WHAT CAN PHOTOGRAPHY DO?
IN LIMBO addresses our current state of being, suspended and in vacuum. This issue reflects on how we are experiencing the two main topics of our time — a global pandemic and social challenges — while looking at how this could be a fundamental chance to shift our questions on photography: stop asking ‘what photography is’ and start consciously talking about ‘what photography can do’ and ‘what we want photography to do’. Shortly, we are addressing the emotional limbo, the political limbo, the sudden silencing of all the background noise that put all of us still — and forced us to listen, and act.
IN LIM BO
ASPHO DEL MEA DOWS by ELISA MEDDE images by AARON SCHUMAN
ASPHODEL MEADOWS into more functional photographic strategies, ones that have a more manifest communicative necessity such as photojournalism or what NGOs do with photographs, what is our agency there? Our ethic, fairness, or our statement? What at first sight looks like a big existential crisis, at closer inspection takes the shape of a rite of passage. At the core of all these factual, intellectual questions, there is a seed that says: and what about beauty? What about the beauty of images, their poetry, their resilience. If images are nothing more than what we can create, feel, experience, where is our sense and capacity to see and perceive beauty, poetry, resilience? Are we allowing enough space at all for them to be present, to have a role? If all signs points towards a new and renewed attitude towards the (photo graphic) image, one that needs to go through some sort of unlearning process so to allow a deeper experience of it, a deeper connection to the idea of images as living organism, as hyper-images, then it is probably not inappropriate, but essential, to include (or re-include) words such as beauty, healing, pleasure in our hyper intellectual vocabulary. The images adorning these pages come from a very recent body of work by Aaron Schuman, that goes under the title Sonata — Et in Arcadia Ego. Based on his travels to Italy and to the idea of the Grand Tour as a moment of research, discovery, and passage, Aaron mentions a quote from Goethe’s Italian Journey (1786-1788) as inspirational for his work: ‘At present I am preoccupied with sense-impressions...The truth is that, in putting my powers of observation to the test, I have found a new interest in life. How far will my scientific and general knowledge take me: Can I learn to look at things with clear, fresh eyes? How much can I take in at a single glance? Can the grooves of old mental habits be effaced? This is what I am trying to discover.’ These images, together with the precious line-up of visual and textual contributions in this issue of Foam Magazine deeply inspired us editors during these months, and allowed us to raise questions, offer opinions, elements, seeds and ingredients to see the limbo and hopefully also start seeing its limits, its edges, and cross them. Not towards any sort of salvation, or damnation, but bright new beginnings. Walking through asphodel meadows.
ELISA MEDDE is a photography editor, curator and writer. With a background in History of Art, Iconology and Photographic Studies, she worked for various cultural institutions, publishing houses and nonprofit organisations as project and research co-ordinator as well as independent curator and editor. Her academic research reflects on the relations between image and power, particularly in the context of contem-
porary photography. She served as juror for many prizes, including the Luma Rencontres Book Award, Copenhagen Photo Festival, Premio Celeste and Lens Culture. She has been nominator for the Mack First Book Award, Prix Elysée, MAST Foundation for Photography Grant and Leica Oskar Barnack award amongst others. She joined Foam Magazine in 2012.
All images from the series SONATA, 2019-2020 © Aaron Schuman AARON SCHUMAN is an American photographer, artist, writer and curator based in the United Kingdom. His latest photographic monograph is SLANT (MACK, 2019) — which was cited as one of 2019’s ‘Best Photobooks’ by numerous photographers, artists, critics and publications.
WO S A R M AFE L I I Y E GTC S I OHA N L G L Y by LEWIS BUSH
It is an avowed goal for many photographers, but in truth very few creative works have a wide and lasting impact on the way people think about the world. In 1972 however a small book called Ways of Seeing achieved this elusive goal.1
Written by the painter and critic John Berger and a small group of collaborators, Ways of Seeing examined the ways that representational art creates meaning in a viewer’s mind. In particular, Berger wanted to show his readers that our own vision, and more specifically our understanding of the significance of what we see, is never neutral. It is something profoundly shaped both by the specificities of our biology, our lived experience, and by the technologies that mediate it. If viewers take away a single thing from Berger’s book, it should be the idea that looking, and more precisely seeing, these most innate and unavoidable of things, are always political acts.2 What I describe may sound less like a creative work, and more like a work of art history. Putting aside the tired assumption that only fiction writing is creative, Ways of Seeing was in many ways as much a work of visual art as it was one of artistic criticism. Berger and his collaborators, in particular designer Richard Hollis and the artist Sven Bloomberg, drew on a range of strategies to fracture the structure of the book, combining images and texts in playful and imaginative ways, even including three visual essays composed solely of images. The book’s chapters themselves have no predefined order, and readers are encouraged to approach them however they wish. In the 48 years since Berger’s book was published it has become nothing less than a canonical text, rarely missing from the reading lists of art and design courses in anglophone countries and beyond them. It has sold millions of copies, and it has been republished in at least a dozen languages, including Czech (Způsoby vidění),
Turkish (Görme Biçimleri), Russian (Искусство видеть), Bengali (ওয়েজ অব সিইং), Chinese (觀看的方式) and even as an illicit Farsi edition ()ندید یاههویش.3 Perhaps as a consequence of its prominence, Ways of Seeing has come to occupy an almost unassailable position even in the allegedly critical and iconoclastic halls of photographic academia.4 It is seldom critiqued or discussed in terms of the ways that it has very definitely dated in the half a century since its publication, and almost never in terms accessible beyond a narrow audience. This lack of critical analysis does not reflect an absence of shortcomings, one could take issue with Berger’s unquestioning reliance on an intellectual framework derived from the now rather battered tenets of Marxism and Structuralism, his relatively brief engagement with gender, and almost complete overlooking of race. Equally glaring is his predilection for spinning a grand narrative of art’s complicity with the rise of modern capitalism, while at the same time appearing to take issue with conventional art history’s own soft spot for overarching, all-encompassing histories.
1 Originally published in conjunction with a four-part TV series also presented by Berger, the book has in many respects eclipsed the original series. 2 Worth perhaps noting is that there is a subtle but significant difference in English between ‘looking’ which implies merely directing one’s eyes in a particular direction, and ‘seeing’ which implies the above but also perception, insight and understanding.
3 Illicit in so far as Iran is not a signa tory to the Berne convention and so does not respect copyright, as far as I have been able to determine this edition is not produced under licence from Penguin, the original publisher. 4 Perhaps it reflects the fact that photographic academia isn’t actually that academic, but there is stunning reliance on aged texts of dubious relevance today, references to Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction for example border on the Pavlovian at times.
He showed movement, joy, culture and levity. And the next day, he posted shots from a vigil for Oluwatoyin Salau, the Los Angeles activist killed during the protests. On his June 27th post, G eathers wrote, ‘We can’t forget about those who come from where some of your favorite rappers come from, but aint been back to. We can’t forget about those who been asking for assistance but aint being helped. We can’t forget about the political prisoners of the past and present. And we can’t forget about those who had to flee this damn country after their fight for Black liberation. We cannot forget who this fight is for.’ We are looking at photos in real time. We are looking for people to gather with. We are feeling the weight of history. We are doom scrolling to see what injustice unfolds next, certain there will be another. We are looking for a foundation, for something to hold on to, for something seis-
What do photographs do? Can they possibly communicate this disparity? Can they possibly show numbers? Can they show death and inequality? Can they show what’s happening and happened — the same thing over and over again since the founding of America — without numbing the rage? Is it possible to be the generation of loss while producing so much content? So many images. What should photography do? It should do what it always has. It should do what Geathers does — provoke, expand, capture, continue, link, humanise and preserve. It should breathe life. It should memorialise. It should also instigate revolution. Each still forms a movement, each movement evidence of what was, of how many people gathered, how many people died, how many people are brutalised.
We are looking at photos in real time. We are looking for people to gather with. We are feeling the weight of history. mic to indicate real change. For every half measure, and symbol of progress, the reality of what has been, unfolds. NASCAR publishes a picture of a noose intended or not intended for driver Bubba Wallace. Trump pretends to care with a photo op holding the bible upside down. It’s constant and unrelenting, as it has been for so many Black Americans. There is grief, there is mourning, there is anger, and there is inequality. In Kansas, Black Americans are dying at seven times the rate of whites. And who is bearing witness?
Photography helps us remember, but also generates the new monuments we need to see — two ballerinas fists in the air, on toe, on top of a graffitied Robert E. Lee statue with BLM messages gorgeously stroked over his hateful gaze. The crowds of people marching for the future. The yellow block letters taking back the streets. It’s impossible to take a picture without thinking, someday, someone will see this. On their feed, online, on a whim from a hashtag. Someday, this frame will be meaningful. Someday, what I see, what you see, will matter. It won’t just be a personal journal of loss, but a documentation of movement. — Text by Jaime Lowe Image: untitled © Anthony Geathers, courtesy of the artist JAIME LOWE is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. She is a frequent contributor to The New York Times Magazine and her work has appeared in New York magazine, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, Maxim, Gawker, The Village Voice and LA Weekly. Lowe is the author of Digging for Dirt: The Life and Death of ODB, and founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan. In her book Mental (2017) Lowe shares and investigates her story of episodic madness, as well as the stability she found while on lithium.
