Afterimage Vol. 40, No. 5

Cover 40.5


The Importance of Seeing for Oneself Through the Eyes of Others
by Bill Kouwenhoven

Daegu Photo Biennale
Daegu, South Korea
September 9–October 28, 2012

Lianzhou International Photography Festival
Lianzhou, China
November 23–December 18, 2012

Photo Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
December 8–30, 2012

Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography
Dhaka, Bangladesh
January 25–February 7, 2013

Photography festivals represent opportunities to meet photographers, known and unknown, as well as curators, gallerists, and academics—all in a particular kind of bubble—typically a hotel or cultural center and at various venues about town. There are usually a variety of lectures, workshops, exhibition openings, much mingling over wine and canapés, and some exchanging of ideas and contacts over yet more wine. It sounds mondaine. It sounds like a junket. It sounds self-indulgent. It often is. Welcome to Arles.

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What Do Subjects Want?
by Joscelyn Jurich

I paused when I first saw the 2011 World Press Photo of the Year winner, Catalan photojournalist Samuel Aranda’s image of a Yemeni woman in full burqa cradling a bare-chested young man in her arms. “If I like a photograph, if it disturbs me, I linger over it,” Roland Barthes wrote in Camera Lucida (1980). I lingered over this photograph, not because it is likeable but because it is disturbing.1

The image is initially disruptive because its narrative is disconcertingly familiar and referential. Its presentation of a contemporary event in a “timeless” frame disturbs the viewer’s own sense of time. Is the viewer being brought into the twentyfirst century or entering what Joan Silber describes, in The Art of Time in Fiction: As Long as It Takes (2009), as “switchback time” (“a zigzag movement back and forth among time frames”)2? Does the photograph’s composition fully associate the twenty-first century individuals photographed with times and places far away from their actual geographical and temporal existence? The subjects’ historical moment has been ruptured and complicated, and so has the viewer’s.

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Sex Tools: New Queer Narratives as Community Action Cinema
by Bradford Nordeen

Last October, the Guardian published an article by Ben Walters addressing a recent and telling trend in gay cinema. Within the past year, a new crop of films has appeared, displaying extreme content like “explicit sex and copious drug use,” while “[deploying] naturalism—often shooting handheld in found locations and using performances that smack of improvisation,” signaling an “embrace of the real” in contemporary gay feature filmmaking.1 While the primary texts addressed in Walters’s article, such as Andrew Haigh’s Weekend (2011) and Ira Sachs’s Keep the Lights On (2012), do present frank depictions of simulated sex acts, filmmakers like A.K. Burns, Travis Mathews, and A.L. Steiner are taking this trend to task, exploring new naturalistic methods of rendering the contemporary queer body in graphic (re)presentations of erotic pleasure. Unlike the conventionally cinematic Weekend or Keep the Lights On, these titles push the boundaries of digital aesthetics and distribution, proposing enthralling internet-age objects that embrace, in order to dismantle, the dynamics of online pornography in starkly contrasting approaches.

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Romantic Conceptualism: a Conversation With Guido van der Werve
by Harry J. Weil

Guido van der Werve’s films teeter between slapstick humor and the macabre, drawing together sources as disparate as Casper David Friedrich and masochistic body art. In Nummer Acht #8 (Everything is going to be alright) (2007), for example, he is the lone protagonist walking just ahead of a gargantuan icebreaking ship as it plows through the frozen waters of Finland’s Gulf of Bothnia. Dressed all in black, he is nearly invisible against the brooding hull of the ship. Yet, despite the physical obstacles, he continues on, oblivious to the vessel that trails threateningly at his heels. The artist becomes a stand-in for the “everyman” who strides the globe despite the onslaught of forces he cannot control. His actions are in line with a familiar trope concerning viewer subjectivity that Jörg Heiser has termed “Romantic Conceptualism,” a new form of romanticism that is “completely secularized” and stripped of any pretention that “the artist’s soul is a medium of the otherworldly or godly.” What is left is an art that favors the “open process and the fragmentary over the systematic and concise,” as focus shifts from the conceptual to the emotional.1

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Falling Into the Digital Divide: Encounters with the Work of Hito Steyerl
by Daniel Rourke

Displayed on two high-definition television screens, Hito Steyerl’s work Abstract (2012) vies for the viewer’s attention, even as it severs it. On one screen, Steyerl herself comes into focus wearing a Ramones T-shirt. Within the frame, Steyerl holds another screen: that of a smartphone, the logo of its American super-corporation tugging at the center of a shot framed, in turn, by the Brandenburg Gate and a Berlin office building belonging to weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin. The words “Shot/Countershot” light up a black transition across both screens: “one opens the door to the other.” The references Abstract makes are instantly manifold. On the one hand, “shot/countershot” refers to the filmic technique of characters looking at each other across distinct frames, and on the other, to the sentiment of counterattack in battle. Abstract is about Andrea Wolf, a childhood friend of Steyerl turned radical activist and Kurdish militant, who was murdered in 1998 by Turkish forces. Abstract is about the ways in which “the grammar of cinema follows the grammar of battle,” including the inherent violence of the cut and the edit, carried out by filmmakers in pursuit of their craft. At the remote desert location where her friend was murdered, Steyerl is guided through a taxonomy of detritus by a local Kurdish man. “This is a piece of cloth. This is a jacket. This is an ammunitions container.” On the opposite screen, film, battle, and conceit flicker white on black once more: “This is a shot. This is a hellfire missile.”

