GD4PHOTOART COMPETITION FINALISTS
Joan Fontcuberta for Óscar Monzón (Winner)
Óscar Monzón came into the international limelight with his project Karma, in which he turned his gaze to automobile culture with the eyes of a paparazzo and an advertising agent. His works emphasized the spell cast by a form of technology that acted as an object of desire, a fetish, a symbol of power, and at the same time a container for identity and experience.
In Maya, Monzón continues to pursue his own visual sociology, once again exploring advertising and identity as artificial backdrops that distort our life experience. But in this case, Monzón shifts his critical references towards scenes typical of film and science fiction: that science fiction that dreams up dystopian worlds populated by lonely multitudes under the control of all-seeing eyes. Transient beings, almost like androids frozen in time, one by one, they heed the call of commercial enticements: advertisements are the loudspeakers of consumerism, which shapes attitudes and behaviours, and between the lines they spread the diseases of capitalist mythology: mercantilism, alienation and inhumanity.
The French thinker Michel Serres cynically writes that we must love advertising, even though it «spreads falsehoods, exaggerates, fills up space with a mediocre din and ugly images, passes off abominable things for the nectar of the gods, multiplies the same way an epidemic does, intoxicates, and always lies». Yes, we must love it, because advertising is a promise of happiness, like religion or politics; the difference is that it does not hide its intent to persuade, putting its cards on the table. The cards it reveals, and above all their evident effects, are the point at which Maya pours salt on the wound.
If we examine the context of the photographic works, we find no will to act as a mirror, but rather as an X-ray and a scalpel. Starting with entirely real urban scenes, Monzón draws out tension and unease, shaping a new version of street photography that goes to the opposite extreme of the untamed documentarism of Garry Winogrand, but that also transcends the theatricalized forms of Philip-Lorca di Corcia or Jeff Wall. Vertigo and nightmares imbue this introspective journey into the “dark side” of the shining world of appearances. A scene formed by dense atmospheres and dramatic lights frames these snapshots of a “happy world” where happiness is dehumanized and, as Monzón shows us, is one with the apocalypse.
Lars Willumeit for Marc Roig Blesa
Since its early days, photography has been used not only in art and science but also enlisted in socio-political struggles in order to document circumstances and events.
This photography with a humanist slant often had the impetus of bringing social reform from above, by privileged actors such as the photographer Lewis Hine, rather than resistance and revolt from below.
However recent research into worker photography movements, an until recently hidden chapter in the history of photography, has demonstrated clearly for the early twentieth century that alternative subaltern photographic practices existed widely across Europe and beyond.
The theme of photography in relation to labour and visibility/invisibility and on how to find contemporary forms of visual activism in the post-Fordist era is at the centre of the artistic practice of Werker Magazine, an art collective consisting of Marc Roig Blesa and Rogier Delfos (with Werker referring to worker in Dutch).
Their radical praxis of photography based on self-representation, self-publishing and image critique is inspired, though not nostalgically, by the international worker photography movements of the 1920s and 30s. Werker Magazine develops and explores strategies of interaction and collaboration that enable and empower collective practices of self-representation within different geographies (it is currently preparing workshops in Spain, France and Morocco), institutional networks and social strata.
The project Werker 10 – Community Darkroom has a three part structure that adapts to the specifics of the local language and historical context: 1) 10 Minute photography course 2) Library 3) The eye of the worker. The project creates a situation
in which the exhibition space becomes an educational area rather than a contemplative one. Here a form of collaborative constellation is created in which the passive viewer of the white cube gallery space takes an active role not only in processes of image production but also in re-editing and critiquing snapshots as a form of collective learning.
In this instantiation the theme for the workshop is the notion of “invisible work” in that, ahead of the workshop, it serves as a guiding principle for the participants in order to create their own photographs of “invisible work” activities such as domestic work, informal work, voluntary work, care work and reproductive work. But it will also be a thinking tool for the collective editing and layout process during the workshop.
