Photography: A Cultural History (Fourth Edition), by Mary Warner Marien.

Available on Amazon USA and UK.

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Publisher Laurence King writes: Mary Warner Marien discusses photography from a truly global viewpoint and looks at a wide-ranging collection of images through the lenses of art, science, travel, war, fashion, the mass media and individual photographers. In addition to representing the established canon of Europe and the United States, key work from Latin America, Africa, India, Russia, China and Japan is also included. Professional, amateur and art photographers are all discussed, with 'Portrait' boxes devoted to highlighting important individuals and 'Focus' boxes charting particular cultural debates. New additions to this fourth edition include an overview of photography's involvement in conceptual art, a detailed review of the photographic work of artist Ed Ruscha and new material on European Worker Photography during the 1920s and 30s. Many new pictures have been added throughout the book, including superior versions of historical photographs and recent images from contemporary photographers, including Walead Beshty, Youssef Nabil, Lalla Essaydi and Ryan McGinley. A rich and vivid account of the history of photography placed in an essential cultural context, this indispensable book shows how photography has charted, shaped and sharpened our perception of the world.

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Richard Billingham, Ray's A Laugh, 1996

Mary Warner Marien is Emeritus Professor at Syracuse Uni­versity and this publication started as a textbook for her students. Don't let that detail alarm you, this is by far the most engaging, exciting and informative book on photography i've ever read (and i've read quite a few).

The author examines the story of photography, the technical innovations and the key figures of the rather brief story of the medium but she also looks at the impact it had on society and culture. And vice versa. Photography is indeed a powerful weapon. From its early days until its current guise, it has been equally used to denounce social injustice and to function as an instrument of political propaganda.

By explaining the historical and cultural contexts in which photographers worked, Warner Marien shows us how to research, interpret, understand and ultimately look at a photography. A skill we often overlook in our age of image overload.

Photography. A Cultural History is also a very entertaining book. It will take you from the early days of tabloids to the heyday of Kodak, from racial profiling to documenting public executions, from social documentary to the history of medical experiments.

Have a look at some of the works, ideas and facts i discovered in the book:

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Guillaume Duchenne de Boulogne performing facial electrostimulus experiments on "The Old Man"

French neurologist Duchenne de Boulogne used electrical currents to stimulate facial expressions. The newly invented photography offered him a tool to capture the resulting expressions of his subjects.

His monograph The Mechanism of Human Physiognomy was the first publication on the expression of human emotions to be illustrated with actual photographs.

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John Thomson, The Crawlers, London, 1876-1877

John Thomson collaborated with journalist Adolphe Smith to produce the monthly magazine, Street Life in London, from 1876 to 1877. This early type of photojournalism documented in photographs and text the lives of the street people of London.

The "Crawlers" lived in the street and whenever they had enough cash to buy tea leaves then they would "crawl" to a pub for hot water.

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Photographer Unknown, Corporal Samuel Thummam, 1865

Photographs of American Civil War veterans were circulated to teaching hospitals in an effort to improve battlefield care, recovery and prosthetics

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Lewis Hine, Child in Carolina Cotton Mill, 1908

Lewis Hine, photographer for the National Child Labor Committee, recorded the lives and work of hundreds of children in the United States in the first decades of the twentieth century. His pictures were instruments of persuasion. He believed that if the public could see for themselves the abuses of child labor, they would demand laws to end it.

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Clara Sheldon Smith, Claude F. Hankins. Caption reads: "In 1904 Claude Hankins , aged 14, was convicted of murder and paroled after serving four years."

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Tom Howard, Dead! (Execution of Ruth Snyder in New York's electric chair. Front page of the New York Daily News (January 13 1928)

Ruth Snyder was sentenced to death for killing her husband. Her execution, in the electric chair at Sing Sing Prison was captured in a well-known photograph.

Because photographers are not permitted into executions in the United States, the New York Daily News commissioned a man no one at the prison knew to document the moment. Tom Howard strapped a miniature camera to his ankle and linked he photographic plate by cable to the shutter release concealed within his jacket.

The next day, the photograph made the front page of the paper. For many years afterwards witnesses to executions were searched and asked to hold up their hands so they could not operate hidden cameras.

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Imogen Cunningham, Irene Bobbie Libarry, 1976

Imogen Cunningham was one of the first photographer to portray older people in a way that reflected their individuality. She was 92 when she started working on After Ninety, a series of photos of elderly people. The photo above sows tattooed circus attraction Irene "Bobbie" Libarry (83) in a nursing home.

