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See below a text by Annika Wik, written in september 2014 in relation to the 3rd Photospectrum: Sweden at Jinsun Gallery in Seoul, Korea

images from exhibition The Photographer - a social history


The Concept of the Photographer
Föreställningar om fotografen

Annika Wik, filmtheorist



If I use the word photographer, what do you see? Is it a man or a
woman? Is it a person who is prominent in the room, or a more
discrete and hidden person? Does he or she have a task to complete
or is there someone behind the camera ready to capture
the moment?

In this exhibition six photographers have worked together for
a couple of years examining the concept of the photographer.
Together they have examined our images of the person behind
the camera. They have focused on everything from concrete
questions; such as what the photographer looks like, what
clothes and attributes are assigned to this person, to more
self-reflecting question such as; who do I become in my role as
a photographer? Through six bodies of work we encounter different
concepts that have evolved through deepened research,
analysis and photographic work to artworks.

In Sonia Hedstrand’s project we encounter the most toned-down
role as a photographer by the way she establishes an intimate
relationship with her subject by using hidden cameras. By doing
so she joins a large cadre of photographers that have explored
their own sexual desires both in front of and behind the camera.
By aiming the camera at young Japanese men, her pictures show
a less commonly represented image of maleness, while at the
same time placing herself as a female photographer in the more
traditional role of the male photographer.

Carola Grahn is also challenging conventional concepts. Her
crying men come from an exploration of the gender power
structure that traditionally has had a significant impact on the history
of photography. In Grahn’s images, men risk dropping their
surface or lose face. Earlier, Grahn has pointed her camera at men
who literally has their pants down. Here, she has taken on men
who are weeping. Exposed and revealed, the men are captured
in vulnerability. She becomes a witness with her camera, and
maybe even guilty.

Björn Larsson’s photo-series Perpetrator also portrays the male
role, but this time not focussing on the male himself, but it’s
attributes of maleness at front. A long history links the camera
and the photographer to someone who ‘captures’ or ‘shoots’
someone else, the one where the cameraman or ‘the operator’
uses the camera. We find him with thinkers such as Walter Benjamin
or in Luigi Pirandello’s classic text Si Gira! (first published 1916)
where both the title and the story refers to the double meaning
of ‘Si Gira’, roughly translated as both ‘turn it’ and Hollywood’s
more aggressive ‘to shoot’. With cameras designed and shaped
like weapons, the image of the photographer doing the latter is
amplified as someone with a more aggressive image. Larsson is
interested in the inherent symbolism of cameras and camerabags.
What does it mean to aim a ‘weapon’ at another being and
how can one understand the aspect of photography which is
amplified by threatening and war-like attributes? Larsson also
creates a link to the pictures by adding a piece of self-made clothing
associated with a photo-vest, which is confusingly similar to
combat clothing.

The image of the traditional war-photographer as a brave and
daring adventurer is contrasted with Isabel Fogelklou’s heavily
cropped photographs through which she has recreated the
image of a female photographer with a clear assignment. By
chance, Fogelklou gained access to the archive of a German
photographer who worked for the armed forces in the Germany
of World War 2. It’s difficult not to think of another woman whose
films contributed to the images of the German war-machine:
Leni Riefenstahl. These pictures have not had the same historical
impact, but the similarities lie in the assignment to document.
The way Fogelklou treats the photographs de-emphasises that
assignment while focussing on the supressed emotions that the
photographer has captured in the images. The photographer
is also in the pictures, but just as with the men and women in
uniform that she has photographed, the heavy cropping of the
pictures and hence also the bodies results in the association with
individuals becoming lost. The treatment of the images has the
effect of dehumanising individuals while at the same time brings
out something very threatening in their posture, attitude and the
way they hold their hands. It is as if the more she removes the
individuals, or brings out the picture’s negative, the more they
become portraits of the era when they were taken.

Bringing the spectator into the many layers of the picture that
Fogelklou does through her appropriation is different from what
Oscar Furbacken does. Still, there are similarities. While she strips
away to discover emotions in the past, Furbacken steps into his
motives as if to reveal an underlying truth. This way he joins a tradition
of photographers who believe in the optically unconscious
– which is another link to Walter Benjamin. Furbacken is not
satisfied with what the camera and the technology can achieve
or can do better than the hand. Instead he works to refine and
develop tools that can help him reach beyond what the eye can
see. By using his self-developed techniques as a photographer,
he tries to find evidence to reveal the greatness of nature and the
creation.

Leontine Arvidsson uses the camera as an aid, but in her case the
camera is more of a helping friend than Furubacken’s helping
technologies. During a difficult and confusing period of illness,
Arvidsson uses the camera to document her life with breast cancer.
In most exposed life’s situations, as a photographer and artist
she decides to leave her place behind the camera in the most terrifying
way, and amplifies her vulnerability by exposing herself in
front of the camera. This shift in position enhances the contradiction
of leaving a safe place to reveal one at the most vulnerable
situation, while at the same time introducing a droll humour that
further shows this contradiction. The self-timer, which ought to
be the least obvious of the photographer’s tools, is put to use
and in this context symbolises the least common concept about
the photographer: the one where the relationship between the
photographer and the photographed is completely dissolved.


Together these different photographic series challenges us to
assume different positions. As spectators we are invited to have
different attitudes to step into different relational practices,
between subject and object, between man and machine. Hopefully
the exhibition serves to allow us question our own concepts
about the photographer, and by extension even the concepts of
ourselves. Or as Luigi Pirandelli’s main character, as well as operator,
Serafino Gubbio puts it:

"I study people in their most ordinary occupations to see if I
can succeed in discovering in others what I feel that I myself
lack in everything I do: the certainty that they understand
what they are doing."
Introduction to Luigi Pirandello’s Shoot:
the notebooks of Serafino Gubbio, cinematograph operator.

//Annika Wik

 

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