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Exhibition Reviews

Gas Pains
by Robert Raczka

Marcellus Shale Documentary Project
Pittsburgh Filmmakers Galleries
October 11, 2012–January 6, 2013

For many people, hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking,” has name recognition but remains an abstraction, a process involving extractable resources taking place in distant, rural locations.1 Marcellus Shale Documentary Project was organized in an effort to partially remedy this problem, by providing images and personal accounts of how fracking has affected individuals and places. Curated by Laura Domencic, director of the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts (a partner organization to Pittsburgh Filmmakers) and organized with the assistance of photographer Brian Cohen, Marcellus Shale Documentary Project commissioned six photographers to each produce a body of work in and around fracking operations in the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania (the region reaches from New York State to West Virginia, while fracking has also been used in Texas, Colorado, and elsewhere). The result is an exhibition of more than fifty photographs taken in 2011 and 2012, a book-sized exhibition catalog, an online archive, and public programs2 with the goal of “creating a visual document of the environmental, social and economic impact of the drilling . . . [as] a catalyst for discussion.”3

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Star of the Exhibition
by Julia Bradshaw

Jonas Mekas
Serpentine Gallery
December 5, 2012–January 27, 2013

An exhibition surveying the films, video, photography, and poetry of the filmmaker Jonas Mekas was recently on view at the Serpentine Gallery in London. This was a companion exhibition to a comprehensive video and film series presented by the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and BFI Southbank in London. In producing this exhibit, the Serpentine Gallery set itself the daunting task of presenting representative works to reflect Mekas’s prolific sixty-year career.

Now ninety years old, Mekas has been making films since his arrival in New York City in 1949. Born in Lithuania in 1922, Mekas spent the latter part of the Second World War in a forced labor camp and then spent four years in various displaced persons’ camps in Germany before the United Nations refugee organization brought Mekas and his brother Adolfas to New York City. Almost as soon as he set foot on American soil, Mekas began making films. By the 1960s he was a central figure in the city’s burgeoning arts community, alongside friends and collaborators such as Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol, and filmmakers Kenneth Anger, Stanley Brakhage, and Maya Deren. He was an advocate for independent film, writing for publications such as the Village Voice and, with Adolfas, publishing the now defunct Film Culture magazine. He also founded the Anthology Film Archives with a group of similarly minded independent filmmakers.

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Body of Evidence
by Tim Maul

Materializing “Six Years”: Lucy R. Lippard and the Emergence of Conceptual Art
Brooklyn Museum
Brooklyn, New York
September 14, 2012–February 17, 2013

Published in 1973, Lucy Lippard’s Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object became one of the earliest indispensable overviews of art now generally categorized as “conceptual.” Like the compact volume itself, this exhibition constituted a crash course on a period when manually produced art objects were disparaged and banished, leaving only residual evidence in the form of writings, photographs, printed matter of all kinds, film, nascent video, announcements, declarations, notebooks, schematics, ephemera, and a few actual “things.” Through her oft-mentioned mentorship with artist Sol LeWitt and marriage to proto-minimalist painter Robert Ryman, Lippard was an insider to the territorial world of post-pop “downtown” art. Following painter Frank Stella’s blunt statements on how a painting gets made, LeWitt’s “comments” on art were a game changer; his nearly biblical “Sentences on Conceptual Art” appeared in the Anglo-American publication Art & Language (1969) and a great deal of what was presented at the Brooklyn Museum, stylistically and philosophically, evolved out of this set of reductive declarations. Minimalist art stalled in the late 1960s, allowing openings for artists recast as “information age” linguists enthralled by language more common to Frankfurt School academics than to art bar raconteurs.

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Uncanny by Coincidence
by Jody Zellen

Lost and Found: Anonymous Photography in Reflection
Ambach & Rice
Los Angeles
December 1, 2012–January 12, 2013

What makes a photograph significant? What makes a photograph resonate? Is it the composition? The facial expression of its subject? The quality of light and shadow? Does knowing who took it increase its appeal? These questions and more were put to the test in Lost and Found: Anonymous Photography in Reflection, a compelling exhibition that juxtaposed images by anonymous photographers with those who are well known in the field. It was the relationships among these images and the coincidental juxtapositions that made the exhibition sing. Two curators working independently selected the images. Benjamin Thelonious Fels worked with vernacular photographs from the collection of Robert E. Jackson (a Seattle-based collector who has amassed over ten thousand images taken by unknown photographers). New York City-based critic and curator Bob Nickas selected the photographs by contemporary imagemakers. Each curator chose their images independently, aware that the collaborative aspects of the project were to come during installation.

