Number 10


Los inmensamente talentosos integrantes del proyecto fotográfico de la Farm Security Administration, a finales de los años treinta(Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Ben Shahn, Russell Lee, entre otros) hacían docenas de fotografías frontales de cada uno de sus aparceros hasta que quedaban satisfechos de haber conseguido el aspecto adecuado en la película: la expresión precisa en el rostro del sujeto que respaldara sus propias nociones de la pobreza, la luz, la dignidad, la textura, la explotación y la geometría. Cuando deciden la apariencia de una imagen, cuando prefieren una exposición a otra, los fotógrafos siempre imponen pautas a sus modelos. Aunque en un sentido la cámara en efecto captura la realidad, y no sólo la interpreta, las fotografías son una interpretación del mundo tanto como las pinturas y los dibujos.

Susan Sontag, Sobre la fotografía.

Y sin embargo…



James Nachtwey, “Survivor of a Hutu death camp”

This photograph of a young Hutu man who had been repeatedly attacked with a machete thus becomes an accusation towards the West for having closed its eyes to the humanitarian catastrophe that was happening in Rwanda. From 6 April to mid-July 1994, in just one hundred days, more than 800,000 people-the majority of them Tutsis-were systematically slaughtered. Following the genocide, over a million people fled from Rwanda to Zaire, creating one of the largest refugee camps in history. Nachtwey was there, and shot a chilling series of images. The man in the photograph managed to survive after being freed and treated by the Red Cross. Nachtwey closes in tightly on his violated face, which has been reduced to matter, flesh and scars. That face is a denunciation: ‘What allows me to overcome the emotional obstacles inherent in my work is the belief that when people are confronted by images that evoke compassion, they will continue to respond, no matter how exhausted, angry or frustrated they may be.’


Fotografía familiar.

No wonder we record banalities. Photographs are how we keep in touch. (…)

Photographs provide at least a visual record of our past. Looking at our parents and grandparents and even our great-grandparents; looking at their dress, their surroundings, their class and aspirations, fixes us in society (…) And in this photographs also provide us with a collective identity, a sense of shared experience at a particular time and place in history. Photographs can evoke a collective emotion-a generalized, rather than specific identification with the past-and this is the power that at the end of the twentieth century found itself harnessed to contemporary art.

Since the 1970s, the ‘found’ photograph has been a popular accessory for conceptual artist, and in 1990 I found myself in the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London, at an exhibition of works by the French artist Christian Boltanski, standing in front of a wall of small black-and-white photographs not unlike the ones of my own family. In Boltanski’s case he had taken them from the albums of a family identified only as family ‘D’ (later revealed to be that of his dealer). It was impossible to be unaffected by these small rephotograph snapshots of uneven quality which showed mothers and fathers and small children in all the groupings, formal and informal, familiar to anybody who had grown up, like Boltanski, in the immediate post-war period. I believe none of the visitors I stood next to at the Whitechapel at that point knew of the existence of family D, let alone had any relationship to them. But there was a sense of recognition that brought with it a powerful mix of emotions: love, fear, sadness, amusement, dread. Boltanski understood the effect these photographs would have. It was a shared experience-we recognized our own childhoods, we recognized a past when the future was full of promise, people we had lost and would never find again, times and places we had been happy, times when we had believed we would be safe, or successful, or were blessed. They reminded us of when we believed that friends and marriages and principles would endure for a lifetime. And they told us that once we had been loved unconditional, and now those unconditional guardians and their protection were gone for good. It was a simple device, but at the end of the century Boltansky had identified its subjects: memory and death.


All photographs are about the past. (…)

“Lost in the depths of the Winter Garden, my mother’s face is vague, faded. In a first impulse I exclaimed, ‘There’s she is! She’s really there! At last, there she is!’ Now I claim to know-and to be able to say adequantely-why, in what she consists. I want to outline the loved face by thought, to make it into the unique field of an intense observation; I want to enlarge this face in order to see it better, to understand it better, to know its truth (I confide this task to a laboratory). I believed that by enlarging the detail ‘in series’ (each shot engendering smaller details than at the preceding stage), I will finally reach my mother’s very being.”


It explains part of the magic of the photography-not only to copy what we can see with our eyes, but to make visible that which we can’t.

Liz Jobey, Snaps in GRANTA, 80. The Group.