Text by Nataša Kovšca
The title of this year's 10th. International Photographic Meeting Castrumfoto 2012, which marks an extremely broad, multilayered theme with multiple meanings, reminded me at first of the disguised self-portrait of the French proto-photographer Hippolyte Bayard, an inventor of the original process of direct positive photography, who cleverly made fun of photography itself with the simulation of a drowned man. He was in front of the camera for approximately eighteen minutes in a pose which was supposed to be a parody of the famous David painting The Death of Marat. The photographer, who was also a passionate gardener, was burnt by the sun a little on his face, so that the red skin on the photograph became dark and apparently similar to a putrescent body. In short, with his subtle joke of the romantic image of death approximately a year after the invention of photographic medium, Bayard referred to the fact that with photography it is easy to achieve a deception in the sense of presenting an illusion as reality. With his self-portraits he actuated a doubt in the authenticity of a photographic image, and with it raised a very important question about the identity of photography in general.Therefore we could first start to think about the theme disguise from the point of view of the photographic medium and its documentary authenticity. Thus the photographic image first depends on boundaries defined by a certain technical program. The meaning of each shot also changes of course according to the context in which we look at the image (similar to Ludwig Wittgenstein's claim for words whose meaning is defined by their use or co-text), which means that photography has never reflected reality as it is but it shows a changeable view of the world. The latter is yet dependent upon the photographer’s subjective view and his (conscious or unconscious) manipulation of reality, which increases with the dramatic development of technology, as well as upon the viewer’s perception, his/her emotional and moral orientation.On the other hand the theme alludes to a symbolic meaning of the word disguise. If we derive from the fact that clothes which are typical only of man, are a visible image of his interior and spiritual activity, the disguise is something with which we can cover physical appearance as well as personality, function or social position. However a disguise does not serve only as a mask of the personal identity of an individual but also as a secretion of reality and historical facts. And finally with the word disguise we can also define a transition or transformation from one form of consciousness/life/class/space/social order into another.Eleven artists from Slovenia and Italy approached the theme from various positions: there are internationally acknowledged photographers and artists who work with other forms of creative expression, as well as those of a younger generation who are only finishing studies of photography. The exhibited works therefore show diverse content, formal and aesthetic approaches, although we can roughly divide them into two groups. Individual photographers deal with the theme within the context of an auto-reflection of the photographic medium which involves research into the characteristics, qualities and material definitions of photography. In the second, bigger, group are the works which derive from title semantics and treat a disguise in the context of changing man's visual appearance, his identity and history in various literal/actual and figurative/symbolic meanings.
The works of Bojan Radovič belong to the complex of his project (Re-Format, On Photography) in which he analytically questions the nature of photography, its components and characteristics, within the context of social and technological changes of contemporary times. This time the centre of the artist’s research is a total transformation of the photographic image, changed into a coded textual note. It is about enquiries which he began already in the work Matrica (Matrix) (Malevich’s image in a death bed over which its digital record ‘runs’) with a noticeable difference of visual interpretation. For photographs which were the basis of the reconstruction are not visible, but the digital record of images preserved only the format of original shots. The text is, in two cases, written on the transparent foil which has the function of a negative in two different versions: a textual record of a black and white photograph is printed on one foil whilst the colour shot is printed (in additive primary colours) on three foils laid on top of each other at a certain distance. For the rest, two ‘photographs’ which give the impression of some kind of graphic art print, we could say that they represent a step further in the process of his research into the multi-media environment. The works are thus composed of only QR codes – drawn from his personal photographs, which can also be seen by visitors.
In his present work Borut Peterlin deals with the question of objectivity in photography. He is exploring the set theme in a precisely determined part of the process of photographing itself: from the latent picture when the image is present only as a photochemical reaction to the negative which contains a light record. The project is composed of Peterlin’s waist-up self-portraits combined with the photographs of cameras and written records of their technical characteristics. He took his own photographs with different digital and analogue cameras, amongst which are also a Polaroid camera, and cameras with film sensitive to the invisible light spectrum. The result of this experiment is photographs which differ in sharpness and colour and shade values. The images made with the wet collodion process reflect also his skill at managing pioneer photographic techniques. Which amongst the photographic self-portraits, they themselves counting as more objective representations of the self-image than a painted depiction, shows us the truest self-portrait of the artist?
Polona Perko also tackled the theme from a technical point of view. For the project she collected old, used and actually almost destroyed plates from an offset printing press, on which were several photographs by an unknown photographer of some seaside holiday resort. She cut the plates first, and chose four compositionally balanced motifs that she photographed again in three colours for which she used plates in cyan, magenta and yellow, which together build a colour photograph. Thereupon she composed new images with the digital media and in this way ‘disguised’ old photographs in an original manner. The reproduced images have (with the exception of motifs) nothing in common with the original shots, since they are of different shapes and colours, which were – in the artist’s words – "impossible to reconstruct". They have definitely lost also their primary purpose which is actually not known at all. In short, Polona Perko applied the concepts of appropriation and re-interpretation since the forgotten photographs became a constituent part of her thought and creative process.
Primož Brecelj took under a microscope the transformation of a living place in the formal and contextual sense. Shots, composed into a bigger composition show a detail (possibly from a holiday) of a room from which a view onto a sea landscape is opening, which he photographed several days successively, at different times of day. A supporting point of a composition plan is a ceramic vase, next to which are different objects, mainly personal, in every photograph, which give warmth to an impersonal holiday chalet and transform it temporarily into personal space. A greater intimacy of the photographic image is also helped by accentuated lighting effects and contrast and above all the refined play of light and shadows which gives an extra dynamic to the shots. Brecelj most likely did not particularly plan the siting of the objects, but despite that the photographs were definitely not born entirely spontaneously: to achieve the required visual harmony he needed to choose ‘the right’ moment.