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Lee Miller, Buchenwald, April 1945

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Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dessau. A young Belgian woman and former Gestapo informer, being identified as she tried to hide in the crowd © Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photo

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Ralph Amdursky and Charles Baker, Colorama. © 2009 Kodak

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Colorama by Kodak

From 1950 until 1990, Kodak's gigantic Colorama photographs dominated the east wall of Grand Central's Main Concourse. The photographers employed used the company's innovative technology to print oversize and meticulously staged photos that portrayed an idealized view of American life.

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Charles Lee Moore, Firefighters hose demonstrators, Birmingham, 1963

Charles Lee Moore documented the American civil rights era.

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Philip Jones Griffiths, Napalm Victim, Vietnam, 1967

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Vo An Khanh, Vietcong Improvised Operating Room, U Minh Forest, 1970

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Yves Klein, Harry Shunk, and Jean Kender, Leap into the Void, 1960

The famous photography Leap into the Void is also a famous photomontage. Harry Shunk first photographed the street empty except for the cyclist. Then, Klein "climbed to the top of a wall and dived off it a dozen times--onto a pile of mats assembled by the members of his judo school across the road. The two elements were then melded to create the desired illusion." (via)

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Catherine Chalmers, Praying Mantis Eating a Caterpillar from Food Chain, 1994-1996

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Catherine Chalmers, Frog eating a Praying Mantis from Food Chain, 1994-1996

Catherine Chalmers portray predatory insects and animals snacking on other living, wriggling creatures.

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Chris Killip, Youth on Wall, Jarrow, Tyneside

Chris Killip spent two decades in the industrial communities of the North East of England. His gritty images attest the impact that the decline of industries and the detrimental economic policy had on British working class.

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Susan Meiselas, Street fighter, Managua, Nicaragua, 1979

Susan Meiselas is best known for her coverage of the insurrection in Nicaragua and her documentation of human rights issues in Latin America.

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The Cambodian Genocide Program at Yale University has scanned more than 10,000 photographic images pertaining to various aspects of gross human rights violations under the Khmer Rouge regime. In this preliminary release of data from our existing archive, we focus on the victims of the Tuol Sleng Prison in Phnom Penh, the notorious "S-21" extermination center.

More than 5,000 photographs were taken of prisoners being processed into the facility for interrogation and execution.

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Peter Dunn and Loraine Leeson, Health Cuts Can Kill. Campaign to Save Bethnal Green Hospital, 1978

A2 poster produced and distributed through the hospital campaign committee over 30 years ago. Still painfully relevant.

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Piss Christ, with partial damage. Photograph: Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters

Andres Serrano's Piss Christ, a "photograph of the crucifix submerged in the artist's urine"), was made in 1987 and wherever and whenever it was exhibited the work met with controversy, protest or vandalism. In 1989, Sen. Alfonse D'Amato used it as an example of art that ought not to be supported by state funding.

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Tim Head, Toxic Lagoon, 1987

Tim Head created brash, seductive compositions using discarded mass-produced materials.

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Richard Billingham, Ray's A Laugh, 1996

Ray's a Laugh is probably one of my favourite photo series ever (together with Pieter Hugo The Hyena & Other Men.) In this work, Richard Billingham portrays the domestic life of his alcoholic father Ray, and chain-smoking, tattoo-covered mother, Liz. The wonky framing and approximative focus gives the series sincerity and authenticity. It is brash and unforgiving but in the process Billingham managed to make his parents perfectly lovable.

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Larry Sultan, Pictures from Home

Larry Sultan photographed his father and family over a ten year period spanning the 70s and 80s as part of an elaborate project that included his parents own photos, home movies and statements.
Larry Sultan's project Pictures From Home was inspired after watching some old family films and looking through old albums that they had not seen in years. He looked through the old reels of films and albums and studied how they represented his family and their connection to history, memory and time.
Using the old images as inspiration Larry Sultan took photographs of his parents in their retirement home

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Richard Misrach, Bomb Crater and Destroyed Convoy, Bravo 20 Bombing Range, Nevada, 1986

In 1952, the U.S. Navy began illegally testing high-explosive bombs on an enormous expanse of public land near Fallon, in Nevada. Richard Misrach's photographs capture both the natural beauty and the man-made devastation of the land.

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Ron Haviv, Blood and Honey: A Balkan War Journal, 1992

Blood and Honey: A Balkan War Journal chronicles the horrors that the Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, and Kosovar Albanians perpetrated against each other. The image above shows a young Serb militiaman about to kick a woman in the head.