Francis Hodgson for Raphaël Dallaporta
Raphaël Dallaporta first came to my notice with a series of pictures of antipersonnel mines. Coolly photographed in the style of commercial product-shots, they were accompanied by quiet texts that placed these horrific instruments wholly within the commercial realm. Mines were cheap, effective, and had plenty of variety to suit customers’ needs. Dallaporta had produced a new kind of indictment by catalogue, and in so doing he had established the main lines of his interest: finding evidence in small or relatively small units of the large-scale and specialized industrial activities that mark our time.
Gradually his range expanded. He turned his eye to archaeology, using remote-controlled drones more usually used for warfare. He showed some of the many kinds of knowledge deployed in the construction of a railway. Now, in a project that started as a commission from the Cnes, the French Space Studies Centre, he has made a series on the Symphony project, the joint Franco-German satellite programme.
Dating from soon after the Second War (development was active since the early 1960s), the Symphony programme was a way for the two former rival nations to look determinedly forward together in the spirit of the Treaty of Rome. Symphony was a communications satellite system, the first one in Europe. It has considerable importance of its own: the forerunner of gps and other systems, precursor of the mobile communications revolution, ancestor of the Ariane space launcher… For Dallaporta it has metaphorical weight, too: if the two nations could develop
a comms system then they were surely developing actual communication between themselves at the same time.
But the particularities of the Symphony story catch Dallaporta’s attention. It was a marriage of giant industrial corporations, and although the satellites were never to carry commercial traffic, the benefits to the participant companies were enormous. Dallaporta’s views of the remaining satellite antennae are fractured. They underline how time has begun to dismantle our memory of these giant projects, controversial yet beneficial, public-spirited and privately advantageous. Between two of them, he recovers archival evidence of the early work going on: a lifetime away by now, ancient history. Symphony lives on in the little communications systems in the pockets of all of us: technology has become normal. It seems democratic. But it wasn’t always obvious that it was to be so. It may yet turn out not to be so in the end.
Devika Daulet-Singh for Madhuban Mitra and Manas Bhattacharya
Devika Daulet-Singh for Madhuban Mitra and Manas BhattacXerox machines arrived in India in early 1970s. For generations of students thereafter, the “photocopy” was a coveted piece of paper. In pre-digital India, it was an economical and more often than not, the only way to access reference books available in libraries. Running a Xerox machine was and still is a cottage industry across India. An amalgamation of two words; “photo” and “copy”, the ubiquitous photocopy left nothing in doubt about its intention. It almost always infringed on the intellectual rights of authors – scant attention, if any, was paid to the copyright notice inscribed inside books. College campuses were notorious consumers of photocopied books and class notes.
The artist couple, Madhuban Mitra and Manas Bhattacharya belong to a generation for whom the photocopy was more than a reproduction of a piece of paper, it was access to knowledge at a very small price. Their previous interest in obsolescence, in particular of the camera making industry, is extended to the obsolete models of Xerox machines imported to India. Their photographs imagine a relationship between the photocopy and the photographic image on two levels. Both are produced from mechanical machines using light and both are reproductions. The differences lie in their constitution: the photocopy doesn’t desire permanence like the photographic image, nor can it be a true likeness.
It resides in a penumbral space of its own making and keeps its reader company for a finite period of time.
Using a quasi-documentary approach, Mitra and Bhattacharya create an ensemble of photographs that describe the experience inside and around Xerox shops. Using single photographs, diptychs and triptychs, the cramped and dingy Xerox shops come alive as theatres of monotony. In these mute photographs, one can hear the drone of the machine working at its own rhythm while its operator has perfected the art of making photocopies with military precision and speed. To inject humour into the mundane scenes, the artists sometimes create a Doppelgänger to accentuate their banal existence.
There is another set of photographs where the relationship between the photocopy and the photographic image merge and become one. In the course of visiting Xerox shops, the artists collected rejected photocopies, which were re-photographed, enlarged and presented as photographic images. It’s no surprise these artifacts reflect on photography and are about photography.