BT Robinson

Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin: Reading #5

In Photographic Interaction on March 17, 2011 at 11:21 pm

(Original Article)

“Now is a time of real re-birth [in documentary photography], in that you need to be more intelligent and more informed.”

The post-modern photograph exists in an ironic, self-referential world, in which the very thing it is trying to expose is also the object itself. Photographers like Broomberg and Chanarin place little clues in their photographs and in the way they series them, in order to let the informed viewer into the conversation. As inundated as we all are in photographs, there is still the tier above the common “exposure” to photography that must be achieved in order to view the image “properly.” And, for those who are not initiated, they are left with another image similar to those they’ve seen before, and the small hint in the back of their mind that there is nothing special about the image. Do they speak? Or do they remain silent, hoping not to reveal their status as “odd man out?”

Would you consider this work, since it is a critique of colonialism, post-colonialism? The term has been used for a few years now with very little definition around it’s edges, mostly in the contemporary Westerner’s attempt to tease out globalization and justify it’s continuing path. But one can look at it in regards to the Fig. series in that it hopes to directly comment on the ideas of European colonialism, and to act out it’s facade of collecting the “exotic” in hopes to capture it and possess it. The article is fairly clear about this idea, and I I think it may be the most relevant point made.

Yet, here exists two photographers who, because of the history of photography and colonialism, can without guilt guiltless capture, possess, and take credit for photographs that operate in an almost uncanny similarity. I wonder who is the more “mature” photographer: the one who can take the picture of the exploited tribesmen without shame, or the one who cowers away in finding a uncomfortable barrier to cross? The exploited tribesmen may say, “Yes, show the world what is happening!” but more often than not, it is the photographer inserting this speech bubble into his or her photograph. Nor are Broomberg and Chanarin interested in helping these people; they too want to collect the “exotic.”

And so I look at the quote I posted at the beginning and wonder: do we have to know the history of photography to feel welcomed in? Or do we have to know the history of photography in order to see supposed subtle image and sequence juxtaposition that both photographers hope to convey? I appreciate audacity to take difficult photographs, and perhaps I too am naive when it comes to what documentary photography should accomplish.

It may be that Broomberg and Chanarin’s re-birth is meant to be discouraging: that the photograph cannot change the world. Instead, it must play with the rules, tease them apart, and make subtle modifications in order to comment on it’s past. And if that is the future of documentary photography, I don’t know if it can be called such anymore. It may just fall into the realm of Art. Because only that world will get or care about the structures that these photographers are building.

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