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Acts of Defiance
by Yesomi Umolu

Steve McQueen
Art Institute of Chicago
October 21, 2012–January 6, 2013

Since bursting onto the contemporary art scene in the early 1990s, enigmatic British artist Steve McQueen has ostensibly been on a steady ascent to become one of the finest and most celebrated experimental filmmakers of his generation. Having successfully transitioned into mainstream cinema in recent years, a move mirrored by his compatriot Sam Taylor-Wood, McQueen is arguably better recognized these days for his feature films Hunger (2008) and Shame (2011). Nevertheless, with each gallery-based presentation, albeit increasingly infrequent given his current preoccupation with cinematic releases, McQueen continues to challenge the boundaries of moving image discourses within the proverbial white cube. As such, it is fitting that the Art Institute of Chicago and the Schaulager in Switzerland have now co-organized the largest survey of his artistic output to date. Spanning two decades, the exhibition Steve McQueen showcased fifteen works that underscore McQueen’s unique ability to propel viewers into striking environments where image and sound elegantly collide. Beyond the exhibition’s rich content, the installation was a satisfying jaunt through a variety of cinematic experiences, occupying a large central room with freestanding projections that foregrounded the relationship between the body and the celluloid screen, while conversely breaking up into smaller black boxes that called for more intimate engagement with the work.

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Book Reviews

Mobilizing Tactics
by Joanna Gardner-Huggett

Sensible Politics: The Visual Culture of Nongovernmental Activism
Edited by Meg McLagan and Yates McKee
Zone Books, 2012
664 pp./$36.95 (hb)

We are inundated daily with remarkable and moving images of radical protest, whether taking place in Tahrir Square in Cairo or on the steps of the State Capitol
in Madison, Wisconsin, yet we are often unaware of their exact origins or the multiple frames through which they are mediated. This anthology, edited by Meg McLagan and Yates McKee, prov ides fundament a l pa radigms needed to understand how the aesthetic is mobilized for activist purposes. Building on its predecessor, Nongovernmental Politics, edited and published by Michel Feher in 2007, it features more than thirty essays and interviews written by a diverse group of academics and nongovernmental activists. Contributions range from the theoretical, such as Judith Butler’s poetic discussion of how it is both the bodily and spatial dimensions of public demonstrations that allow the disempowered to contest their marginalized status, to Charles Zerner’s case study of Just Food’s campaign to legalize beekeeping in New York City, which was banned by the administration of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in 1999.

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Black, White, and Blue
by Thomas McGovern

Uncle Charlie
By Marc Asnin
Contrasto, 2012
408 pp./$49.00 (hb)

Uncle Charlie is not a story of a man abandoned by his children, but a book about the intense vision and dedication of an artist who saw in his extended family an epic tale of sorrow. The book is an intense collaboration of words and images, with Marc Asnin’s dark, brooding photographs punctuating the rambling, narcissistic, and self-loathing words of his uncle, Charlie Henschke. The book is the result of Asnin photographing, since 1981, his uncle, and his uncle’s four children, two wives, and various lovers—a process that has alienated and angered everyone involved, leaving only a despondent uncle and loyal nephew with a truly outstanding photography publication. After all they have been through, Asnin is the only person left in Uncle Charlie’s life. Asnin is a well-known editorial and documentary photographer whose other extensive bodies of work include Skinheads (1998–2001) and Shock Trauma (2004).

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Media Noted
by Patrick Friel

Darger’s Resources
By Michael Moon/Duke University Press Books/2012/168
pp./$22.95 (sb)/$79.95 (hb)

This new critical study of the art and writing of “outsider” artist Henry Darger is both illuminating and, at times, frustrating. Darger (1892–1973) spent more than half a century secretly writing a 15,000-page prose work, In the Realms of the Unreal, and making more than three hundred complementary artworks. The fantasy narrative concerns a child-slave rebellion and frequently features scenes of horrific violence against these children—mostly prepubescent girls. Darger’s paintings often depict the girls nude and always with male genitalia. In this book, Moon aims to reframe the pathologizing of Darger and his work that has risen up over the past decade or so, much of which casts Darger as a possible child molester or potential serial killer based on the extreme aspects of his work.

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Current Issue, Vol. 45, nos. 2 & 3

Citizen by Michael Danner

Shame by Elissa Levy

An Empty Field by Elisabeth Tonnard

Vol. 45, no. 1

Beyond The Drama by Saara Mäntylä


Image Text Ithaca Symposium

Film as Verb: Documentary Imperfection in the Post-Factual Era by Gabrielle McNally

Speculations and Inquiries on New Participatory Documentary Environments

Toward a Theory of Participatory New Media Documentary

Documentary Untethered, Documentary Becoming

Collaborative Documentary Practice: Histories, Theories, Practices


Silos by Andria Hickey and Matthew Chasney

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