SHOWROOM 

 DANIEL BLAUFUKS

ALL THE MEMORY OF THE WORLD, PART ONE

© Daniel Blaufuks, All The Memory Of The World, Archiv

Courtesy of the artist.

THE MEMORY OF A PHOTOGRAPH

DANIEL BLAUFUKS

 

A question arising in the current transition from analogue to digital is how artists in the future will relate to the images of our present. One of the obvious attractions of using archival material, such as vintage photographs or film, is the technological flaws and the ageing of the prints. This will, we imagine, not happen with the digital technology we are using now. A digital file will, if it survives, look exactly the same today and in fifty years time. On the other hand, all that is pictured in the image, will have aged or even disappear, buildings, cars, clothes styles, etc. But will they exercise the same charm as a yellowed torn paper photograph or a faded projected film, I wonder.

 

On the other hand, the digital world is also providing us with the immense archive that is the Internet, constantly being fed and constantly and globally accessible, making a huge difference to the classic non-virtual archives of the past, which are usually contained and controlled, sparsely visited by identified scholars and researchers, and often difficult to access by others. Also they tended to be located in main capitals and less frequent in smaller cities and countries. The internet is, in many ways, only comparable to the Borgesian idea of the endless library, in this case library of images as well, always growing, but also forever incomplete. It is indeed a strange, but probably apt, metaphor, that we cannot touch it, feel it, or even grasp its size, for the numbers would be astronomical and in need of continuing updates.

 

Artists, often photographers, have been, in the recent years reacting, to this immense trove, by using it in various and different forms. Photographic work made through Google Earth from faraway places (and from another time as well), discovering film footage and reworking it, appropriating visual artifacts that would be only found in flea markets before, and so forth. It is not coincidental that the question of the archive became so present in art exhibitions at the same time that the Internet gained more and more importance in our lives. The ultimate archive, one could call it. And, despite the fact that it is, without any doubt, historically and geographically partial, it is also undeniable that the images one can find here represent an immense encyclopedia of human knowledge, of historical and scientific depictions, bridging almost the entire variety of flora, fauna and landscapes on Earth and even outside of it. One can be easily overwhelmed by it, so what to make of and with it?

 

As an artist there is possibly only one way: to debate with all these images and all these possibilities of other images, to refer to them and to recreate from them. In short: to try to make some sense out of them.

© Daniel Blaufuks, All The Memory Of The World, Library

Courtesy of the artist.

The writings of W. G. Sebald and of Georges Perec, with their constant use of links between adjacent subjects, remind me of the ways of the Internet, because you can quickly get lost in them as well. Sebald usually starts in a physical place, but the narrative leads to a multitude of other places and stories. He diverges and jumps between the past and the present and the living and the dead. If all books can indeed be considered archives in themselves, his books are archives even more so. They seem to demand, if not a prior knowledge on a wide range of subjects, at least the curiosity to eventually acquire this knowledge, by looking up the references and the deviations he writes about. An encyclopedia near comes always handy when reading Sebald or Perec, if, alas, one is not connected to the Internet, and consultation enriches the experience of reading by following the links within the text and by understanding visually what the writer is actually referring to.

 

Although a word or name can without major difficulties be translated into an image, we all will probably differ in the instinctive choice of it. There are many images of Paris in our minds, for example, but there are less of Auschwitz and even less of Bergen-Belsen. Nevertheless, each one of us, in the society of images we live in, has a memory, voluntary or involuntary, capable of rapidly sorting them out and pushing it to the mind, so that we visualize what we read, hear, or even what we see, by comparing it with what we have previously seen.

 

On working on these visual maps, or tableaus, I am trying to follow a path of different ways of seeing, of variations on the same themes, by collecting and selecting images of identical subjects or of a similar keyword and arranging them in visual forms. They are constructions of images with more or less the same meanings, relating to one or various places, memories or rational connections, like hypertext in writing or film. Functioning like studio walls, where I would pin linking thoughts in order to better understand them, they try to follow trails found in the writings of Sebald and Perec. Some represent a name, others a word or sentence, an event, or even, more ambitiously, several pages of a book. They could be called albums, archives, maps, and atlas, like in Gerhard Richter, visual thesaurus, scrapbooks, journals, puzzles, libraries, compendiums, constellations, almanacs, labyrinths, reflections, or montages.

 

These works derive directly from a visualization of the writings of Sebald and Perec, but also from a personal sense of a loss of power in Photography in general and my own in particular. So I am trying to ask myself how can we unfold the visual information we already have stored and project it into the present and the future. I am interested in dealing with this labyrinth of images and working with them as part of the chain of transmission between generations, knowledge that we pass on.

