Karla Hiraldo Voleau

Another Love Story

Book review by Anneka French

Through a combination of writing, photography and performance, Another Love Story, Karla Hiraldo Voleau’s new photobook with Mörel, re-narrates the final moments of a romantic relationship by casting a similar-looking actor as her ex-lover. Part-fact, part-fiction, the project abounds with emotional and ethical complexity to reclaim the power of her own history whilst also revealing how identity construction can be played out in the digital space, writes Anneka French.

Anneka French | Book review | 10 Jan 2024

September unfolds through sun-soaked photographs shot lakeside. The sculpted curvature of a man’s back shines wet in the light as he climbs rocks and swims in turquoise waters. There is warm skin, fine hair, touch, seduction. A pair of bare feet seen from above indicate the perspective of the photographer as she looks down upon the man. He winks back up at her.

Fast forward to November and glimpses of something amiss might be derived from the inclusion of an image in which the dark-haired man’s shadow throws his profile starkly against a golden-beige wall. His face is heavily blurred in a preceding image, as if turning away from the photographer. Much of November takes place in an idyllic wooden chalet, its bedroom flooded by low-slung winter sun, with the close-cropped intimacy of the man cooking at a stovetop interspersed by shots of him bare-chested and smiling. There are rumpled sheets, sunsets and harbour views. Romantic cliches abound, and stacking up, they begin to feel disconcerting.

Screenshots of two text messages and a brief handwritten note appear at the very beginning of Karla Hiraldo Voleau’s new photobook, Another Love Story, published by Mörel. The text provides fragments of information that signal a problem in the narrative, proving a hook which keeps the pages turning. It may not be a surprise to hear that there is no happy ending for the artist and her beau. Instead, the relationship, and importantly, the project, unravels gradually, month-by-month, into a story of one man’s deception. Hiraldo Voleau offers clarity in the form of an eight-page spread laid out as a script for two characters interleaved between the chapters of January and February. This transcript of a telephone conversation reveals the man, named within the book as X, to be leading a double life as the lover and live-in partner of another woman known as A. The text frames and contextualises the photographs within the book, a collection which is part-fact and part-fiction, and which abounds with emotional and ethical complexity.

In the book, Hiraldo Voleau, a Dominican-French artist photographer based in Lausanne, Switzerland, includes a small number of original photographs that were taken on a mobile phone camera during her relationship with X. The majority of the images in the book, however, have been recreated especially for the project, faithfully and painstakingly remade at the same locations and using highly similar objects and garments as props and costumes for the new photographs. In-the-moment snaps thus become examined and forensically re-staged tableaux. As a rule, where the face of X appears, the man presented alongside the artist is, in fact, an actor paid by her to play the role. This is a role that she is (re)performing too in an editing of memory, image and story. “It’s about 80 per cent reconstruction, 20 per cent true,” Hiraldo Voleau explains. However painful and however problematic casting a similar-looking actor as her ex-lover might be, she asserts Another Love Story as an attempt to reclaim her story and her experiences for herself.

In design terms, Another Love Story is reminiscent of a scrapbook, using torn strips of masking tape to roughly affix images so as to seem informal, some of which are afforded an additional sense of casual intimacy through domestic settings. In April, however, spectacular mountain views are made backdrop to a shot with the actor playing X’s head cut clean off and the photographer’s shown. In an adjacent image, further psychological layering takes place through multiple reflections in glass, splintering and fragmenting X as subject through the photographer’s gaze. In a number of instances, Hiraldo Voleau includes intensive repetition of the man’s face, as if the photographer (or viewer) is trying to work X out or, perhaps, as if to search for comparisons between X and the actor she has cast to play him. At the least, there is something verging on the voyeuristic in the repetitions, subjects that the photographer has explored in past bodies of work such as Hola Mi Amol (2019). A range of formats including small-scale prints arranged in lines and grids are mixed with full-bleeds. Resolution varies, and, while reaffirming the materiality of the images, the design of the book also references social media feeds and mobile phone camera rolls, those digital spaces that document, shape and underpin the ways lives are lived. These spaces are also part of the mechanisms through which relationships might be created and conveyed publicly, notable because in Hiraldo Voleau’s project, she intentionally re-visits and re-produces images that are personally significant after the fact.