Views inside the book:

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Sponsored by:





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Democratic Republic of the Congo. A young man and woman with severed arms. Mola's hands, seated, were destroyed by gangrene after being tied too tightly by soldiers. Yoka's hand, standing, was cut off by soldiers wanting to claim him [sic] as killed, c. 1904

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J.H. Harris, Alice Seeley Harris with a large group of Congolese children, Congo Free State, c.1904

The largest private estate ever 'owned' by man in recent history was perhaps an area of Africa acquired by Leopold II King of the Belgians in 1885.

For over 20 years, he would be the de facto owner of over a million square miles of central Africa (a territory roughly 76 times larger than Belgium.) He ironically called the country Congo Free Stateand modestly named its capital Leopoldville (via.)

Hiding behind humanitarian and philanthropic promises to develop the region and insure the prosperity of native people, Leopold II acquired the territory and set out to extract its resources. In particular ivory, rubber, and minerals. Nowadays, his rule over the country is associated with the regime of violence, murder or mutilation of the Congolese people. No human right consideration could indeed stop Leopold II's agents in their efforts to meet the growing demand for rubber and maximize profits:

Failure to meet the rubber collection quotas was punishable by death and a hand of the victims had to be presented as proof of the punition, as it was believed that they would otherwise use the munitions for hunting. [...] Soldiers sometimes "cheated" by simply cutting off the hand and leaving the victim to live or die.

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Alice Seeley Harris, Manacled members of a chain gang at Bauliri. A common punishment for not paying taxes, Congo Free State, c. 1904. Courtesy Anti-Slavery International / Autograph ABP

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Alice Seeley Harris, Three head sentries of the ABIR with a prisoner, Congo Free State, c.1904. Courtesy Anti-Slavery International / Autograph ABP

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Democratic Republic of the Congo. Nsala of Wala with the severed hand and foot of his five year old daughter murdered by Anglo-Belgian India Rubber company militia, 1904

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A group of Bongwonga rubber workers, c1905. The Harris Lantern Slide Show © Anti-Slavery International/ Autograph ABP

When Harmony Went to Hell. Congo Dialogues at Rivington Place in London brings side by side archive photos shot by Alice Seeley Harris while Leopold II was still the sole owner of the land and new work from Sammy Baloji, a Congolese artist who has been investigating the legacies of colonialism in his country.

In the early 1900s, the English missionary Alice Seeley Harris was traveling the Congo Free State with her husband and one of the world's first portable cameras, a Kodak Brownie. Shocked by the contrast between the king's claims of colonial benevolence and the oppressive regime, she carefully documented everyday life as well as the atrocities and brutality towards the inhabitants.

The result is often regarded as being the first photographic campaign in support of human rights. The couple took the images on a tour around Europe and the US. The photos of the Harris Lantern Slide Show were accompanied with powerful lectures which managed to raise the public awareness about human rights violations in Congo.

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Sammy Baloji, The site where Patrice Lumumba, Maurice Mpolo and Joseph Okito were executed and first buried, Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of Congo, January 2010

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Sammy Baloji, 2013

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Sammy Baloji, Deputy Assistant to the Director General's office, Batiment Cielux OCPT - The Congoloese Office of Post and Telecomunications, Masina Sans Fil, Kinshasa, 2013

The Alice Seeley Harris archive was last shown to the public 110 years ago. Her black and white prints are exhibited in an up stair gallery at Rivington Place. The ground floor, however, hosts Sammy Baloji's stunning photos which explore the cultural and architectural 'traces' of Congo's colonial past; in particular, the Katanga province and its capital, Lubumbashi. Some of the pieces exhibited belong to a series of photomontage works that juxtapose post-industrial landscapes with ethnographic archival imagery.

The photos i found most extraordinary, however, are part of Baloji's new body of work. The photos of the Gécamines mining district and of the derelict Office of Post and Telecommunication in Kinshasa are simply jaw-dropping, even for someone who has seen her fair share of derelict buildings. I can't seem to find much images of them so you will have to take my word for it and swing my Rivington street to see them. You won't be taking much risk, the show is free.

I'm going to end this post with an anecdote i read online..

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Leopold II of Belgium as Garter Knight/ Pd _old; old photograph of the king in private collection, own scan. Carolus 17:09, 24 July 2006 (UTC)

With his ZZ Top beard and his neat outfits, Leopold was also a feisty man and he particularly loved women. His last, embarrassingly younger, and most adored mistress was Caroline Lacroix. She gave him two sons, the younger was born with a deformed hand, leading a cartoon to depict Leopold holding the child surrounded by Congolese corpses with their hands sliced off. The caption said Vengeance from on high!