ANTOINETTE DE JONG & ROBERT KNOTH 33 Tree and Soil
ANTOINETTE DE JONG & ROBERT KNOTH 47
Tree and Soil
The recently published book Tree and Soil by Antoinette de Jong and Robert Knoth is the result of a long-term project with the same title. Together the artist duo spent years travelling between Japan and the Netherlands, while developing in-depth research about the post-Fukushima environment. The ‘Great East Japan Earthquake’ — a mega-scale earthquake of magnitude 9 — hit the Tohoku area on 11 March, 2011. The force of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami damaged the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and caused radioactive substance to spread and widely contaminate the surrounding area. As far as I once heard from the artists, it did not take long for de Jong and Knoth to decide to go to Fukushima as they had already committed to the long-term research of the Chernobyl disaster and more nuclear accidents in the past. Since it is such a complex book that uses a lot of single-sided folding and carefully designed layout, you may find it is not easy to move from one page to the other quickly — in a physical but also in a conceptual sense. Inserted in-between the
delicately coloured landscape photographs that capture the four (or more) seasons of Fukushima, are fragments of illustrations and specimens for botanical research and Ukiyo-e that Philipp Franz Balthasar von Siebold (1796–1866), the German physician and botanist who travelled to Japan as part of a Dutch trading mission, brought from Japan to Europe. Grainy black and white close-ups of plants and stuffed animals somehow add the impression of death by contamination. The title Tree and Soil comes from the Japanese word ‘mori 杜’ for woods. There is a more popular word for woods in Japanese, which uses the same sound ‘mori’ but different kanji (Chinese character) ‘森’, which indicates that trees grow naturally there, while the word ‘mori 杜’ implies that the forest grows with a certain level of human intervention. Also ‘mori 杜’ is often used for forests that surround a sacred land or shrine. In areas where human access is restricted due to the invisible nuclear pollution, the only places that appear destroyed and abandoned are those created by humans. The wild greens look
liberated and seem to gradually cover up the traces of the human inhabitants. In the landscape photographs compiled in the book, we cannot see any walking paths left for humans. In a sense, the process of how the two artists wandered through this forest, literally without a path to follow, is represented in the construction of the book itself. The book invites the reader to find an own path and wander around, or even get lost. The animated feature film by Hayao Miyazaki, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind was released in 1984, two years before the Chernobyl nuclear accident. This postapocalyptic fiction was created during the Cold War, when the fear of a third World War (fought with nuclear weapons) was shared globally. The story is set on planet earth 1000 years after civilisation was destroyed due to a catastrophic war. The harmful miasma is spread through the air and toxic jungle (fukai) gradually covers the surface of the earth. Nausicaä is a princess of a small community called the ‘Valley of the Wind’ which survives through many years of devastation. Despite the never-ending
48 struggle against pollution and attacks of deformed giant insects (omu), she strives for a way to have her community sustain in harmony with nature. Nausicaä accidentally fell into the depths of a dangerous toxic jungle one day, and surprisingly found herself breathing even when her protective mask was removed. She then realised that the toxic jungle and giant insects that have been cursed by humans were, in fact, a sanctuary and its guards for purifying and regenerating the nature that humans had destroyed over time. They are securing regeneration of the environment by eliminating humans. The forest of Fukushima captured by de Jong and Knoth reminds me of Nausicaä’s toxic jungle. Sadly enough this seemingly beautiful landscape will take tremendous time to be purified and regenerated no matter how much the politicians pretend to have it under control. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, we suffered from heavy summer rains in many places in Japan. Needless to say that this is one of the many effects of global warming. In addition, concerns about large-scale earthquakes that will occur again in the not too distant future in Japan have been raised repeatedly. Natural disasters destroy the infrastructure for people living in the land and reshape the topography. To remove huge amounts of debris
IN LIMBO piled up after each disaster is not an easy task for the locals, and the road to recovery tends to be long in any case. Journalists and the media tend to swarm the disaster-stricken area all at once for immediate report. Yet they are often reluctant to stay longer and follow an endlessly winding recovery path or to trace the complexity of suffering and causes. Journalists and photographers take pictures so similar to each other in order to make sure the company they serve c overs the same scene as other companies do. Those ‘mass-reproduced’ images will be saturated, and the speed of peoples’ oblivion will be sped up by them. De Jong and Knoth, who have experiences of covering the conflict areas as journalists for years, say that they were tired of such a convention shared among the professionals. De Jong and Knoth do retain the attitude originally required of journalists: to visit the site more than once, and to pursue the complicated facts behind various events over time, while consciously choosing to present the results of their activities, as art. I truly respect their choice and when I say their book is beautiful, that is because it represents the complexity of the story as it is. — Text by Keiko Okamura
All images from the series Tree and Soil © Antoinette de Jong & Robert Knoth, courtesy of the artists ANTOINETTE DE JONG & R OBERT KNOTH is an artistic duo experimenting with layered forms of story telling, fusing the hyperrealism of documentary with the more abstract and conceptual qualities within the visual arts. Tree and Soil has just been published in its book form by Hartmann Books. Poppy: Trails of Afghan Heroin published by Hartje Cantz (2012) received various awards, including the 150 Greatest Photobooks of All Time Award by Source Photographic Review, as well as the Deutscher Fotobuchpreis (2013). KEIKO OKAMURA is the director of the Yebisu International Festival for Art & Alternative Visions and curator of the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum. She moved to her current position in 2007 after being curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo. Exhibitions include Fiona Tan: Terminology (2014).
DANIÃ&#x2039;LLE VAN ARK Bills
56 exposure of her economic situation in a time of crisis looks beyond the specific situation that has triggered it and addresses a few crucial questions about the sustainability of art-making at large. On the one hand, it manifests the precariousness inherent to creative and cultural work. The chimera of artistic recognition keeps on feeding the acceptance of unstable and underpaid job positions that barely match the cost of life — especially in the most expensive capitals of the world, where a higher number of opportunities is believed to be found. On the other, it confronts our understanding of the artist’s role in society. Is art a privileged zone where anointed creators engage in unintelligible activities, or a no man’s land populated by a flock of out siders who only engage with each other? Both scenarios are problematic because they are way too abstract. In a survey conducted on 1.000 people and published last June in Singapore’s The Sunday Times, the artist appears as the topone non-essential job during pandemic
IN LIMBO times, followed by telemarketers and PR specialists. The survey immediately caused quite a stir on social media, prompting the reaction of many who insisted on how arts kept people going during the circuit breaker period and contributed to easing the psychological stress of lockdown. I personally read the survey’s output otherwise. Admitting that it must be taken with a grain of salt, and bearing in mind that it belongs to a specific context and time, I still think it indicates a problem existing on a more extensive level. It reflects the widely spread conception of contemporary art as a self-referential venture disconnected from the real word’s deeds and lacking in pragmatism. Seen under this light, van Ark’s Bills are a friendly yet concrete eye-opener on a different kind of reality. They offer a peek into what lies behind the rosy picture of the artist’s life: namely, tedious paperwork and a few headaches when it comes to making ends meet. — Text by Paola Paleari
All images from the series Bills © Daniëlle van Ark, courtesy of the artist DANIËLLE VAN ARK is a visual artist and studied at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten as well as at KABK. Her work contains both critical and playful visual comments on cultural relationships and power structures. A recurrent theme in her work is the passing of time: mortality as the inescapable shadow of status, fame and glamour, but also as the catalyst of existing relationships. Her work has been published by The New York Magazine and Wallpaper magazine among others, and recent exhibitions include Artists’ Proof at Foam (2018) and Memorabilia at tegenboshvanvreden (2019). PAOLA PALEARI is an Italian independent writer, editor and curator based in Copenhagen. Between 2013 and 2018 she covered the position of deputy editor at YET magazine and since 2018 she has directed the exhibition platform JIR SANDEL. She writes extensively about contemporary art for publications such as Flash Art, Elephant, Mousse magazine and Vogue. Her main area of interest is the photographic language and its relations with the contemporary visual culture and art practices. She is also interested in the intersection between critical and creative writing and often intertwines art criticism with other forms of storytelling.
THEMBINKOSI HLATSHWAYO Slaghuis
72 trauma of a lived experience. As Thembinkosi explains: ‘growing up, the tavern was a space filled with activities and fun things to do. We enjoyed playing pool with my friends and some patrons. But there were also experiences of stabbings and even dead bodies being loaded into an emergency van. After all patrons had gone, we are left to scrape off marks left on the floors and walls of our home. We find our way to deal with the traumatic experiences and energies that are engraved in the fabric of our home.’ Thembinkosi utilises visual metaphors in documenting his inner conflict and self-counselling. He re-lives his daily routine of scraping the walls, residues of complex spirits and unwelcomed energies left by patrons in the shebeen. Through treatment of his photographs, he presents a dialogue with this site as he strives to transform it into a site of healing and solace. He places himself in awkward positions in the frame as a way of expressing discomfort while acknowledging and paying homage to the real soul of this family home. Thembinkosi presents to us his photography as a medium of self-transformation. He attempts to bring us into his own intimate psychological space to experience what is not visible to the many who visit his home each day for pleasure, to de-stress, for company, to drown sorrows and some to act out their angers and frustrations. All these diverse energies that are left and dumped in his home, become a burden that he attempts to erase physically, spiritually and mentally.
