Academic journal article Afterimage

Image, Author, Failure, Chance: A Conversation with Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin

Academic journal article Afterimage

Image, Author, Failure, Chance: A Conversation with Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin

Article excerpt

An often-cited origin story pervading Western culture goes something like this: Abraham's lather, Terah, runs a shop that sells idols. While his father is away, Abraham, persuaded of the falsehood of idol-worship, smashes all but the largest idol, then places the club in the idol's hands. Terah returns and, seeing the broken statues, asks, "What happened?"; Abraham responds, "Isn't it clear? Your idol destroyed all the others." To which Terah replies, "It was you who broke the idols; my idol couldn't have done this." Says Abraham: "So you admit it: your idols can do nothing."

If this midrash, or commentary, is any indication, it's how monotheism got its iconoclastic start: on the one hand, images aren't to he trusted; at the same time, they are deeply powerful, and can be used for any number of conflicting agendas; therefore they must be controlled, managed, and when necessary, destroyed. In the millennia since, the fear of and desire to control images has only grown, with governments, the media, militaries, police, and other social institutions fighting to make, hide, and archive certain images, while revealing and circulating others. Animating the struggle, images themselves prove consistently difficult to corral, given their capacity to pick up new and even contradictory meanings, as well as the possibility--thanks to the advent of photography, the internet, and other digital tools -of their (seemingly) limitless repetition and circulation.

Oliver Chanarin and Adam Broomberg, artists who met working as photographers and creative directors at Colors magazine, have spent more than two decades investigating the complex relationship between images and power. Through work that spans photojournalism, curatorial projects, and archives, Broomberg and Chanarin examine images' roles within systems of trauma, surveillance, and authority, and the degree to which representation itself is implicated within those circuits. Their earlier projects did so through "straight" photojournalism: for Ghetto (2003), the two took photographs in a dozen "modern ghettos," from Tanzanian refugee camps to a maximum-security prison in Pollsmoor, South Africa; for Trust (2000), they shot portraits of people's unguarded, un-posed faces. These books evince the power of representation as well as the authority of the person making the image.

But in more recent work, the two explain, the individual image is not as important as "revealing the fact behind the camera--that the material, or the technology, which is assumed to be neutral, is anything but neutral." To that end, over the course of the two weeks they were embedded with the British Army in Afghanistan, the two unrolled and exposed six-meter sections of photo-sensitive paper, resulting in abstract pictures "depicting" the war (The Day Nobody Died, 2008). For another project, 7-6 Photograph the Details of a Dark Horce In Low Light, (2013), they loaded their cameras with long-expired Kodak film that had been produced to photograph subjects with light, not dark, skin, so as to explore the racist qualities inherent to film. And for their most recent project, Shiik Fleisch Mit Tzvei Eigen (2014), which Chanarin discusses here, they used a new facial recognition camera that creates full-laced portraits even without the subject's participation.

Another component of Chanarin and Broomberg's work examines how power operates through institutional archives. As an example, they mined the Belfast Exposed archive for People in Troubk Laughing Pushed to the Ground (201 I which includes photographs taken in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. They collected. images that were cut up, defaced, written on, and otherwise marked by archivists and the subjects of the photographs themselves. The images bear, and bare, the traces of their uses, making plain attempts to occlude or highlight certain people or moments an economy of' the image otherwise invisible to most viewers. far War Primer 2, which earned them the 2013 Deutsche Borse Photography Prize, they collected images from the internet documenting the so-called War on Terror, and collaged them onto. …

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