When Harmony Went to Hell. Congo Dialogues is at Rivington Place in London until 7 March 2014. If, like me, you're a Belgian expat who's never really been taught the whole colonial story at school, you shouldn't miss the show.

Check out also Brutal Exposure: the Congo at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool until 7 September 2014. The always excellent Double Negative has a review of the show.

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Alvin Baltrop, Friend (The Piers) 1977

The Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool is probably the most exciting photo gallery in England (especially now that Foto8 has closed.) On 22 February they will open a show dedicated to Letizia Battaglia's chronicle of the brutal anni di piombo in Sicily. And right now they have a show that brings together self-taught photographer Alvin Baltrop and 'anarchitect' Gordon Matta-Clark.

I went to see Alvin Baltrop and Gordon Matta-Clark: The Piers From Here a couple of weeks ago. I had never heard of Alvin Baltrop before. His photography met with very little artistic appreciation until after his death when art institutions finally started paying attention to his portrayal of emerging gay subculture in New York.

At first glance, Matta-Clark and Baltrop seem to have very little in common. In fact, the two men probably never met. But they both turned their artistic interest to the Piers of New York City during the mid 1970s.

They found Manhattan's West Side piers abandoned and decaying as a consequence of the oil crisis that reconfigured the geography of the city along with the international trading system. Left to rot, the vast industrial space on the outskirts of the city was soon occupied by people living at the fringe of society: graffiti writers, artists, drug addicts, prostitutes. the homeless, etc.

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Image: @Gordon Matta-Clark, the Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark

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Gordon Matta-Clark, Day's End (Pier 52), 1975

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Gordon Matta - Clark, the Estate of Gordon Matta

Pier 52 is the site of one of Matta-Clark's famous building cuts. In 1975, the artist made large cuts into the floor, ceiling and sides of a derelict metal hangar, exposing the Hudson River and sky, creating a sculpture brought to life by the rotation of the sun. Matta-Clark argued that he had created an indoor park. He called it Day's End out of a decrepit space. However, visitors were afraid to cross the large lacerations, the police shut down the opening event and the artist faced an arrest warrant for trespassing and defacing property.

Matta-Clark described the piers as being completely overrun by the gays. So much so that the piers became the site of at least two pornographic films, Arch Brown's Pier Groups (1979) and Steve Scott's Non-Stop (1983). And while Matta-Clark was seesawing his architectural installation, Alvin Baltrop was documenting men having sex, cruising or sunbathing there. Or corpses dredged up from the river.

Most of the time, Baltrop was hiding from his subject, hanging from steel girders, shooting from afar, capturing the freedom these crumbling spaces gave to their occupants. The images are voyeuristic but, perhaps paradoxically, they are never pornographic.

Baltrop photographed the piers and their residents from 1975 to 1986, right up to the moment they were razed. The result is an archive of thousands of photographs that hover between raw passion, violence, furtiveness and tenderness.

Gordon Matta-Clark believed that art could be used as a tool for urban regeneration and the exhibition offers an opportunity to reflect on that very topic but also on the gentrification of (sub)urban areas that usually comes with the dissolution of underground culture.

Both the Piers in New York and the docks in Liverpool experienced a similar process of transformation during the 1970s. Dispossessed of their industrial activity, the areas were gradually reclaimed by people living at the margins of society (from prostitutes and drug dealers to visual artists, performers and film-makers.) I've never been to what is left of the New York piers but Liverpool's docks, where Open Eye is situated, has now left place to office buildings and luxury apartments.

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Alvin Baltrop, Super Cream, 1980

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Al Baltrop, Untitled

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Alvin Baltrop, The Piers (exterior view of Day's End) 1975-86

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Al Baltrop, Untitled

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Al Baltrop, Untitled

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Al Baltrop, Untitled

Alvin Baltrop and Gordon Matta-Clark: The Piers From Here is up at the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool until 9 Feb 2014.

More art adventures in Derry/Londonderry....

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Willie Doherty, Remains, 2013. Video still

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Willie Doherty, Remains, 2013. Video still

Willie Doherty is currently at the City Factory Gallery with some of the photos and videos he made from the mid-Eighties in and around Derry/Londonderry. The show is called Unseen. Because unseen is the way Doherty used to work when had to remain as inconspicuous as possible to the British military that kept a close watch on Northern Ireland.

Unseen are also the memories of violence, control and conflicts that are lurking in overcast landscapes and dark city corners. There's always something in his images (and their laconic title) that seem to conceit and conspire. At least that's what the viewer suspects because Doherty is a master of making them paranoid.