IN LIMBO This compelling and hard visual story not only belongs to Thembinkosi, it is attached to the Black experience in these communities in the margins of our society. A democratic South Africa with its progressive constitution and government policies, does not seem to bring much needed social change that begins to, in totality, rid itself of residues from the Apartheid South Africa. Thembinkosi’s lived experiences are not different to the black youth of 60 years ago. Many communities and families are still forced to experience life in a similar way. Violence lives within the violated traumatised society that has never as yet discovered healing. The current impact of Covid-19 globally has also found its space at Thembinkosi’s site. Their livelihood has become stagnant due to ‘social distan cing’ guidelines as well as lockdown regulations that prohibit sale of alcohol across the country. The traffic of patrons seeking a daily fix of a beer, friendly chat, solitude, robust political conversation and release of tension have become a strange occurrence. He speaks of this as a much needed but strange break in his life. The walls and floors of his dear home are on a break. Maybe this is also a strange opportune break in our lives to revisit and be honest with our trauma as a society. A need to redefine a new normal in the postCovid-19 world where communities claim back their dignity and begin to evolve into a new society with less occurrences of violations in all its forms. Slaghuis is a symbol of a society that is continually in conflict with itself, a restrained society that recognises the need for urgent transformation. — Text by Lekgetho Makola
All the images from the series Slaghuis © Thembinkosi Hlatshwayo, courtesy of the artist THEMBINKOSI HLATSHWAYO is a photographer based in Johannesburg, making work that looks at the silent traumas of growing up in a shebeen. In 2018, Hlatshwayo successfully completed the year-long Advanced Programme in Photography at Market Photo Workshop. He is the recipient of the Gisèle Wulfsohn Mentorship in Photography (2019) and one of the shortlisted artists of the CAP Prize (2019). His work titled Betterment Promised was part of a group exhibition at Photo Fest, Thokoza and exhibited at Art Africa Fair, Capetown (2017). LEKGETHO MAKOLA is an artist, filmmaker and head of Market Photo Workshop, Johannesburg. He holds an MFA from Howard University, USA and has worked for leading art institutions such as the Durban Art Gallery, the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Robben Island Museum and the Market Photo Workshop as Manager for Programmes and Projects 2013-2016.
VASANTHA YOGANANTHAN Afterlife
88 backgrounds. Visually it deviates from the earlier work through close-up portraiture and wilder cut-ups. The immersive imagery is sparsely interrupted by short lines such as Walk with me as we awaken the dead. / Walk with me as we disappear into darkness. / We shall lock our lips, we shall lock our thighs. The imagery for Afterlife was shot by Yogananthan during several festivals devoted to the Ramayana, in the north as well in India’s south and Sri Lanka, celebrating the victory of good over evil. By shooting among the people dressing and face-painting themselves as characters from the epic (blue is the colour of the skins of Gods, for example, and black for the soldiers), the images came out differently from the register of the earlier chapters. Among the sometimes thousands
IN LIMBO of people Yogananthan didn’t quite know where to position himself as a photo grapher. By using 35 mm instead of his usual medium-format camera he allowed himself more freedom to move but also to give up control. As such, Afterlife became a transition from one world to the next also visually, meandering trance-like in the great unknown, where celebration alternates with the sense of loss and mourning and where the exuberant yet focused pictures become metaphors for feelings. I have never read any of the verbal renderings of the Ramayana and if I ever get around to doing so it might prove impossible not to think about Yogananthan’s own epic photographic translation. — Text by Taco Hidde Bakker
All images from the series Afterlife © Vasantha Yogananthan, courtesy of the artist VASANTHA YOGANANTHAN is a photographer working around the genres of portrait, still life and landscape. He has received several awards, including the Prix Levallois (2016) and an ICP Infinity Award as Emerging Photographer of the Year (2017). In 2018 and 2019 he was awarded the Prix Camera Clara and the Rencontres d’Arles Photo-Text Book Award. Yogananthan’s work is included in private and public collections, including the V&A, Musée de l’Élysée, Foam Museum and the Musée Francais de la Photographie. TACO HIDDE BAKKER is a writer, translator and researcher based in Amsterdam. In 2007 he graduated in MA Photographic Studies at Leiden University and since publishes on photography and visual arts for a variety of magazines, art venues and artists. Additionally he is editor at EXTRA, a Dutch-language biannual magazine on photography published by FotoMuseum Antwerp and Fw:Books.
ON â&#x20AC;&#x2030;BEING PHOTOGRAPHY, REPRESENTATION AND JAZZ
IN LIMBO MARK SEALY & ELISA MEDDE
MARK SEALY & ELISA MEDDE
Four Twins, 1985 (c) Rotimi Fani-Kayode, courtesy Autograph, London
IN CONVERSATION 93
PHOTOGRAPHY IN CRISIS
Ariella Azoulay, in her book The Civil Contract of Photography, made a proposition that allowed for the imagination of a new citizenry, removed from the boundaries imposed by the nation state: one that was broader, and more expansive, rooted in the shared experience of engaging with photographs.
Workers wait on a highway to hitchhike in the direction of their villages in Chakeri, India. When India went into lockdown, the government told everyone to stay home and practise social distancing. They made no provisions for migrant workers and those who worked on a daily wage, who became unemployed over night. Migrant workers are itinerant
labourers who work in cities, far from their native villages, to earn a daily wage and provide for their families. With the country in lock down, several workers started a long journey back home, on foot, bicycle and through hitchhiking. Many, with their families, travelled for more than 1,000 kilometres. Image © Saumya Khandelwal
At the time, she wrote this in response to the question of the statelessness of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. She presented the possibility of a world reordered on an alternate principle, which afforded dignity and liberty to all individuals, including those that have either not been recognised or abandoned by their respective ‘sovereigns.’ I have wondered if what Azoulay calls the ‘citizenry of photography’ 1 was a utopian construct, and if this kind of deterritorialisation is in fact possible through the mode of photography, in a world that embraces forms of nationalism more and more each day. Over the last few months, as the coronavirus pandemic engulfed citizens across the world, a common theme appeared to emerge. As country after country went into lockdown, as if on cue adopting the strategies followed by nations that encountered the virus before them, for a short but significant period of time many of us, time-zones apart, found ourselves inhabiting the same realities. It warrants mentioning that qualifying this ‘sameness’ as such risks making a sweeping statement, as for countries as complex as India which have vast disparities of wealth, class, caste etc., it is impossible to homogenise the experience and equate it with those in other countries. However, for those of us that have access to shelter and food as well as the ability to work (itself a privilege, given that in India thousands of daily-wage labourers were left unemployed following the sudden implementation of the unplanned lockdown) from home, we found there to be a sense of a shared experience, manifested in many ways, through a new kind of digital solidarity. The pandemic left millions across borders, grappling with a novel but common enemy and confronting similar emotions of isolation, despair and uncertainty. I couldn’t help but think towards Azoulay’s proposition, of a reordering of citizenry, one that brings vulnerable populations under one umbrella, allowing photography and its encounters2, to be the binding force. Photography has had a long history with vulnerability. It has almost been fed in a way, by the condition of the oppressed, the weak, the ageing, the politically imprisoned. The photographer, often the one wielding power, would take it upon herself to portray the vulnerabilities of those less fortunate than her. While the democratisation 3 of the medium put the camera in the hands of many, and many even began to turn the lens onto themselves, the predominant language — particularly in photojournalism and documentary — was of the photographer as saviour, excavating realities that ‘deserved to be seen.’ The pandemic brought a lot of this to a screeching halt — with the restrictions on movement, the itinerant photographer was put into lockdown. The indefinite isolation from social contact — the seed that nurtures much of the medium — rendered us all vulnerable in ways, the mental and emotional cost of which perhaps we are yet to fully come to terms with.
With the power equation not entirely toppled but unnerved in some way, and the looming fear of the possibility of death striking those nearest to us, how have these months shifted what we have known photographs — that have been our eyes to the world and balms to our pain — to do for us? How do we lean in to the medium that has been as confrontational, as it has been poetic in its rendition of reality? My proposition begins from here, of the possibility of coalescing, at a time when we are socially distant, and using the photograph as a site to do so. It is here that I borrow from Azoulay, and allow for the encounter — not just between the photographer and subject but also between the image and the spectator — to become a place of solidarity. At the beginning of the severely strict lockdown in India, as the first images of empty streets began to come in, there was a momentary resonance with visuals from the rest of the world. Indian streets, which have served, as homes, places of work and destinations for many, had never been seen this empty. But this surface similarity was only fleeting, as within days, front pages and our social media were flooded with images of women, men, children with all their belongings on their shoulders, walking endlessly towards their homes, some across several states. The streets were no longer quiet and empty, like the scenes coming in from Italy and Spain. Here, numerous workers, those that called the city their home, began walking hundreds of kilometres to their villages, when the lockdown stripped them
ALEC SOTH & MARCEL FEIL
IN BET WEEN Alec Soth & Marcel Feil
ALEC SOTH & MARCEL FEIL
ALEC SOTH & MARCEL FEIL
word, because I curated a show at AIPAD Art Fair a year and a half ago and it was called A Room For Solace. It was all pictures of interiors creating a space for solace, which is very much a word that I attach to what I want to do. If I were to make an analogy to music, I think in the times we live in there’s great value in music that brings people together, so they can dance and feel connected. But if I were a musician I would probably be writing, you know, some bitter sweet songs. Do those have a value? Yes, it’s just a different kind of value and it’s more about solace for the difficulty of making your way through this world. You know, if I could be a techno DJ leading tens of thousands of people to dance that would be great, but I don’t have it in me. And, maybe similarly as a photographer I could be working with communities — I think that’s fantastic and maybe that’s the way forward for the medium, but there is a place for sombre music too. The medium of art is so large that it’s going to respond in many different ways to the situation. There will be the equivalent of punk music photography and rap music photography and you know, all of that’s valid. And all of it is a way to process the times we’re living in. MF: Is this something that you try to do with ‘Little Brown Mushroom’? Creating a different way of connecting and sharing? AS: It is! ‘Little Brown Mushroom’ from its bottom is about being collaborative. For me it’s an attempt to experiment and try different things. It’s like, I know my voice as a singer, but sometimes it’s good to play with other musicians and try different things, even if that’s not my most authentic solo voice. MF: Like a jam session? AS: Yes, exactly! MF: For the moment however we are still in varying forms of isolation and limbo, it’s quite unclear where this chapter in history will bring us. For some of us it raises fear, but then being forced to step away from your usual habits can also be a very healthy process. AS: Absolutely, the way of force needs to be burned down to have new growth. MF: This is being communicated very clearly by the mass demonstrations in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, happening all around the world since the on-air murder of George Floyd. Conversations about structural racism and police violence are happening everywhere, and spreading a strong call to action. AS: I’ve been reading a lot about the 1991 Rodney King beating and the ways that technology spread the video recording around the country. Now, we have this horrific video of George Floyd’s murder, which was distributed instantaneously around the globe, catapulting the flow of information. I live in south Minneapolis and after George Floyd was murdered I received a lot of magazine requests to photograph the sight, but I turned them down because of the racial politics of being a white photographer covering this.