 

Images are not necessarily made for the present, but eventually for the future, where they can be re-contextualized continuously. As in “The Invention of Morel” by the Argentinean writer Buoy Casares, images are nothing but projections, phantoms of something or someone that is not here and cannot be touched, but only seen and needs to be comprehended. By photographing we are recording sensation, but by using or reusing a photograph we are creating meaning. Meaning that can be further used, discussed, reviewed or just reduced again to sensation.

 

We need to remember that we cannot sense Auschwitz in a photograph of Auschwitz, even if images of the camp while functioning would exist. We cannot sense it, because that sensation could never equal the sensation of having actually been there. Like with any other suffering, or on the other side of the scale, joy, there is no image that can equal it. We might sense the pain, we can some times feel almost unbearable pain by seeing an image of pain, but it will be a momentous sensation, which will pass in a moment. It can never compare with the actual suffering or joy depicted, being only a slight reflection, a piece of information from it.

© Daniel Blaufuks, All The Memory Of The World, The Way to Auschwitz

Courtesy of the artist.

Again, we can see the image of pain, but we cannot touch the pain, or feel it fully. We can, like the fugitive in Casares book, try to project ourselves back into the past to be almost indistinctly close to it in the future, but to the ghosts of that same past it will make no difference whatsoever. They will remain unaltered and untouched, as the ghosts or the photographs they are, but they might still use the power of changing our present and us.

 

In “Austerlitz”, Sebald, in his usual indirect form, tell us that Austerlitz said that Vera, a neighbor of his deceased mother in Prague, told him, of the mysterious quality peculiar to photographs, when they surface from oblivion. And she continues, that one has the impression of something stirring in them, as if one caught some small sighs of despair, as if pictures had a memory of their own and remembered us, remembered the roles that we, the survivors, and those no longer among us, had played in our former lives.

© Daniel Blaufuks, All The Memory Of The World, The Victims Fingernails

Courtesy of the artist.

© Daniel Blaufuks, All The Memory Of The World, Piles of Goldrings

Courtesy of the artist.

It is indeed a very powerful, albeit romantic thought, the notion that photographs could have a memory of their own. Not we are giving memory to them, but instead it is they, the photographs, who are giving it to us. It is true that the strength or value of an image will be different as time changes, as people or places depicted disappear or as the memory of those places or people vanishes. The value of a photograph, as a document or as a memento, as an emotional trigger of sentiments, depends on the information surrounding its contents. In a way, the photograph is a vault of many cabinets, each one with its own key. As these keys are lost or eventually found again, the value of the photograph changes. There is an obvious sentimental value, a familiar face or group, a known location, a recognizable day of happiness, a well-known figure, an artist or a writer, a famous café on a main square. Or we a long time ago, barely recognizable, or, instead, a infamous prison, a war scene, a massacre, a torn building, a part of town that is gone, like Perecs neighborhood. All these values are relative, some are personal, some are of a generation only or local, some are worldly, some only recognizable by scholars in a certain field.

 

So, photographs can have their own memory, Vera might be right. Some times this memory can be so uncomfortable that the photograph is destroyed or altered because of it. But how long does this memory last? Photography is perhaps still too young for us to know that yet. What would the memory of a room or face from three hundred years ago be like? What would be the power of such a projection in our minds? One cannot compare it to painting or drawing, although these still strongly exercise their powers, albeit usually also connected to the talent and mastery of the artist. But a photograph often has no visible artist hand or even eye behind it. It exists solely as a vortex of the world and its time, or should one rather say, of another world, exercising that power of memory within it on us, who can still see and be, at least for a fragment of time, entranced by it. And how long will that fragment last, before it fades away in the flux of eternity? 

© Daniel Blaufuks, All The Memory Of The World, Bahnhof

Courtesy of the artist.

© Daniel Blaufuks, All The Memory Of The World, W

Courtesy of the artist.

Daniel Blaufuks has been working on the relation between photography and literature, through works like My Tangier with the writer Paul Bowles. More recently, Collected Short Stories displays several photographic diptychs in a kind of “snapshot prose,” a speech based on visual fragments that give indication of private stories on their way to become public. The relation between public and private has been one of the constant interrogations in his work. He has been showing widely and works mainly in photography and video, presenting his work through books, installations and films. His documentary Under Strange Skies was shown at the Lincoln Center in New York. Recent exhibitions include: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, Palazzo delle Papesse, Siena, LisboaPhoto, Centro Cultural de Belém, Lisbon, Elga Wimmer Gallery, New York, Museu do Chiado, Lisboa, Photoespaña, Madrid, where his book Under Strange Skies received the award for Best Photography Book of the Year in the International Category in 2007, the year he received the BES Photo Award as well. He published Terezín at Steidl, Götingen in 2010 and in 2011 he had a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro and in 2014 at the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Lisbon. In 2017 he was awarded the AICA-MC Award for the exhibitions Léxico and Attempting Exhaustion in the previous year.

 

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