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Remains (Kneecapping behind Creggan Shops), 2013

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Willie Doherty, Silence After A Kneecapping, 1985/2012

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TO THE BORDER. A Fork in the Road The place where Ciaran Doherty was executed in February 2010, accused of being a British informer, he was abducted two hours before his body was dumped at the side of the road, 1986 - 2012

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HEADLIGHTS, Border Road At Dusk, 1993 - 2012

Doherty, I keep reading, was born in the city, witnessed the Bloody Sunday killings from his bedroom window when he was 12, was later told by the media later that 'it didn't happen' and is still looking at the indelible marks that past violence has left on the local community.

Doherty, however, doesn't do documentary photography, he uses dark images to explore issues of surveillance and brutality but also the truth that a photo can both hide and reveal, the multiple meanings of an image and the blurring between fiction and non-fiction.

The voiceover of his new film, Remains, dispassionately describes three kneecappings. This form of punishment for serious offence was often carried out by paramilitary groups who imposed their own idea of "justice," especially at a time when police was regarded as the enemy.

The fictitious work is situated in Derry and it is based, said Doherty to The Guardian, on real events. Two of the kneecappings took place in the 1970s, the other is much more recent. "A father from a prominent republican family in Derry was told to bring his son and another boy, a cousin, to a certain place to be kneecapped." This was a punishment for drug use, an activity the IRA saw itself as policing.

"It had happened before that a father had been told to bring in a son to be kneecapped or expelled from the city or be murdered," Doherty said. "So I used these locations and the idea of the generational nature of the conflict, how it passes through families and how there is a vicious circle that people get caught up in."

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Willie Doherty, Remains, 2013. Video still

I very much enjoyed this retrospective of Doherty in his hometown but it could have been titled UNTOLD as well because the exhibition space contained so little information about the works. It was frustratingly intriguing.


A video profile of Willie Doherty. Directed by Vincent O Callaghan and produced by the Nerve Centre

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Willie Doherty, Ghost Story, 2007 (video still)

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Willie Doherty, Last Bastion, 1992

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Willie Doherty, Shifting Ground (The Walls, Derry), 1991

Unseen is at the City Factory Gallery, Derry/Londonderry, until 4 January.

Related story: Donovan Wylie: Vision as Power.

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Richard Mosse, The Enclave, 2013. Video still

There's a couple of cities where i keep going over and over again just because they have an art center worth a several hour long journey. Some of them may or may not be on your usual culture map. There's Eindhoven, Hasselt, Manchester and there's Florence where i traveled again a few weeks ago to see the exhibition Unstable Territory. Borders and identity in contemporary art at the Centre for Contemporary Culture Strozzina.

The show presents artwork that reconsiders the notion of territory in a time when the obsolescence of concepts such as the nation state and borders coincides with new forms of nationalism and a corollary desire to affirm the individuality of a community or to protect their privileges with the construction of new physical demarcations. The map of the walls being erected to separate people from each other that The Guardian has recently published illustrates the extent of the latter tendency.

The astonishing development of mobility for both people and goods, the digitisation of communication and knowledge, migration and an increasingly global economy have all radically changed people's perception of territories, borders and boundaries. In view of the instability of these concepts crucial to the definition of personal identity, two different -though not necessarily conflicting - trends appear to be taking shape: one based on seeking shelter in the safety and proximity of the micro-territory, the region or even the family; the other, as theorised by sociologist Ulrich Beck, involving a new conception of cosmopolitanism in its most democratic and egalitarian sense.

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Platon (North Kivu, Eastern Congo), 2012

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Richard Mosse, The Enclave, 2013. Photos Martino Margheri

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Richard Mosse, Stalemate, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2011

The Enclave, by Richard Mosse, shows territory in the grips of violence. The six-channel video-installation translates the ongoing civil war opposing the central government of the Democratic Republic of Congo and groups of rebels for the control of the provinces of North and South Kivu, into disturbing yet seducing hues of pink and magenta.

The pink colour is due to the special infrared film that Mosse is using. The Aerochrome film was developed for surveillance purposes in the 1940s (Kodak stopped the production of the film in 2007 but Lomography has since brought it back to life.) This infrared technology allowed the army to detect armaments that were concealed by vegetation. Since the DRC landscape and the camouflage outfit of the militia are dominated by shades of green, the resulting images come with an eerie balance of threat and beauty.

The Enclave does not allow us any firm ground, a perspective from which to contemplate reality according to conventional standards like good and evil. Mosse does not explain, or tell a story, or illustrate, nor does he seek symbols for a possible further meaning. The Enclave seems to hover between brutality and poetry, between the testimonies of dramatic stories and unusual experiences and the universality of images of Africa at war.