MS: Things need to change and doors need to open to make way. I mean most museums and cultural institutions are still like white strongholds and not representing the demography. Holland has a long colonial past and therefore also a substantial Black population. And although we are seen as one of the more tolerant countries by some, it’s a myth! Because there’s a thin line between being tolerant and being indifferent. AS: I recently spoke with a Black photographer in Minneapolis, who’d moved there from the South, and she said that there is a passivity there that is more racist in the way that it hides things. This blow-up that just happened has exposed everything that was beneath the surface. And I really believe that, when the history of this time is written, the role that the pandemic and technology played will be enormous. MF: So, technology, and therefore also photography, enables people to create communities with a platform to channel and spread their voices, impressions and experiences out into the open. While also bringing solace to the moments when that feels most difficult? AS: Absolutely. I think technology really changed the nature of protest and the ways in which violence is exposed and justice is called for — anyone can do it.
All images from the series I Know How Furiously Your Heart Is Beating © Alec Soth, courtesy of the artist and Magnum ALEC SOTH is a photographer who is best known for photographing the Midwestern United States. Soth’s early work includes a self-published book of portrait and landscape photographs entitled Sleeping by the Mississippi, which was the result of his travels along the Mississippi River. His work is included in a number of permanent collections, including those at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Alec Soth — I Know How Furiously Your Heart is Beating is on display at Foam from 11 September until 6 December 2020.
WIDLINE CADET Seremoni Disparisyon (Ritual [Dis] Appearance)
126 name of the original has been long forgotten. In Haiti, traces of the original can be found in the Yoruba religion that survived to Middle Passage and blended with the Catholicism of the French captors. The Creolisation of Haitian culture from language to religion suggests many imperfect copies of long-lost multiple originals. You can never go home again. Widline Cadet photographs her subjects in a setting that is an idealised landscape, a memory of a former home. The country of origin changes, but the memory is frozen in time. It is a memory of home that becomes less factual, and more distorted, with the passing of time. Visits to a former home are never the same as the place being one’s home. The visitor is both a native and a foreigner, both family and an outsider. Gingham fabric is ubiquitous in the Caribbean. For many across the region, it is a pattern that evokes feelings of nostalgia in women from The Caribbean, bringing back memories of girlhood school uniforms. The fabric, the uniform, and the Haitian Catholic school are all remnants of a French colonial past in the postcolonial, independent nation. The conjoined twins
IN LIMBO sharing a school uniform suggest that the fragmentation of the subject is not always clearly defined. The self cannot always be neatly compartmentalised. Creolisation in Haiti is the blending and borrowing from West African and French cultures, resulting in a new, hybrid identity. Widline Cadet layers images upon image. She takes photographs of photographs, creating copies from copies. Memories are layered, not linear or flat, but 3-dimensional and textured, folding and circling back upon themselves. When imagining what photography can do, one must look at how the medium can construct and deconstruct the self. Identities can be split into a multitude of imperfect copies, from more than one original — depicting fragments which seem similar but are not identical. Each iteration lays bare how Widline Cadet must contend with the multitude of faces worn as she code-switches through the world as a Haitian immigrant in the United States, an emigrant when returning to her country of origin, and as a Black woman who must reckon with this dual nationality. — Text by M. Charlene Stevens
All images from the series Seremoni Disparisyon (Ritual [Dis] Appearance) ©Widline Cadet, courtesy of the artist WIDLINE CADET is a Haitian-born artist, whose practice is deeply rooted in her experience as an emigrant/ immigrant/migrant and explores the racial and cultural tensions and identity shifts that occur with dis-placement. Her performances, photographs and videos speak to a place that exists between where she was born (Haiti) and where she lives now (the United States). Cadet is a recipient of a Mortimer-Hays Brandeis Traveling Fellowship (2013), as well as a Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture artist in resident (2018). Cadet earned her BA in photography from The City College of New York and is currently an MFA candidate at Syracuse University's School of Visual and Performing Arts. M. CHARLENE STEVENS lives and works in New York as a photographer and art critic. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Arcade Project, an online publishing platform and gallery that hosts performing artists, pop culture critics, poets, playwrights, bloggers, activists, philosophers, storytellers and more.
WENDY RED STAR 1880 Crow Peace Delegation
136 can that has been capitalised on in mass media reproductions. The use of these images on iced tea labels and book covers reduce Peelatchiwaaxpáash (Medicine Crow (Raven)) and others to atmospheric representations, or rather, the idea of what the Native American supposedly embodies. In the 1880 Crow Peace Delegation, Wendy Red Star addresses these misrepresentations. Using red ink, she traces important objects in each portrait and explains their cultural significance and symbolic meaning. Red Star uses the red ink as a school teacher would to make corrections. She is correcting the Public School System, which has failed students by ostensibly erasing the past. By highlighting the achievements of her tribe, Red Star corrects the willful ignorance of Native Americans’ role in American history. Using first-hand information shared with her from some of the chiefs’ descendants, whom Red Star is acquainted with from her native Apsáalooke reservation, she adds handwritten anecdotes and facts to the prints that highlight the achievements of each chief. In some cases, she uses the first-person to create the chief’s personal narrative. These honest, and sometimes humorous comments, establish the men as real people. Red Star quite literally reinstates the voice of the Apsáalooke people into the photographs; she takes control of how her people are being represented. What she has created is a nuanced idea of what Apsáalooke culture is and who these individuals were.
IN LIMBO The information is written directly on the photograph; there are no appendices or footnotes. The comments, written with the same red marker that traced the objects, look like research notes. They make the work personal and move it far away from the original sterile context of a scientific or studio portrait. By drawing and writing onto the photographic surface, the artist intervenes; the bright red marks and notes attract attention and explain the significance of elements that were previously not understood. Red Star exclusively uses a red marker. The colour implies the bloodshed that befell the Native American population at the hands of their colonisers. The new incarnation of each portrait is visually fascinating and infinitely more interes ting than the originals. Wendy Red Star’s annotations contextualise the portraits and reclaim the dignity of her tribe’s great leaders. — Text by Claartje van Dijk
1 Morgan F. Bell, ‘Some Thoughts On “Taking” Pictures: Imaging “Indians” and the Counter-Narratives of Visual Sovereignty’, Great Plains Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 2 (Spring 2011), University of Nebraska Press
Image list (in order of appearence): — Peelatchiwaaxpáash / Medicine Crow (Raven), 2014 — Déaxitchish / Pretty Eagle, 2014 — Bia Eélisaash/Large Stomach Woman (Pregnant Woman) / Two Belly, 2014 — Alaxchiiaahush/ Many War Achievements / Plenty Coups, 2014 — Peelatchiwaaxpáash / Medicine Crow (Raven), 2014 All the images from the series 1880 Crow Peace Delegation, artist-manipu lated digitally reproduced photographs by C.M. (Charles Milton) Bell, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution © Wendy Red Star, courtesy of the artist and Sargent’s Daughter, NYC WENDY RED STAR makes work that arises from her Apsáalooke cultural heritage and family history, as well as her expansive interest in photo graphy, video, sound, sculpture, fiber arts, and performance. Her artistic practice involves ongoing research into historical archives and narratives, which she thoughtfully deconstructs to explore the intersections of Native American ideologies and colonialism’s unsettling effects on past and present. Red Star’s work is included in the Smithsonian’s N atural Museum of the American Indian and the Metro politan Museum of Art amongst many others. CLAARTJE VAN DIJK is an art historian and curator currently working as Head of Exhibitions at Foam Museum, where she has worked on various exhibitions including Vivian Maier: Works in Color. She has previously worked as Assistant Curator at the International Centre for Photo graphy, New York City where she managed the museum’s print study room and conducted research on the historical and contemporary objects in the museum’s collection.
How can something absent be made visible? Parts Unknown is a collective work contemplating the ideas of missing and absence, made by 13 artists from the Master ÂPhotography & Society at the KABK in Den Haag. Originally conceived as a book p Â roject, made into an online publication and interactive presentation due to the COVID-19 emergency, it finally found a paper form in this short extract made especially for Foam Magazine.
Subsumed by structures.
