Academic journal article Afterimage

A Landscape of Tragedy: New Debates in Alfredo Jaar's "Politics of Images"

Academic journal article Afterimage

A Landscape of Tragedy: New Debates in Alfredo Jaar's "Politics of Images"

Article excerpt

Alittle-known work by the Chilean artist Alfredo, Jaar--Faces, from 1982--was exhibited For the first time during the artist's Berlin retrospective in. 2012 and again this year to accompany the premiere of Shadows at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) Museum of Art. (2) In Faces, liar pairs newspaper clippings with a single face, extracted from the crowd and enlarged, to "rescue it"--he claims--from anonymity and oblivion. (3) This concept of rescue--a kind of reframing of the content within a new context--also applies to what the artist intends as a trilogy of works, each dedicated to a single image. The first was The Sound of Silence (2006) in which the artist rescued a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph from controversy and reclaimed its significance as a "signal of distress." (4)

As a lamentation, Jaar evokes a minor chord in this work, acutely sensitive to photography's binding relationship to death. Minor in its sparse precision of aesthetic means, the rhythm of sequencing, and the tonality of his plea to consider carefully one's position within a heated debate, The Sound of Silence is one of Jaar's major accomplishments. Exhibited twenty-five times in eighteen countries, in terms of widespread viewership it is undoubtedly his most successful work to date. He now continues his trilogy with a second work entitled Shadows (2014.), eulogizing Dutch photojournalist Koen Wessing (1942-2011), who covered the struggles for democracy in Latin America throughout the 1970s and '80s during the rise of repressive dictatorships. This essay proposes to consider these two works in light of ongoing, debates on the representation of suffering.


kevin carter (5)

The Sound of Silence is a video projection as prose poem, sparsely outlining the controversial career of South African photojournalist Kevin Carter (1960-94). Having started out documenting the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, Carter later covered rebel movements and famine disaster throughout the continent. His eye was no stranger to catastrophe. In early 1993, he travelled to the Sudan along with South African photojournalist Joao Silva to document the guerrilla fighting. According to Silva, their UN transport plane stopped to distribute food to famine victims, and Carter stayed near the plane to photograph the children temporarily abandoned by mothers who set them down to collect rations. A small child--emaciated and weak--struggled to crawl to the food distribution center. A vulture landed nearby. Carter positioned himself for a meaningful composition, hoping the vulture would spread its wings. It did not. After some minutes, Carter took a few images, then chased the vulture away. The child continued his struggle and the photographer smoked a cigarette before his plane took off for the next crisis center." (6)

The New York Tumes purchased and published the fateful image of the child and bird on March 26, 1993. Immediately the newspaper received a deluge of mail asking the fate of what was then believed to be a little girl. Inquiries were made, but the child's whereabouts were unknown. The Times's response to readers prompted an outcry of rebuke against a photojournalist who was seemingly more intent on getting a good image than in saving the life Of a child. The media audience saw only a small portion of what the photographer had witnessed--a single frame, an isolated microcosm within a more significant macro-event--and it is difficult to determine whether it was the condemnation he received for "preying on" his subject or the visual catalog of human suffering haunting his mind's eye that stripped him of the will to continue. Carter committed suicide on July 27, 1994, shortly after being awarded the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography, which included the image that had drawn so much criticism.

Jaar knew of Carter and Was determined to make a work about the image, but he waited until the moment was auspicious. …

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