said how proud and happy she was to have her picture taken, how the picture gave her confidence in her own looks, without make up. Chanarin exhibits two versions of this photograph side by side, one clearly printed and the other with bands of different exposures darkening the picture and the faces of the bathers. In the anecdote about the picture being liked, he does not say which version he sent her, which raises questions about the interest his subjects would have in the prints bearing marks of the process of their production. One picture of a housing estate has the words “bad” written up on it, a commentary that inevitably could also be taken to not just be a remark about the print.

Funding bodies love art with social impact but much art that is “community-driven” or “socially engaged” tends to be over-determined by the worthiness of its cause and message, and often does little more than replay prejudices and assumptions about the communities represented whilst never really overcoming the gulf and distance between the artist and the people that have become their subject. From the long list of credits and acknowledgments given in a wall panel for this exhibition, this project, made in collaboration with no less than eight UK organisations, would appear to have been both well-funded and supported, involving teams and networks of people to make it happen, right down to the designer and graphic artist (two people, not one) of A Perfect Sentence’s identity. Yet while there are reflections on the problems and issues around representing people within his spoken narrative, it is still dominated by a rather conservative and romantic portrait of the lone artist photographer as “wanderer”, losing himself in the strange experiences and encounters opened up by life in regional towns and cities in Britain. The canny conceptual trick of showing us the printing process also nicely matches the project’s overall romantic premise: implying a freedom from rules and templates. It fits with the eccentricities of the folk on show and Chanarin’s left-field vision of Britain. ♦      

All images courtesy of the artist, The Museum of Making and FORMAT International Photography Festival, Derby © Oliver Frank Chanarin. Commissioned and produced by Forma, in collaboration with eight UK organisations. Supported by Arts Council England, Art Fund and Outset Partners.

A Perfect Sentence ran at The Museum of Making, as part of FORMAT International Photography Festival, until 3 September 2023. A Perfect Sentence (Part II) runs at KARST Gallery, Plymouth, until 18 Match 2024.


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-Oliver Frank Chanarin, Marine Academy (Year 10) (2023) © the artist.

2-Oliver Frank Chanarin, with Elaine (2023) © the artist.

3-Oliver Frank Chanarin, with anon (2023) © the artist.

4-Oliver Frank Chanarin, with Untitled (2023) © the artist.

5-Oliver Frank Chanarin, with June (2023) © the artist.

6-Oliver Frank Chanarin, with Mark (2023) © the artist.

7-Oliver Frank Chanarin, with Fay, Maisie and Robyn (2023) © the artist.

8-Oliver Frank Chanarin, Untitled (2023) © the artist.

9-Oliver Frank Chanarin, with Adam (2023) © the artist.

10-Oliver Frank Chanarin, with L Cpl Oliver (2023) © the artist.

11-Oliver Frank Chanarin, with Joshua, anon and Andrew (2023) © the artist.