Adonis ALEXA VACHON ‘We were a three person family before you were born, and we were a three person family after he left.’ — Father ‘When he was around 15, one of his friends was dead for three days before being identified. And I thought to myself, what kind of parents wouldn’t know that their son had been dead for three days? Well, I found out. For two and a half months, we didn’t know if he was alive or dead.’ — Mother ‘One time you and I were at the corner store and I saw a young man. I didn’t say anything to you, but you said to me, “That’s not him, mom.” I hadn’t seen him in so long. He left home at 14, shorter than I was...puberty... I didn’t even know what he would look like anymore. I realised I could pass my own son on the street and not even recognise him.’ — Mother ‘After I sent him to jail, I walked by him in the holding cell and I thought this may be the last time I ever see him. But if he’s going to live at all, this is the only choice. I walked by him and he said, “You bitch.” And I thought those may be the last words I ever hear from him.’ — Mother ‘We stopped searching because it was futile. What are you gonna do if you find him? He’s not gonna come home. Right? What’s gonna happen? It wasn’t like he was looking for us, he knew where we were. He wasn’t looking for a family.’ — Father
Kodak Knows No Dark Days XAVER KONNEKER SMILES IN A MISSING PERSONS DATABASE The database for the missing is a place of disconcerting ambiguity and disorientation. A liminal space of waiting and not knowing, withering in fluctuating pains of hope and grief. It is an unsettling gaze with which we view the portraits of the missing. The repetitions of smiling photographs accompanied by their names and ages remind us of memorials, as the possibility of their passing is interjected into the image. There is something tragic and paradoxical about the appearance of a smile in such a negatively charged space. But what relationship is formed to the smile in the context of a missing persons database? ODONTOLOGY The practice of forensic odontology hosts a peculiar relationship between photography, death and the smile. In cases where bodies are decomposing and no dental records can be provided, odontologists will seek from friends and family members, photographs documenting their loved ones’ smiling. These photographs are in turn analysed to determine whether the dental structure in the photograph matches with the teeth of the decomposing body. These types of photographs are required, as the only part of the skeleton visible when you are alive is the smile.
Cars lose their innocence.
THANA FAROQ Tea with Mom Thana Faroq uses her phone to explore her own and her mother’s memories and the resilience found in their mother-daughter long-distance relationship between the Netherlands and war-torn Yemen. thanafaroq.com
This project is a partnership with KABK and Creative Court. All images © of the artists.
FABIO BARILE Works for a Cosmic Feeling
184 a clean view on things and come to stand for out-of-focus ideas. And like the flux of clouds is complex and hard to predict, so Barile wants his project to instill the viewer with a sense of awe that transcends certainties. Now I seem to begin to better understand the idea of an oceanic feeling, which has to do with a form of surrender and resignation, with sensing the process of becoming and with trying to ungrasp things in the spirit of the Dao. In the Daodejing the Dao is being compared to water. In the beginning of chapter 78 I’m reading: ‘There is nothing softer and weaker than water, and yet there is nothing better for attacking hard and strong things.’ Elsewhere in the Daodejing there is also reference to the weak overcoming the strong. Dao has no purpose, does not strive for anything, but is the way things are and the way things go. Within the gray-scaling of Barile’s photographic multiverse a photograph showing his wife’s back becomes a patch of deep time containing multiple celestial bodies, rocks become soft like skin, the out-of-focus image morphs the model of a helium hydride molecule (the first molecule to ever form when our universe was young) into a mysterious rendering of a black hole. Pondering again the collapsing of scale in these photographs that appearing on my backlighted computer screen are equally graspable as ethereal, I’m reminded of the final line in a late piece of verse by the poet W.S. Merwin, from a poem called ‘Youth’ in the volume The Shadow of Sirius (2009): from what we cannot hold the stars are made — Text by Taco Hidde Bakker
Image list (in order of appearence): — Leopard skeleton, 2018 — Three masses gravitating on stockings and bowl #2, 2018 — The structure of a forest #3, 2018 — Moles on Sveva’s back, 2018 — Sun path, 2020 — Quantum wave packet engraved on travertine, 2018 — Tool for interference pattern n°1, bench vice, comb and laser pointer, 2018 — Attempt to recreate a Torquigener albomaculosus nest with decorative sand, 2019 — Thinking at birds visual field, 2020 — Veins on Sveva’s hand, 2020 — Archaeopteryx fossil, 2018 — Laser Harmonograph pendulum n°1, laser pointer and various materials, 2020 — Attempt to build a bird’s wing, feather, plasticine and various materials, 2020 — Sardinian mouflon horn, 2019 — Spermophora senoculata, 2019 — Lorenz attractor on computer screen, 2020 — Model of a helium hydride molecule, the first type of molecule to form in the early universe, 2019 — Evolution of a cloud, 4 shots, 2019 — Sveva as Janus bifrons, 2020 — 9 steps for the incrementation of a 360° surface to a 767° surface, Fuji Pro 160 NS protective bag, 2018. — Metal wire folded following Fibonacci sequence + paper tape and magnets, 2019 — Attempt to recreate a hive with plasticine, 2019 — Moss and lichens on rock, 2019 — Laser Interference pattern #2, split laser beam projected directly onto 4x5” film, 2019 — Sveva making a string figure depicting the “menstrual blood of three women”, illustrating the Yolngu people’s tribal mythology of menstrual synchrony, 2020 — Selfportrait as Janus bifrons, IPhone 3D scan on computer screen, 2020 — The structure of a forest #1, 2018
All images from the series Works for a Cosmic Feeling © Fabio Barile, courtesy of the artist FABIO BARILE is a research-based photographer whose work is mainly focused on the study of landscape, with particular attention to geology. During the last few years, he has developed a major interest in the complexity of geomorphology acting upon landscape over time, using photography in order to stimulate a conscious and deeper understanding of it. He was selected as finalist of the ‘Atlante Italiano 007’ (2017) and his work has been exhibited at Centre d’Art Dominique Lang and Athens Photo Festival (2009). TACO HIDDE BAKKER is a writer, translator and researcher based in Amsterdam. In 2007 he graduated in MA Photographic Studies at Leiden University and since publishes on photography and visual arts for a variety of magazines, art venues and artists. Additionally he is editor at EXTRA, a Dutch-language biannual magazine on photography published by FotoMuseum Antwerp and Fw:Books.
PHELIM HOEY La Machine
196 con ducted by Frank Bunker G ilbreth (1868–1924), undertaken to analyse the efficiency and productive capacity of industrial workers. Hoey used his own body and that of other MS patients to question the supremacy of efficiency in the face of illness. The simple act can be understood as a more general questioning of what we understand to be progression in a situation of almost complete standstill. When fundamentally paralysed, we are forced to ask ourselves where all our frantic movement actually leads us. The year 2018 meant a turning point in Hoey’s search to bridge the gap between having MS and being a person with MS. Finding himself incapable of communicating his pain, the artist started devising his own quasi-scientific system to map out the effects of the disease on the body. He shifted the focus from observing his own body and sought out other people dealing with different symptoms of the same disease. He invited his models to move in front of the camera with a walking stick or rollator, lined with light-reflecting tape or ping pong balls. Exposing the same negative multiple times, the often strenuous and sometimes painful act of moving about is captured in a single image. The resulting measurements present a witty and selfdeprecating analysis of being in pain. Hoey’s DYI experiments are a direct reference to the scientific experiments of Eadweard Muybridge (1830–1904) and Etienne-Jules Marey (1830–1904), both pioneers of photographic motion studies. The measuring grids used by Gilbreth and Muybrigde appear throughout Hoey’s series, as a constant reminder of our incapacity to define pain. ‘I am at a loss to measure or describe my personal pain. No matter how personal my work, I will never be able to completely communicate
IN LIMBO my experience, which is utterly subjective. When asked to grade our level of pain from a scale from 1 to 10, haven’t we all thought: Compared to what? The worst pain imaginable? The pain we normally experience? The pain of others?’ In his incapacity to phantom or aptly describe his own personal suffering in relation to others, Hoey decided to create a subjective system to measure pain in which physical and emotional pain converge and diverge along two axes of a graph. When asked how his pain gradient may relate to our collective state of paralysis, the artist responds: ‘When corona hit people did not believe a virus could slow them down, even kill them. I believed it instantly. I lost that carefreeness when I was diagnosed. Now many people have that same awareness that the world is not malleable. […] People seem to be unable to look outside of their own frame of reference. They cannot see their privilege, be it physically, economically or socially. I hope this time will change that.’ What about the human capacity to forget pain? When (if) corona passes and the outcry around the death of George Floyd quiets down, will we forget what we have witnessed and move on, like we are programmed to forget pain? Or will we continue to fight our demons by making them materialise, like the Cuna Indians with their healing figurines? Interestingly, in Hoey’s gradient the measure of physical pain is not congruent with the measure of fear or emotional pain. Physical pain eventually subsides, whereas fear and emotional suffering can be remembered years on, upon hearing a sound, smelling a familiar scent — or by looking at an image. — Text by Hinde Haest
All images from the series La Machine © Phelim Hoey, courtesy of the artist PHELIM HOEY is an artist and photographer based in the Netherlands. In his personal work he examines the interconnections of the body and identity, by looking at the effect that disease and disability have on the perception of self. Hoey received the Mondriaan Fonds Young Talents Award (2017) and has exhibited in places like Museum of Contemporary Art Dublin, Art Rotterdam (2019) and Herman van Veen Arts Centre (2019) since then. HINDE HAEST is a curator at Foam who has worked on exhibitions including Hiroshi Sugimoto — Black Box and Anouk Kruithof — ¡Aguas!... Previously, she worked on the Stephen Shore retrospective at Amsterdam’s Huis Marseille and as Assistant Curator of Photographs at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. She holds an MSc from SOAS and an MA from University College London. She authored two books on photography and has contributed to various magazines, among them Metropolis M and Aperture.
