Introduction to the Expert Meeting of November 21, 2014
PRICCAPractice stands for Photographic Research in Crosscultural and Crossdisciplinary Artistic Practices. The center is interested in all kinds of artistic research practices that use photography as a means to get a better insight into the world we live in and in the people who are part of that world.
In PRICCAPractice we wish to address the photographer who is a researcher of the world that surrounds him, the artist using photography in his search, the ethnographer who understands the values of photography, and the investigating journalist who dares to be critical about photojournalism. In their use of photography their research practices can be considered as dialogical practices that are a direct consequence of the special capacity of the photographic image to speak back to the photographer. When a photographer takes a photo, he or she lets the outside world, in a more or less controlled way, come into the camera and become an ‘image’. We call this the indexical strength of photography. What is present in the outside world leaves a trace in de camera. A photograph is the immediate proof of the existence of the photographed objects or persons.
As a viewer, this is magical for me. I look at the picture and I bridge distances in space and time, and for a moment this man, who was living in Uganda more than 70 years ago, is looking back at me, as I am looking at him. Of course I know it is just an image, but it is an image that gives me the feeling of the presence of something which is far removed in time and which is distant in space. Roland Barthes calls this the punctum of the image; its hypnotizing strength, the wounding, personally touching part of the photo which establishes a direct relationship between the viewer and the person within it.
Let us go back to the one taking the pictures. In this process, the photograph not only represents what the photographer wanted the image to represent, it always also represents something more, something else, and in that way photography becomes a dialogical practice.This extra information that is not controlled by the photographer was the point of departure for Anne Geene, who formed an archive of accidentally photographed flora and fauna in her project Look at That!. The photograph talks back. In photography as a research practice, a dialogue occurs between the photographer, who becomes a viewer of the picture he took, and the photograph. She says about this picture of Robert de Hartog: “The camera just registers everything that is in the frame (…) Unintentionally, when you take a photograph as a photographer, you photograph a lot more. This Robert de Hartog probably wanted to photograph these women. But there are also a lot of trees, and he also photographed the weather in a way, the time of the year, and the fabrics and the haircuts.”
Photography is also dialogical in another respect. A photograph asks questions about what is represented. It asks, in the words of Roland Barthes, for anchorage. Specific information about place, people and time is not in the photograph, it is only in the minds of the people that recognize it. Who are these women? Why have they gathered in this garden? Is it a garden? When is the photograph taken?
This becomes very clear on Andrea Stultiens’ History in Progress Uganda Facebook page. She is an outsider in relation to the photographs of the Ugandan people, places and events she finds in all kind of collections and archives, and she puts them on the Internet and asks people to add the anchoring information: who are these people, where are they and what is the context of the photos? She asks questions based on her ignorance; they give answers based on their knowledge. In this sense, photography is more about not knowing than about knowing. Or if I may use the even more radical words on the back of the last booklet of Andrea Stultiens, uttered by the son of the Ugandan photographer Musa Katurama: “A photograph is somebody’s private eye. You can’t know what it is about, unless it was your eye.”
The topic of today’s expert meeting is bridging distances. Today we will talk about the way a photograph can bridge the distance between the absence of the person represented and the presence of this person at the moment the photo is taken. A photograph leads us to the person that is absent. Or as Hans Belting wrote in Image, Medium, Body, it all started with the possibility of images replacing the absent dead person. “A given community felt threatened by the gap caused by the loss of one of its members. The dead, as a result, were kept as present and visible in the ranks of the living via their images.” (Critical Inquiry/winter 2005; 307.)
This power of the photograph to bridge distances in time and space is used in the work of Miki Kratsman, an Israeli photographer on another public Facebook page called ‘People I Met.’ He asks for more explicit information about the people who accidentally appeared in the photographs he took in Palestinian areas. They kind of did an appeal on him. He not only wants to know who they are, but also what happened to them in the light of the Israeli attacks on Palestine. This is the information given on his Facebook page:
“In all the years of Kratsman’s work, he captured many ‘regular people’ who just happened to be around the event he was shooting. As a part of his research, he is trying to find out what happened to those ‘regular people’, the ones that by chance appeared in the photos. What were they doing there, at the day of the shoot? What happened to them since? Did any one of those people die in the conflict and become Shahid?” (Shahid meaning martyr in this context)
The relationship between an image and death is literally put in the centre of this project. These photos bridge the gap the people left behind when they were shot or killed in another way by Israeli soldiers.
What I like most about both examples is the already mentioned position of not knowing which position both researchers had. Perhaps they can be called researchers exactly for the reason that they have the courage to take this position of not knowing. Not knowing what I am looking at, not knowing what happened, and because of this position bridging distances by asking and inviting the other to become part of a process in which trying to get to know what somebody else can contribute is the key issue. It is as simple as that.
You will see this in the exhibition, in which individual and co-creative visual practices as research practices bridge the gap between me and the distant other (see for example Go Forward), and you will also find it in the conversations that will take place this evening.