With the black and white photographs of Andrej Perko it seems that they present entirely ordinary images of fields, forests and architectural details. Factual notes next to the groups of photographs, in which basic data about two historical monuments, Sv. Urh4 and Kozlarjeva gošča5, are given, tell the viewer that it is about places marked by a traumatic past, and connected to war horrors from Slovenian history. Perko named the series significantly Disguising History, since it showed that the new government after the independence of Slovenia tried to blur the traces of the dramatic events and ideological violence. He documented the images of landscape which gives the appearance of unspoiled nature in most cases with characteristic minimalistic photographic language. Despite the apparent tranquility, the shots of the tree roots and bleached walls which silently guard dreadful stories leave a feeling of something latent, concealed.
Roberto Kusterle stays loyal to the recognisable style which marks his whole photographic opus: creating fantastic creatures, some kind of hybrid between human beings and natural species/elements, with which he convincingly exemplifies his fascination with life as a constant birth of the new. The central theme of the photographs is a human body in dialogue with the environment which is, compared to his latest voluminous series titled Kamnita znamenja (Stone Marks), not nature anymore but space, formed by man. The body is outstretched or bent, contracted into a kind of mass of human flesh which, through painting (this time also his own work) accurately imitates the appearance of the smoothed surface of marble, also with its structural layers and veins.6 The border between the body and the space, organic and mineral, life and inanimate, is in most cases blurred. The contrast between the body mass and environment is accentuated only in the shot with an image of a christian motif in relief, which stimulates the viewer to think about religious understandings of the body after death. In comparison to Kusterle’s body, transformed into ‘raw flesh’,
Egon Bajt presents the female figure as a fragile, vulnerable structure. It is obvious at first sight that he is not interested in the accentuation of corporeity; in all shots the naked body is protected by an almost transparent veil and depicted in protective postures. In one of the photographs the figure is still bent into a cocoon whilst in other shots the gestures of hands and body movements which the photographer accentuate with the doubling of images, showing that the body is in the condition of an intense transformation. Since the images are presented on a neutral, purified surface, in a space in which the light is equally diffused, and which gives an impression of a spatial absolute, we can speculate that the photographer wanted to create a state of spiritual transformation. The story is definitively personal yet it also allows a viewer their own interpretation.
Katja Pintar belongs amongst those participants at this year's meeting who are occupied with the questioning of personal identity. She made four black and white photographs showing portraits of persons surrounded by thoughtfully chosen photographic details and graphic arts elements in a collage technique. With the layering and confusing entwinement of images which undoubtedly mark conscious and unconscious layers of the human soul, she wants to exemplify the haunting psychic state of contemporary man – an individual burdened by the past and suffocated by the present, yet still gravitating towards change: in this sense, the photograph of an old woman, below whom a road is depicted which, in a symbolic way, shows the route forward, is particularly indicative. The selection of various subjects gives the impression that the photographer alludes to a general spiritual turnaround, although we can still conclude that her photographs are personally expressive.
Disguising of identity was the definitive a starting point for the origination of a series of six portraits of Lorella Klun. In black and white shots alternate images of young girls with closed eyes are presented in an intimate, entirely obscure environment. Their gently lit appearances are ‘decorated’ with stylised vegetation patterns which function in pictures as an obstacle to the recognition of individual personality. The facial features of the portrayed women are blurred, their appearances changed into two dimensional surfaces, and with this their real identity disappears. It actually seems that the images do not belong to a real time and space but to some other, dream-like dimension, which we sense also in other photographic works of Lorella Klun. We can define the series of portrait images which are undoubtedly deeply imbued with the photographer's personal iconography as the silent, ineffable language of her subjective senses.
An extremely personal approach also marks the photographs of Sašo Vrabič who, in his works, often discusses private family life within the context of contemporary times. The models in the photographs are his two children who, in past years have co-operated very actively in the creative process itself – also as artists who complete his paintings on canvas with children's drawings (refers to the series Razmeroma dostopne slike/Relatively Accessible Paintings from 2005-2010). The artist focussed on two pairs of photographs, created over a year on the passing of time, which he senses especially intensely through the growing up of his children and constant changing of their features. Photographs, as images from memory with which he created photo books for both children in the past, seemingly stop time. We can also read from the postures of children who gaze directly into the camera that it is about intimate photography. Their look reveals to the viewer an emotional and trusting relationship to the photographer.
The works of Nataša Košmerl are deeply emotive too. In her photographic series the photographer also very directly uncovers the fragments of her intimate life and notes them in the form of a kind of visual diary of her inner emotions, originating this time from experiences of pregnancy. She presents her full-sized image either in entirely void room or in a natural environment in which she can, impressively as possible, illustrate to the viewer her momentary emotional state with a look, gestures and/or softly diffuse light. The manner of the photographer's self-representation shows that in the forefront of her researches is above all self-knowledge and observation of the transformed body. On the other hand, her sensitive images give an impression that with the documenting of ground-breaking and unique moments of her life she wants to freeze the passage of time.
Pilonova galerija, Ajdovščina, Slovenia
14. 12. 2012 - 14. 1. 2013
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