BELGIAN CONTEMPORARY PHOTOGRAPHY
IN THE MARGIN
07.02 - 09.04.11
© Carl De Keyzer, Zona, 2003
On the (un)reality of the image, photographs in the margin, peep shows and certain belgitude
ERIC MIN : Documentary photography is in the first place concerned with the representation of reality. A photographer who practises this genre shows the world as it is, without any artifices other than the choice of field of view and exposure time. His shot says no more than ‘look, I saw this; I thought it was worth recording and I wanted to show it to you too’. In that sense, the photograph stands as a record with both feet planted in the history of photography – and in the traditional misconception that a photograph shows us the real world, and would even be an exact print-out of the true reality. Can you still say that today?
KAAT DEJONGHE : It may be true that a great many people still start from the assumption that what they see on a photo is ‘real’: a faithfully reproduced fragment, lifted straight from reality. For In the Margin, we wanted to go a step further and let the personality of the photographer play a part. In any case, every photographer interprets his subject in a very personal way. If you asked several people to photograph the same theme, you would get as many versions as there are people taking part. Everyone adds a personal touch to it – that in itself is already a transformation of the material. It isn’t just a matter of pushing a little button and leaving the camera obscura to do the work. Because he approaches his subject in his own way, a good photographer makes an artistic intervention. By the choices he makes, he gives a twist to the situation. The result is that the observer keeps looking, can see something he has never seen before. The photographer reacts to the reality and interprets it; he lets his temperament loose on it. It is particularly that element that we want to show. The discussion has obviously gone on for a long time already. As early as the 1930s, in the aftermath of the New Objectivity and the theories of Bertolt Brecht, there was a protracted discussion about the possibility of an objective representation of daily life – and about the desirability of this. Today the debate is by no means closed. In the 1980s, Sebastião Salgado was told that his photographs of the Serra Pelada mine workers disguised reality too much. They were too ‘beautiful’: if you represented subjects such as slave labour or war in an aestheticised way, it would pull the wool over the public’s eyes, and try to convince us that misery was a good thing too… I find all this fuss quite a compliment for Salgado’s work. It proves that he has succeeded in starting a discussion on truth and beauty, and about the prejudices and models with which we look at images. Nothing is black and white. You may not be able to stop a war or help to rid the world of injustice by taking photographs of it, but you can start people thinking about it and stirring things up. If anyone does this by working out an aesthetically perfect iconography, then that is their choice. Perhaps this is the beauty of the In the Margin project: that documentary photography does not only need to be displayed in magazines, as illustrations to an article, but that with the world as base material powerful images can be made, which can also function autonomously as artistic images. They are still documentary in the sense that they show us the reality, but at the same time they are charged with aesthetics.
︎︎︎ In The Margin FULL ESSAY
DR. GUISLAIN MUSEUM (Ghent)
In the Margin was a top selection of Belgian documentary photographers, who shed light on the ‘other side’ of existence: the aberrant, the delinquent, the extraordinary, the unobserved and the crude. It was the first show to include all Belgian Magnum photographers. More than 400 photographs by 25 photographers were shown. Participating photographers included: Filip Claus, Carl De Keyzer, Bieke Depoorter, Tim Dirven, Martine Franck, Cedric Gerbehaye, Brigitte Grignet, Harry Gruyaert, Nick Hannes, Viviane Joakim, Gert Jochems, Jimmy Kets, Jan Locus, Jacques Sonck, Marie Sordat, Bruno Stevens, Dieter Telemans, Marc Trivier, Gael Turine, Michel Vanden Eeckhoudt, Stephan Vanfleteren, John Vink. The exhibition was curated by Kaat DeJonghe. Lannoo published the photo book In the Margin. Belgian Documentary Photography
© Carl De Keyzer Zona, 2003