May, the penultimate chapter, begins with sweaty bodies and smiling faces. These make way overleaf for images where photographer and actor-X are depicted wearing face masks on public transport, the bottom half of their faces redacted and unreadable. Actor-X sits at a restaurant table with his head in his hands, his face again hidden from sight. With June comes further obfuscation, a laptop now covering the lower half of his face. The concluding photograph in the book is a view in a car. Actor-X wears sunglasses, with the top half of his face glimpsed in the rear-view mirror in the top portion of the photograph. Through the windscreen, an open road lies ahead.

Three further text messages form an epilogue to the book. In this conversation between Hiraldo Voleau and A, who have formed, in a more genuinely surprising narrative twist, some sort of cathartic alliance in their shared experiences of X, there are self-reflexive mentions of the project, including its exhibition iterations which began with a display at MEP Studio in Paris in 2022. Optimistically, these snatches of text give both women some sense of closure. Hiraldo Voleau concludes: “Thank you. Nothing changes, I’m still so grateful that it is YOU in all of this. The show being in quite a long time, I’ll invite you to come later on. Please feel free to do so if you want! All the best til then!” ♦

All images courtesy the artist and Mörel © Karla Hiraldo Voleau

Another Love Story is published by Mörel.

Anneka French is a Curator at Coventry Biennial and Project Editor for Anomie, an international publishing house for the arts. She contributes to Art Quarterly, Burlington Contemporary and Photomonitor, and has had written and editorial commissions from Turner Prize, Fire Station Artists’ Studios, TACO!, Photoworks+ and Grain Projects. French served as Co-ordinator and then Director at New Art West Midlands, Editorial Manager at this is tomorrow and has worked at Tate Modern, London, Ikon, Birmingham and The New Art Gallery Walsall. 

Steffi Klenz

He only feels the black and white of it, Berlin Wall, 14-07-1973

Morel Books

It is as though the pages of Steffi Klenz’s new book, He only feels the black and white of it, Berlin Wall, 14-07-1973 contain a continuum of time all their own – one that exists in tandem with that which is outside of it, but differently.

Like cells from a malfunctioning cinema projector, we are presented with a repeating yet different image of the Berlin Wall being reconstructed, one after another. They have been ruptured – some melting, fluid and organic; others shattered, jagged and engineered. The text that underscores them presents recollected fragments from an interconnected cluster of lives from behind the wall. Their power is aggregated; built through the fractured context of their preceding pages, in a narrative structure reminiscent of Yevgeny Zamyatin’s book We. Similarly, the pace for Klenz’s writing snowballs; the speed at which one can read becomes increasingly insufficient to keep up with the growing voracity the written words demand as they compound one another.

A similar maniacal reading manner is evoked from the crudely screen-printed images, their style not so much lackadaisical as furious and energised. When I have discussed the photograph used here with Klenz in the past, it has been one of few things to visibly enrage her. It is this passion that I see pulled and scraped across the prints in the book, not the careful and loving hand of an artisan, but the impassioned hand of a victim. It is as though through this printing she has tried to erase and understand the image – to simultaneously rupture yet piece it together.

Paired with the text, these images present a multiplicitous representation of time in relation to the notion of the pivotal moment. While the cultures of the wider world progress within the texts – with time-anchors such as “Adam Quinn, an American Bagpipes player, is born” along with newspaper headlines and number one songs – the image only shifts in appearance, its reappearance page after page as painfully sedentary as the wall itself. “Time, Wolfgang says, unfolds differently on this side of the wall.”

—Oliver Gapper

All images courtesy of the artist. © Steffi Klenz

Nobuyoshi Araki

Marvelous Tales of Black Ink

Special book review by Ivan Vartanian

One of Nobuyoshi Araki’s many wizard-like tricks is his ability to usher in the feeling that there is more than meets the eye. His photography seems to lean towards the grand and epic. Even is his most tender of moments – photographing his dying, beloved cat or taking snapshots of his newly wedded bride, Yoko, on their honeymoon trip – he seems to be able to connect to something that is on a cosmic order of magnitude. While this may indeed be the case on the level of content, I also know Araki to be an irrepressible and consummate showman. Little is left to chance in the scenarios and scenes that he builds for his images since he operates like a stage manager, directing all components on and off it. In a sense, Araki’s images are constructions in which each tier (including his crew, the lighting, and, of course, the model) is manipulated like marionettes. So when approaching a book such as Marvelous Tales of Black Ink, published by Morel Books, we cannot underestimate Araki’s level of clever play (read: calculation).