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Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, Chicago #2, 2006. Chicago, Tze'elim Military Base, Negev Desert, Chicago

I've mentioned the work of Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin several times in the past. I had actually discovered them a few years ago at Manipulating Reality, another exhibition at Strozzina.

This time the artists are presenting Chicago, a series of images of the mock-up of an Arab town built in the middle of the Negev desert by the Israeli Defense Force for urban combat training. "Everything that happened happened here first, in rehearsal". All wars led and to be led by Israel in the future get a test run in the streets of Chicago, where the only traces of human beings are photographs of Arab militia used for target practice. Chicago comprises different settings that reflect the terrains where the IDF might have to strike: a fake refugee camp, a fake downtown neighbourhood, a fake rural village, a dense market area, etc.

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Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, Mini Israel, 2006, video. Photo Martino Margheri

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Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, Chicago #5, 2006. Chicago, Tze'elim Military Base, Negev Desert, Chicago

Two large wallpapers on the walls of the gallery room communicate "real" details of the "fake" Chicago. The star-shaped hole in the cement walls is a scar left by "worming", a tactic used by IDF soldiers to move through dense urban areas while avoiding streets and squares where they are more likely to be attacked. Using explosives or hammers, the soldiers carve their way horizontally through walls and vertically through ceilings and floors. The fact that some of the buildings they invade are inhabited by innocent civilians is an irrelevant detail for the IDF. This form of movement, described by the military as 'infestation', sought to redefine inside as outside, and domestic interiors as thoroughfares, explains Eyal Weizman. The IDF's strategy of 'walking through walls' involved a conception of the city as not just the site but also the very medium of warfare -- a flexible, almost liquid medium that is forever contingent and in flux.

The privacy of the home is thus violated. Meanwhile, the other wallpaper shows the opposite end of the spectrum or how the road, a public place of movement and exchange, is instead literally walled up. The wallpaper is indeed zooming on a detail of the walls that border the roads built for the transit of Israeli colonists through the Palestinian territory in which they live, to arrive safely in their workplaces in Israel.


Mini Israel

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Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, Mini Israel #2. Mini Israel, Latrun, Chicago, 2006

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Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, Mini Israel #4. Mini Israel, Latrun, Chicago, 2006

Broomberg & Chanarin are also showing a video of Mini Israel and that one was new to me. Mini Isreal is an automated model of the country, built as a tourist attraction and it looks far more sophisticated than the Mini Europe my parents always tried (and failed) to convince me to visit when i was growing up in Belgium. Just like Chicago, the miniature park filters reality, reflecting on the theme of the real vs the symbolic construction of a territory. Emphasis is put on ancient history and the building program of new infrastructures and new settlements. The Arabs, however, are mere extras, they are dressed in traditional attires, they pray, attend to their livestock and generally seem to be far less refined and modern than the Israeli. Furthermore, the makers of Mini Israel have chosen to represent their country as one devoid of any Wall, checkpoints, nor observation tower.

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Tadashi Kawamata, Tree Huts, 2013. Site-specific installation, façade of Palazzo Strozzi, Florence. Photo: Martino Margheri, Markus Bader

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Tadashi Kawamata, Tree Huts, 2013. Site-specific installation, courtyard of Palazzo Strozzi, Florence. Photo: Martino Margheri, Markus Bader

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Tadashi Kawamata, Tree Huts at Palazzo Strozzi / CCC Strozzina (more backstage images)

The exhibition leaves the field of political conflicts with the temporary constructions that Tadashi Kawamata has grafted on the facade and courtyard of the Palazzo Strozzi, creating an amusing contrast between the majestic Renaissance building and his parasitic precarious wooden constructions that evoke dwellings erected in emergency situations. The Three Huts redefine and redesign the territory of the palazzo: they are attached to it and as such extend its borders but they are also alien structures bound to be dismantled and rebuilt in some other part of the world by the artist.

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Isola d'emergenza ("Emergency Island"), 2013. In cooperation with LAC - Laboratorio Arti Civiche

Kawamata has also created a new installation for the CCC Strozzina gallery space. Having discovered dozens of disused doors and windows that were left in storage at Palazzo Strozzi, the artist flipped them from their usual vertical position to an horizontal one and had them hang above the heads of the visitors. The result is stunning. I would normally never pay much attention to doors but seeing them floating from the ceiling give them a poetical dimension. The doors suggest a world on the other side and as such, they redefine the proportions of the space.