SEBA KURTIS Lockdown Project
208 but not readily visible. The deserted Dairy Queen landscape is so still to the point of appearing abandoned, but the deep reds and oranges reaching to the sky insist that there is more to this than meets the eye. Similarly, the closing image of the mountains and waterfall would have been idyllic in any other reading but the prism of pandemic colours alerts us to another story. Through the lens of Covid-19 and reassessing how and what we understand of our previous and current contexts, we are urged to seek out the concealed, the overlooked, the less than obvious. The in-between context in which this work arose is specific, and it is this unexpected glut of empty time that led to this body of work taking this shape. The project was made during lockdown while Kurtis was artist in residence at UCEN in Manchester, UK, where he is also a photo graphy lecturer. We can see creativity arising from necessity in looking more closely at how the images were shaped. Sourcing materials and elements found around the house, Kurtis is also addressing the difficulty of maintaining an arts practice in spaces that aren’t fit for purpose. The leap between designated work area and home life has now shrunk to the time and distance it takes to walk from one room to another, or to switch from one sketchbook or tab in a browser to the next.
IN LIMBO When looking through Kurtis’s projects, the question I am moved to ask myself is, ‘How, and in what situation, are humans considered to be illegal?’ By this, I don’t mean the movement itself of people in search of safety and access to basic human rights as being an illegal action, but that the people themselves have somehow come to be considered an illegal entity. There is a waiting, a longing, a lag in bureaucracy and decision making, hoping for status updates and changes. Meanwhile, life continues in a state of limbo, a space of anxiety and dread which is made palpable in the images. There is a vulnerability of the human body, in how easily it is swayed and succumbs to invisible viruses, and the fallout of external forces. And yet, at the same time, we are increasingly aware of how dangerous the body is, how it can quietly harbour disease, or deathly resentment towards others and lay dormant until it’s called upon. For the people, places and ideas in these photographs, lockdown is temporary while limbo is seemingly permanent. — Text by Mariama Attah
All images from the series Lockdown Project © Seba Kurtis, courtesy of the artist and Christophe Guye Galerie, Zurich SEBA KURTIS’s work looks at the personal, social and cultural impact that migration has on the individual. After leaving Buenos Aires in 2001 Kurtis lived various years as an illegal immigrant, an experience that profoundly influenced his thinking and creating. His first book Drowned (2013) was nominated for the International Photobook Award (2012) and Kif (2013), his second publication was exhibited at Withard Gallery, London and Manchester Photographic Gallery. MARIAMA ATTAH is a photography curator and editor with a particular interest in overlooked visual histories, and in using photography and visual culture to amplify under and misrepresented voices. Mariama is curator of Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool. She was previously Assistant Editor of Foam Magazine. Prior to this, she was Curator of Photoworks, where she was responsible for developing and curating programs and events including Brighton Photo Biennial and was Commissioning and Managing Editor of the yearly magazine Photoworks Annual.
STANLEY WOLUKAU-WANAMBWA One Wall a Web
224 refusals to give us reason to hope that art might be returned, at least in part, to its proper state, of being for anyone but not for everyone, of being a practice that is permitted to set its own conditions rather than accepting or dumbly inverting those offered to it. This situation requires another kind of audience too. An audience that feels encouraged to want more from art, and more from itself than the consumerism and values that are hegemonically promoted just about everywhere. An audience that does not run to textual explanation when the images seem too challenging or ambiguous, too dangerous or disturbing. Let us expect art, audiences and writing to deepen rather than explain. So, do not expect me to offer a ‘reading’ of this particular image arrangement by Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa. That would not help. A white bodybuilder, maybe from the 1930s, 40s or 50s, makes a weird almost Nazi salute. A black boxer is surrounded by white press and entourage. A spot-lit, satin-suited child star is backed by min-
IN LIMBO strels in blackface. A discarded house brick bears the maker’s imprint, LYNCH. It is fairly clear that the more conspicuous motifs set the framework. Layered and dissembled, they add up to the barely concealed violence of white supremacy and its legacies. Other images are less emphatic, but by association they belong to the framework. And the associative — the unexpected recognition of connections and resonances — is what the limbo of looking offers. Christopher Hitchens once argued that ‘religion poisons everything,’ by which he meant that the purview of a religious mentality will, if it has effects on anything, have its effects on everything, even the least likely areas of life. Do not look for those effects only in the obvious places. The same can be said of racism and white supremacy. To truly understand and overcome their distortions, they must be rooted out everywhere, and that means looking again. — Text by David Campany
All images from the series One Wall a Web © Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa, courtesy of the artist STANLEY WOLUKAU-WANAMBWA is a photographer, writer, and former editor of the contemporary photo graphy website The Great Leap Sideways (2011–2017). He has contributed essays to catalogues and monographs by Vanessa Winship, George Georgiou, Rosalind Fox Solomon, Marton Perlaki and Paul Graham, been an artist-in-residence at Light Work, guest edited the Aperture Photobook Review, and written for Aperture, Foam Magazine, Rutgers University Press, the Barbican and The Photo grapher’s Gallery. He has lectured at Yale, Cornell, New York University and The New School, and is the Graduate Director of the Photography course at the Rhode Island School of Design. DAVID CAMPANY is a curator, writer, and Managing Director of Programmes at the International Center of Photo graphy, New York. His work has been published by MACK, MIT Press and Kehrer Verlag among others and recent titles include On Photographs (2020), So Present, so Invisible — Conversations on Photography (2018), The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip (2014), and Walker Evans: the magazine work (2014). Campany curated the Biennale für aktuelle Fotografie in Mannheim (2020) as well as the exhibition A Handful of Dust — from the Cosmic to the Domestic, recently on view at Ryerson Image Centre in Toronto (2020).
THE IMAGE, BLACK NESS & ANTI BLACK NESS STANLEY WOLUKAU-WANAMBWA & SUNIL SHAH
WOLUKAU-WANAMBWA & SHAH
and experience of the world has changed and grown since One Wall a Web and in particular, due to recent events, how does your work seem to you now and where is it headed?
I’m keenly aware of the extent to which the broader contemporary art conversation is utterly untethered from any nuanced grasp of photographic history, must less contemporary practice. That’s easily evidenced by the frequency with which, as a photographer, one has to keep having the ‘how is photography an art?’ conversation, or the ‘where is the craft in pressing a button?’ conversation. At the same time, photographic education (and practice) has often sequestered itself away from the other arts, and it tends very often to emerge in photography-specific/photography-only spaces. For the most part, in the contemporary realm, the disconnect with contemporary practice is a function of art writers and curators only looking at the photography that makes it onto the walls of the major institutions, and rarely at that. They don’t buy the photobooks at all, and I think you can tell that that’s true of a few museum photography departments too. The spectre of reproducibility plays a role here, because our art objects are not singular, so there’s a big value differential, and that affects not only the commercial life of art photography, but the scale of its museological footprint, and the breadth and depth of critical and scholarly attention that the art receives, whether in the mainstream press, the trade publications or the academic end of things. The money is mostly elsewhere, and so is the attention. The collectors who invest in photography are often substantively different from those buying the other more profitable art forms, and the objects we make seem flimsy, or vulnerable in some strange ways: think of someone selling framed or ‘unframed’ sculptures or paintings, vs selling framed or unframed prints..! There’s an interesting connection between the different-ness of photography to other arts, and your question about re-staging the work in the book as well. The fact that I can re-scale and re-sequence images from distinct bodies of work into one sequence in a magazine, as I have here, or in an exhibition probably seems a bit too much like cheating to other artists, whose works impose a certain fixity on their conditions of appearance. David Campany has pointed to this often in his writing: that, as photographers, we can make an image without knowing its physical size, which is something a painter working a canvas or a sculptor working an object often wouldn’t be able to take advantage of. The scalability of the photograph, and the adaptability of it to changes in resonance and inflection through changes in sequence and position are things that I deeply love about photography. We have to keep re-considering these objects; we have the open-ended option to continue to come back to these images. When we do, they shift, they slide, they reorient, they seem to change while remaining stubbornly identical to their former selves. That mutability gives us a distinctive way of occupying the present — one that reckons with its continuities with the past, and with the proleptic powers of past imaginings of the future. All these temporalities elide in photography — they collapse into this strange ‘instant’ of exposure, which is at once past, present and in perpetual passage toward an unsee-able future, so it makes tremendous sense to keep things fluid to me. I relish the opportunity to reimagine the work I’ve made, here in the magazine and also in exhibition form. I also love being in dialogue with the work of other artists, and Chris Gianunzio very generously gave me such a chance in 2017, when he curated a two artist, two picture show
at Vox Populi, in Philadelphia. He staged one of the appropriated images from All My Gone Life, of a distressed, middle-aged black woman, who is laying on the floor of a bank that had been robbed at gunpoint staring contemptuously at the camera, alongside an image by Dru Donovan of a young black girl being carefully pulled underneath a fence by two women, as the group fled police violence in the wake of protests against the police murder of Philando Castile. It was incredibly powerful to look at those two pictures together, and to look at these Black women across time, in two images that strangely echoed each other compositionally and politically, across a gulf of nearly seventy years. Those kinds of interactions seem meaningful to me, and they require a willingness to surrender the kind of autonomy that privileges individual genius — and the singularity of the art object — over the adaptable, catalytic and choral powers of photographs, which always approximate many voices speaking in relation to one another in a strange kind of simultaneity. Photo graphy is that chorus, and that’s where I want to be. July 2020. The previous discussion between Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa and Sunil Shah for the Atelier Nōua and Double Dummy online education programme on 3 June 2020 can be accessed here: https://www.noua.no/
STANLEY WOLUKAU-WANAMBWA is a photographer, writer, and former editor of the contemporary photography website The Great Leap Sideways (2011–2017). He has contributed essays to catalogues and monographs by Vanessa Winship, George Georgiou, Rosalind Fox Solomon, Marton Perlaki and Paul Graham, been an artist-in-residence at Light Work, guest edited the Aperture Photobook Review, and written for Aperture, Foam Magazine, Rutgers University Press, the Barbican and The Photographer’s Gallery. He has lectured at Yale, Cornell, New York University and The New School, and is the Graduate Director of the Photo graphy course at the Rhode Island School of Design. SUNIL SHAH is an artist, curator and writer based in Oxford, UK. His critical interests span exhibition histories and the sites and structures of artistic production and presentation. Current specific areas of focus are global art, postcolonialism, photography and archives. He is Associate Editor of American Suburb X online photography and visual culture platform.