Each image in the book is illustrated with character forms written in brush pen. For a western audience, an already alien written system is made all the more difficult to decipher. This doesn’t mean Araki isn’t mindful of his audience; it’s just the opposite. He is fully aware that his readership won’t be able to make sense of the brushwork beyond an appreciation for its graphic effect. The calligraphy is a puzzle for which there may or may not be an answer. But being plainly read isn’t the point. Rather, what he is doing here is presenting a series of riddles and he asks the reader to step into that unknowable terrain without expectations of answers. The gesture here is one of pointing, not explaining.

Even being able to read Japanese, several of the writings in this book left me scratching my head. I had to do some research to parse some of his wordplays. Take, for example, the book’s title, which uses Chinese characters that are not part of everyday usage. The title is a direct reference to a novel by Kafu Nagai (1879-1959) written in 1937, called 濹東綺譚. The story is set in pre-war Japan and is about a retired novelist who has a brief love affair with a prostitute. It’s widely believed that the novel’s protagonist is a representation of the author. For the title of this photobook Araki has made one modification to the original: he’s replaced the second character entirely, changing it from 東 (east in English) to 汁 (liquid or juice). Perhaps this is meant emphasise the liquid nature of his brushwork’s India ink, which is what the title’s first character means.

Araki’s wordplay has been a consistent presence throughout his career. Apart from the copious volume of images that he continues to produce, Araki has also written a tremendous amount. In fact, in the late-1990s, a multiple-volume compendium of his writings was published that canvassed the extent of his essays, diaries, and other texts that are difficult to categorise. His sensitivity to language is perhaps also matched only by his irreverence for it. For every measure of aesthete musings, there is an equal measure of crass humour. He has often refered to his camera as a ca-mara. Mara is Japanese slang for penis; a more faithful translation would be “dick.” He is not only equating the camera with a phallus but also conflating the two words and the two ideas – a central tenant of Araki’s thoughts on photography.

Conflation of two forms into one is a running visual and thematic trope throughout Araki’s oeuvre. This trope is also a form of nodding to some other existing form or body of work. In terms of traditional Japanese aesthetics, this is called mitateru. The English word allusion approaches this idea to a certain degree. Where allusion calls to mind an existing work, mitateru borrows the referenced form en masse with some modification. As Araki has done with the title, he has borrowed from the novelist Nagai, the “original” (in Western parlance) is presented simultaneously as its revised form. This is less an act of plagiarism and more a play of forms, by calling to mind and asserting the presence of both the original and its revised version at the same time. In this instance, Araki is presenting himself as both the novelist Nagai and the fiction’s protagonist.

While the calligraphy was ostensibly all done at one time, the images are pulled from the photographer’s vast archive of images. The bondage images were a regular theme in Araki’s work in the 1990s. Suspending a nude from the ceiling and contorting the model in such an elevation requires is a highly sophisticated rope technique. Ensuring the safety and relative comfort of the model means that each of these shoots requires an elaborate staging production. Moreover, this floating technique seems to make use of a decidedly traditional Japanese space configuration (madori); the ropes are attached to exposed beams, which are typically found in a tatami room. An extension of this scenario is the kimono that the women wear, or in many cases don’t wear. The space and the vestments and the network of finely organised cords all point to a particular aestheticism. Araki is drawing our awareness to not only the content of what’s written but also our own processes of how we read those signifiers. Within this schema, the female form as an object of voyeuristic sexual desire is complicated, as evinced by Simon Baker’s afterword to the book, which references Georges Bataille in his discussion of the flowers images included in this volume. As such, the literary superstructure reinforces the complexity of how we are to read this book and the photographer’s base instincts are mitigated by the sophistication of the overall structure that he’s set into motion. Then again, maybe the joke’s on us. Personally, I’ve never known Araki to not mention his mara in nearly every conversation.

The book is a handsome production. The jacket of this oversized book feels like starched linen and the motif is raised. The choice of materials is refined and the printing, while simple, is done well. The coat of varnish on the plates is greatly appreciated.

All images courtesy of Morel Books and Taka Ishii Gallery. © Nobuyoshi Araki

Ivan Vartanian is an American writer, curator, and publisher based in Tokyo. He is the co-author of Japanese Photobooks of the 1960s & 70s (Aperture, 2009) and Setting Sun: Writings by Japanese Photographers (Aperture, 2006), ArtWork: Seeing Inside the Creative Process (Chronicle Books, 2011), See/Saw: Connections Between Japanese Art Then & Now (Chronicle Books, 2011), and editor/producer of Egon Schiele: Drawings and Watercolors (Thames & Hudson, 2003). Vartanian also founded GOLIGA Books.