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Paolo Cirio, Incorporation Certificate, Loophole4all project

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Paolo Cirio, Loophole for All, 2012. Installation at CCC Strozzina. Photo Martino Margheri

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Paolo Cirio, Loophole for All, 2012. Installation at CCC Strozzina. Photo Martino Margheri

Loophole for All, by Paolo Cirio, looks at the notion of territory from an economic perspective. At the core of the project are the offshore jurisdictions, the tax havens where corporations place their headquarters in a bid to avoid tax controls. After a thorough research of the mechanisms that enable the 'de-territorialization' of data, money and information (see video below), the artist made accessible to every citizen a scheme to benefit from the tax evasion in the Cayman Islands that so far was the sole privilege of multinational companies.


Loophole4All.com investigates offshore centers through interviews with experts (excerpts)

More videos.

The artist set up a limited liability company with headquarters in London, Paolo Cirio Ltd. He then created an online platform where anyone can select a company from the over 200,000 companies fiscally registered in the Cayman Islands and obtain, for 99 cents, a certificate that enables them to generate invoices in that company's name. For $50, the user can also obtain their own post office box in the Caymans where they can receive invoices that, through the intermediary of another post office box in New York, are returned to the user's real address anonymously.

On his website, Cirio sells certificates bearing his signature as the proprietor of the company granting licenses. These documents become the physical and concrete result of his work, works that allow an ironic critique the notions of authorship and reproducibility of a work of art, but also of the system of attribution of its commercial value. The forced closure of the account associated with Cirio's website by PayPal further amplified this type of reflections, leading the artist to opt for free concession of the license certificates that a user can select on the Loophole4All.com website and that are in distribution during the exhibition.

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Zanny Begg & Oliver Ressler, The Right of Passage (video still), 2013

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Zanny Begg & Oliver Ressler, The Right of Passage (video still), 2013

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Zanny Begg & Oliver Ressler, The Right of Passage, 2013. Installation at CCC Strozzina. Photo Martino Margheri

The Right of Passage investigates how the nation state dictates the conditions of political, social and economic inequality through the granting (or denial) of citizenship. The artists interviewed curator Ariella Azoulay, philospher Antonio Negri, political theorician Sandro Mezzadra as well as a number of people who live, under various degrees of legality, in Barcelona. It is striking to hear how a white guy who has no 'paper' encounters less hurdles in his everyday life than a black guy who lives in Barcelona legally.

Ressler and Begg question the relationship between the structure of the Nation-State--the legacy of an order that has been superseded, if not by laws, then by facts--and the individual who, if deprived of bureaucratic documentation, finds his or her freedom of movement, and very identity, denied.

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The Cool Couple, Stivali cosacchi, Arta Terme #001

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Cossacks studying a map in a wood, unknown date

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Series "Approximation to the West", 2013. Photo by Marino Margheri

The Cool Couple, aka Simone Santilli and Niccolò Benetton, investigated a little-known episode from the final months of the Second World War. Between October 1944 and April 1945, Carnia, a peripheral region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, was occupied by over 20,000 Cossacks. The soldiers and their families were assigned the area, re-baptized "Kazackaja Zemlja" (Cossack land in Northern Italy), as a thank you gift from the Nazis for their help during the war against the Soviet Union.

The episode offers another opportunity to examine the concept of the Nation-State and the enforced encounter between different ethnic groups and cultures.

Research revealed that traces of the Cossacks passage had been concealed, and often gleefully destroyed by local people after the victory of the Allies and the repatriation of the Cossacks. The memory of the events transforms into reconstruction, and above all narration, which takes account of the reality but also of the projections and the suppressions.

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Fiume Tagliamento, Trasaghis #001A/B, from the series "Approximation to the West", 2013

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Fiume Tagliamento, Trasaghis #001A/B, from the series "Approximation to the West", 2013

The Fiume Tagliamento, Trasaghis #001A/B diptych shows the Tagliamento River, taken from the same viewpoint with a 180° rotation: this was the border crossed by the Cossacks when they invaded the area, and then crossed again when they were sent back to the Soviet Union.

Unstable Territory. Borders and Identity in Contemporary Art was curated by Walter Guadagnini and Franziska Nori. It remains open at Centre for Contemporary Culture Strozzina, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence until 19 January 2014.

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Northern Ireland. South Armagh. Golf 40 (salent tower). 2006

I used to go to the Imperial War Museum in London just to watch the hanging planes, the V2, the tanks, etc. The place is under renovation right now and i stopped paying attention to their programme (the war machines are wrapped up somewhere.) Big mistake! A few weeks ago, they've opened Donovan Wylie: Vision as Power, a show that explores the impact of military architecture on the landscape.