LIM BO ESSAY BY KIM KNOPPERS
Ana Mendieta, Imágen de Yágul (Image from Yagul), 1973. Color photograph. 19 × 12 1/2 inches (48.3 × 31.8 cm) © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co.
234 KIM KNOPPERS
‘One must keep one’s eyes and ears open, one must know how to match up the facts, see similarity where others see total difference, remember that certain events occur at various levels or, to put it another way, many incidents are aspects of the same, single occurrence. And that the world is a great big net, it is a whole, where no single thing exists separately; every scrap of the world, every last tiny piece, is bound up with the rest by a complex Cosmos of correspondences, hard for the ordinary mind to penetrate. That is how it works. Like a Japanese car.’ — Janina Duszejko, protagonist of the novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk
1. When in mid-March my colleagues and I were sent home from the museum in the late afternoon, it marked the start of a period of uncertainty and conflicting emotions. The intelligent lockdown, as Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte arrogantly named his strategy for combatting the Covid-19 pandemic, had begun. With the security of a regular income, without an essential job in the caring professions and with a small but comfortable apartment of my own, I was far from the eye of the storm. Traffic on the motorway past my house minimised, air quality improved and there were no planes coming in to land at the airport a stone’s throw away. Birds took over the airspace. I had no health problems. I suffered no hidden poverty, unlike many of my neighbours. I put money into various charities and registered as a volunteer. Nevertheless, in these privileged circumstances, I felt confused. How did we all end up here? The growing world population, the mounting food and water crises, catastrophic environmental breakdown, the privatisation of the public sector, the gaping economic gulf between the privileged and the rest, race and gender division: the infection has made clear how everything in our world is inextricably interconnected. Was this not all the product of a rampant desire in the privileged part of the world for more, more, more, and the destruction of the earth it entailed?
As Italian writer Paulo Giordano aptly wrote in his essay Nel contagio (How Contagion Works) , ‘We think we have explored all of it, but there are still microbial universes about which we know nothing, interactions between species that we haven’t even begun to imagine. Our aggressive behaviour towards the environment increases the likelihood of coming into contact with these new pathogens, which until now were happily confined to their natural niches. Deforestation brings us closer to habitats that never considered our presence; our unstoppable urbanisation does the same. The accelerated extinction of various animal species is forcing several bacteria that lived inside their guts to move elsewhere. Intensive farming creates involuntary cultures where literally anything proliferates.’ Giordano believes that infection is a symptom whose cause can be found in ecology. The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic prompts us to think about the fact that humans are the dominant species in a fragile but holistic ecosystem of which bacteria, insects, animals, plants and trees are also part. Although work and life carried on, I had the sense of finding myself in a void, on a pause setting. Like others who had the luxury of not needing to fight for their physical survival, I tried to determine how I could relate to all this. Would the old ways soon return? Or was this a moment when change could be implemented? Where in
fires in Australia dominated the news for weeks; floods in East Africa did not. If we were witnessing increases in heat and drought in Europe comparable to those of Africa, would climate change be higher up the agenda? Racism and the climate crisis are intimately linked, as are the Covid-19 pandemic and institutional racism. 4. From the beginnings of photography and its first practical applications, the camera has been connected with a small, largely Western European male segment of the population that, economically, culturally and ethically, acquired a dominant role on the world stage. The interweaving of technology, science and capitalism led to what Max Weber in 1919 called the disenchantment of the world, meaning that everyday problems are no longer solved by magic and faith but by technology and reason. From the start, photography has been bound up with a component of a capitalism that eventually ran amok, and with processes of colonisation of which the crises of the present day are the extreme results. From that perspective we might claim that the camera shares part of the blame for those crises. The start of the healing process in the present day may lie in the repair of the connection with nature as a counterweight to the dominant position of the human species and its habit of mass consumption. Image- makers can now fill the vacuum created by the collapse of long-established convictions — as a result of Covid-19 and the worldwide Black Lives Matter protests — with a resilient, holistic story they can use to create a new reality, a narrative that expresses the natural flow of life and death, and the importance of fragility in the cycle of life, with an emphasis on wholeness. The epidemics of our time prompt us to see ourselves as belonging to a collective. We are an organism that is more than merely a member of our own species. The above examples offer hope and show that the camera gives us the opportunity to re-enchant the disenchanted world, without falling back on nostalgia for a past that may in truth never have existed.
KIM KNOPPERS is an art historian graduated from University of Amsterdam, and curator at Foam. Since 2011, she has worked on group and solo exhibitions, most recently Lorenzo Vitturi’s Materia Impura, Morpher III by Kévin Bray and Extendable Ears by Sheng-Wen Lo. She has contributed to various magazines including Foam Magazine, Unseen and Aperture and has written catalogue texts for Jaya Pelupessy and Sylvain CouzinetJacques, amongst others. She is also a lecturer on the MA Photography at ECAL in Lausanne where she initiated and developed the course Do Not Disturb — Curating in Progress.
LAWRENCE LEK Geomancer
252 however, doesn’t constitute memorable images, but is processed as a set of data. The result is a formulation of experience, a memory, of pixels — an imagination beyond human understanding. It is that non-human machine perspective on reality that is so significant here. When artificial intelligence and human intelligence look at the same picture, they see entirely different things. In that same podcast episode, Joscha Bach argues that what you are seeing is not the real psychical world, but a virtual reality generated in your brain to explain the patterns on your retina. As the philosopher Vilém Flusser wrote in Into the Universe of Technical Images (1985), ‘to an apparatus, particles are no more than a field of possible ways in which to function. What we find difficult to see (e.g. a magnetic field, unless we use iron filings) is, from its standpoint, just another possible function. It transforms the effects of photons on molecules of silver nitrate into photographs in just the same way: blindly. And that is what a technical image is: a blindly realised possibility, something invisible that has blindly become visible.’ As we find ourselves in a visual culture in which the human eye has become unable to distinguish between photograph and render, between depiction and visualisation, one might argue that how AI considers images is closer to reality than anything else.
IN LIMBO While Geomancer takes the perspective of a non-human Other — threatened in its freedom of existence and self-determination — it’s essentially the existential crisis of humanity which this work is about. In the artwork, Geomancer functions as an avatar for any marginalised or excluded group (either human, non-human or posthuman) in its quest for emancipation. It raises the question how we consider ourselves within that narrative, if we in fact live in a simulacrum that is being shaped according to what we want to see. How can we build our opinions if the counterargument is filtered out of the content selected for us by algorithms? How do we know what our taste is, if it’s predicted for us? How can we decide what art is, if we can’t recognise a human hand? Our assessment of reality has disintegrated into particles. As Vilém Flusser predicted, ‘this mass must be computed to make the world tangible, conceivable, comprehensible again, and to make consciousness aware of itself once more.’ Ironically, we might need an oppositional consciousness, another kind of intelligence, to do that for us. — Text by Mirjam Kooiman
All images from the series Geomancer, 2017 © Lawrence Lek, courtesy of the artist and Sadie Coles HQ, London LAWRENCE LEK is an artist, filmmaker and musician working in the fields of virtual reality and simulation. He creates site-specific virtual worlds and speculative films using game software, 3D animation, installations, and performance. Often rendering real places within fictional scenarios, his environments reflect the impact of the virtual on the politics of creativity. In 2017 he received the Photoworks / FVU Award and his work has been exhibited at Tramway (Glasgow), KW Institute for Contemporary Art (Berlin) and K11 Art Space (Hong Kong) among others. MIRJAM KOOIMAN is a curator at Foam, where she has worked on various shows including Ai Weiwei — Safe Passage, Romain Mader — The Following is a True Story as well as the Foam Talent exhibitions of 2015 and 2016. She holds a BA in Art History and MA in Curating from the University of Amsterdam, with a special interest in postcolonial approaches in the arts. She is currently researching the topic of photography related to digital and virtual realities, and is particularly interested in the human perception of nature in the Anthropocene. She previously served as a curator-in-training at the photography collection of Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum.