Vision as Power brings together five projects from radically different parts of the world but that are interconnected through the surveillance apparatus. Donovan Wylie grew up in Belfast during the Troubles and living under military surveillance has had an undeniable impact on his work.

The Maze was one of Wylie's earliest investigations into the relationship between power, surveillance and control during the Troubles.

Built in 1976 to house terrorist prisoners, the Maze prison segregated men according to their political beliefs and membership of paramilitary organizations.

Wylie started working on the series in 2002, just as the prison had closed under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and the last inmates had been transferred to other prisons.

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Northern Ireland. The Maze Prison. H-Block 5. Excercise Yard B. 2003

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Northern Ireland. The Maze Prison. Inertia Stage 2. 2003

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Northern Ireland. The Maze Prison. Chapel, Phase 3. 2003

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Main Gate, North Wall, Maze Prison, Northern Ireland, 2003 © Donovan Wylie/Magnum

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Donovan Wylie, Fence. Deconstruction of Maze Prison. Maze Prison. Northern Ireland, 2009, from the series The Maze. Courtesy of the artist

Wylie then extended his research to the British Watchtowers, the surveillance architecture built at the height of the Troubles, when South Armagh was one of the most heavily militarised areas of Northern Ireland. The British army built a network of watchtowers and observation posts in order to control cross-border smuggling and paramilitary attacks but also to maintain an intimidating presence.

As part of the Northern Ireland Peace Process, the watchtowers were dismantled between 2005 and 2007. As Whyle documented their presence in the surrounding countryside, British troops were deploying to Afghanistan, taking with them elements of the Northern Ireland watchtowers.

The Maze informed the watchtowers, and the watchtowers informed the Afghanistan work. I wanted to show this evolution, the photographer explained in an interview for the British Journal of Photography. When I was making the pictures of the watchtowers, they were coming down [being dismantled] and many of the soldiers working on them were going to Afghanistan. Elements of the structures were being taken to Afghanistan. Modern warfare is very transient, it is built to move, but basically it's the same idea regardless of nationality or politics or whatever - take the high ground and use vision as a method of strength and protection. Ultimately what I think is fascinating is how we use landscape as a tool of war.

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Northern Ireland. South Armagh. Golf 20. 2005

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Northern Ireland. Observational sanger, Cookstown. County Tyrone. 2000

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Romeo 12, South Armagh, Northern Ireland, 2005

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Northern Ireland. South Armagh. Crossmaglen town. Golf 650. 2006

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Northern Ireland, 2006. South east view of Golf 40, British Army surveillance post in South Armagh

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Northern Ireland. South Armagh. Golf 40AB. North east view. 2006

From 2006 to 2011, Canada sent nearly 3,000 military personnel to Afghanistan where military engineers designed a system of outposts throughout Kandahar province. Built on natural promontories and commanding multiple lines of sight, these outposts offer a fascinating parallel with the British Watchtower, as both networks ensured oppression and control in the name of a "war" against terrorists.

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Donovan Wylie, FOB Masum Ghar, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, 2010, © Donovan Wylie/Magnum Photos

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OP1. Forward Operating Base, Masum Ghar. Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, 2010 © Donovan Wylie/Magnum

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OP3. Forward Operating Base, Masum Ghar. Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, 2010 © Donovan Wylie/Magnum

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Watchtower, Combat Operating Post, Folad, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, 2011 © Donovan Wylie/Magnum

Another series shown at the IWM explores American defensive structures in Baghdad, Iraq. The Green Zone was the international administrative zone of central Baghdad, controlled by the Coalition forces during the Second Iraq War. Wylie saw similarities in the way people were contained in the Green Zone and how they were imprisoned in the Maze.

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Iraq. Baghdad, 2008. The "Green Zone"

Wylie's series Arctic closes the exhibition. The white and extreme environment is home to cyber radar stations unmanned and operated electronically to detect any presence seeking out lucrative natural resources along Canada's Arctic frontier made more fragile by global warming and the new routes though the Northwest Passage it enabled. Once again, the only analogy is with dystopian sci-fi. To Wylie, they are a striking example of surveillance attempting to deter future conflict.

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Canadian Arctic, 2013. LAB 1 Royal Canadian Air Force Short Range Radar installation

Ultimately, the exhibition reminds us that surveillance is not confined to the spaces of military conflict. Surveillance is the default characteristic of our society, as the revelations about the extent of mass online surveillance have recently demosntrated.

Donovan Wylie: Vision as Power is at the Imperial War Museum in London until 21 April 2014.

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