AÏDA MULUNEH Memory of Hope
us internally and externally. The subjects wears a light bright blue dress which is decorated with a lone red star that is echoed in colour by a red paper origami boat floating calmly into the image. The presence of the boat signals a childlike innocence and the optimism of travel. The red star positioned on the dress functions here as a navigational way-finder to a potential better place for all those who are directionless in the vastness of the blue. It’s as if ‘The Mirage of Hope’ presented here will only appear once the traveller has arrived at a certain point of no return which may well be death, if the direction or course is not corrected towards Hope. Therefore amongst a mise-en-scène of reflective melancholy, this work functions as a profound reminder that Hope is fragile and therefore by its very nature it must be sort and cared for at all times. Collectively as a body of work, The Memory of Hope states that as human subjects we are duty-bound to make sure that Hope for every generation must be kept alive. — Text by Mark Sealy
All images from the series Memory of Hope, 2017 © Aïda Muluneh, courtesy of the artist AÏDA MULUNEH is a photographer, contemporary artist and director of the international photography festival Addis Foto Fest, hosted in the city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Her photographic practice brings together performance, set design, photography and painting techniques that result in surreal tableau-like scenes. She is the recipient of the European Union Prize in the Rencontres Africaines de la Photographie (2007), the winner of the CRAF International Award of Photography(2010), and a CatchLight Fellow (2018). MARK SEALY is a curator and cultural historian with a special interest in the relationship of photography to social change, identity politics and human rights. In 1991 he became the director of Autograph ABP, the Association of Black Photographers. He is Principal Fellow at University of Arts London and has curated several major international exhibitions, including African Cosmologies — Photography, Time and The Other which is accompanied by a catalogue featuring work of the 30 contributing artists whose works challenge traditional notions of Blackness and transnational histories in relation to concepts of liberty, rights, and representation.
TAIYO ONORATO & NICO KREBS Future Perfect
280 great forces of nature. While we may be enmeshed with nature, we also have the power to tear the mesh to pieces, ourselves along with it. The forms throughout Taiyo O norato and Nico Krebs’s work move between the natural, the human, and technoscientific and mathematical abstractions. The form shifts and changes. The line between beauty, horror and disgust is a fine one. Watching ice fracture into fractal patterns as it melts, is beautiful and hypnotic. Seeing the frozen methane bubbles thus released is both wondrous and apocalyptic, each small bubble a piece of our doom. Psychoanalytic approaches to symbiosis and liminality 8 show they can be sources of terror, that we will lose ourselves as we re/merge with mother and the nonhuman environment. I am NOT nature, I am NOT an animal etc 9 . The very fragility of these boundaries leads to increasing violence at the border 10. But also that this liminality can be transformational, as we follow the ebb and flow of subjectivity — through connectedness/merger followed by a separation and re-emergence of the self. Dark forces approach closer, it’s coming, there is a prayer of fear, and holding onto love at the moment of loss. Powerful feelings of awe, gratitude, excitement, and mourning all mixed together. The stew of the Anthropocene. Art can help us to process and come to terms with the awesome scale of life and death. The link between psyche and nature is not only from the inside out (projecting onto nature as a screen, evacuating our psychic and material waste). It goes from the outside in. How can we face the end of the world, without denial or being overwhelmed by persecutory or depressive anxieties? There are utopian elements in the work as well, echoes of the yearning of our past futures, the futures of our childhood. But something more. There is hope. A hope that is not manic or delusional, but based on a new imagining. The seeds of another
IN LIMBO future, while perhaps not perfect, are contained as shadows and lines and colours within these images, along with the traces of the past and the terrifying future that is already here. — Text by Joseph Dodds
1 Winnicott, D.W. (1974) Fear of Breakdown. Int.R.Psycho-Anal., 1:103-107. 2 Bion, W.R. (1961). Experiences in Groups And Other Papers. London: Tavistock. 3 Lertzman, R. (2015) Environmental Melancholia: Psychoanalytic dimensions of engagement. Routledge 4 Morton, T. (2013) Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. Minnesota 5 Searles, H.F. (1972) Unconscious Proesses in Relation to Environmental Crisis. Psychoanal.Rev., 6 Dodds, J. (2011) Psychoanalysis and Ecology at the Edge of Chaos: Complexity Theory, DeleuzelGuattari, and psychoanalysis for a climate in crisis. Routledge. 7 Hamilton, C. (2017) Defiant Earth: The Fate of Humans in the Anthropocene. Polity 8 Milner, M. (2010) On Not Being Able to Paint. Routledge 9 Dodds, J. (2012) Animal Totems and Taboos: An Ecopsychoanalytic Perspective. PSYART: A Hyperlink Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts. Available http://www.psyartjournal.com/article/ show/dodds-animal_totems_and_ taboos_an_ecopsychoana 10 Derrida, J. (2008) The Animal That Therefore I Am. Fordham University Press.
All images from the series Future Perfect © Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs, courtesy of the artists and Sies+Höke Gallery TAIYO ONORATO and NICO KREBS are a Swiss artistic duo that has been working together on a variety of projects on the cutting edge of photography, sculpture and installation since 2003. Few subjects remain untouched in their complex, yet highly accessible work, in which reality collides with fiction while humour converges with seriousness. In 2013 they won the Foam Paul Huf Award and their work has been published and exhibited widely including places like Fotomuseum Winterthur and KINDL Zentrum für Zeitgenössische Kunst Berlin. JOSEPH DODDS is a psychoanalyst based in Prague and a university lecturer in psychology and psychoanalysis (University of New York in Prague, AAU). He is the author of the 2011 book Psychoanalysis and Ecology at the Edge of Chaos: Complexity Theory, Deleuze|Guattari, and Psychoanalysis for a Climate in Crisis and of several other book chapters and articles on the application of psychological and psychoanalytic insight into the domains of culture, society, art, film, neuroscience, ecology, and climate change.
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288 ISSUE #57, In Limbo EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Elisa Medde EDITORS Marcel Feil, Kim Knoppers, Elisa Medde EDITORIAL ASSISTANT Katy Hundertmark MAGAZINE MANAGEMENT Maureen Marck ART DIRECTOR Hamid Sallali DESIGN & LAYOUT Ayumi Higuchi, Hamid Sallali TYPEFACES Haarlem (Adrien Menard), Maria (Phil Baber) CONTRIBUTING ARTISTS & WRITERS Mariama Attah, Fabio Barile, Anders Birger, Atle Blekastad, Lewis Bush, Marcelo Brodsky, Widline Cadet, David Campany, Joseph Dodds, Thana Faroq, Marcel Feil, Jakob Ganslmeier, Kata Geibl, Hinde Haest, Taco Hidde Bakker, Thembinkosi Hlatshwayo, Phelim Hoey, Lena Holzer, Federica Iozzo, Marta Iwanek, Batuhan Keskiner, Antoinette de Jong & Robert Knoth, Xaver Konneker, Mirjam Kooiman, Seba Kurtis, Lawrence Lek, Kim Knoppers, Jaime Lowe, Lekgetho Makola, Anastasia Mityukova, Elisa Medde, Tanvi Mishra, Aïda Muluneh, Keiko Okamura, Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs, Paola Paleari, Wendy Red Star, Jana Romanova, Aaron Schuman, Mark Sealy, Sunil Shah, Eugenie Shinkle, Alec Soth, M. Charlene Stevens, Alexa Vachon, Daniëlle van Ark, Claartje van Dijk, Deborah Willis, Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa, Vasantha Yogananthan FRONT COVER Untitled #3 from the series Kodak Knows No Dark Days, 2020 © Xaver Konneker, courtesy of the artist INSIDE FRONT COVER Plezi Pale menm Lang Lan #2 (The Pleasure of Speaking the Same Language #2) from the series Seremoni Disparisyon (Ritual [Dis]Appearance) © Widline Cadet, courtesy of the artist BACK COVER W6, 2020 / C-Print 82 × 114 cm / from the series Future Perfect © Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs, courtesy of the artists and Sies+Höke Gallery
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EUGENIE SHINKLE View Cloud from Eye Position … the sky does not occupy a place, and cannot be measured; and as for clouds, nor can their outlines be fixed or their shapes analysed in terms of surfaces. A cloud belongs to the class of “bodies without surfaces,” as Leonardo da Vinci was to put it, bodies that have no precise form or extremities…
but cloud poses problems for representation. the very qualities that make it so appealing to the imagination also make cloud difficult to describe.
If the endless dark of the night sky is a reminder of our insignificance, pareidolia invites us to claim the random forms of cloud as outposts of the human psyche.
we look up and see our desires and fantasies, our past and future, our innermost thoughts scattered across the blue.
cloud belongs to the imagination.
Has the reader any distinct idea of what clouds are?
John Ruskin, Modern Painters vol. 5, 1860
Hubert Damisch, A Theory of /Cloud/, 1972
John Constableâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s knowledge of meteorology rivalled that of the best scientists of his era. It was said that his clouds were so realistic, they not only portrayed precisely the atmospheric conditions in the moment they were painted, they also predicted the weather to come.
in the nineteenth century, as painting aligned itself with the emerging field of meteorology, art seemed poised to reverse this order.
for art, cloud is a metaphor and never a fact.
cloud has long marked a limit in Western art. it is visible, but lacks a tangible surface, fixed shape, or clear boundaries. it resists the efforts of the pen and the brush. it cannot be accommodated within conventional systems of linear perspective.
digital technologies meet with a different kind of resistance. the outward appearance of cloud is notoriously hard to render, so computer graphics mimic its interior life instead. particle generation systems use thousands of tiny, randomly generated digital objects to simulate the movement and behaviour of the individual droplets of water or ice that make up a cloud.
but arresting the movement of cloud goes against its very nature. photographyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s hold on cloud is spurious â&#x20AC;&#x201C; it can describe a cloudâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s exterior, but not what goes on within.
out of its stillness emerged a kind of truth: standardised cloud forms that lent themselves to scientific classification.
by the turn of the twentieth century, photographic emulsions were fast enough to capture and immobilise the shifting outlines of cloud. photography promised to bring cloud within the limits of representation.