The artist’s photographs of contemporary America and Americans are visually stunning and tell a story of the eccentric, overlooked, lost, obsessed, disorientated, poor and hopeful. The work at the Media Space, Science Museum exhibition is brought together from his four books Sleeping by the Mississippi, Niagara, Broken Manual and Songbook. Within the exhibition there are portraits, landscapes and interiors, presented with vitrines containing letters from those photographed, notes by the artist and other research material.
The subject matter ranges from waterfalls to bearded men clutching model planes to new families and love lost. Through these subjects the artist bears witness to the less-seen, obscure America. The series Broken Manual, featuring men who have abandoned the modern world and civilisation for a life of woods, caves and hermits is the most compelling.
The exhibition is somehow very silent and modest, the photographs do not judge and yet we the viewers often do. This exhibition is deeply compelling and intelligent.
This haunting, intriguing and memorable exhibition at The Photographers Gallery provided a forensic and research based presentation of how photography has been used as evidence of crime, from violent street crimes to war crimes.
The exhibition is presented in a number of sections starting with the 19th century invention of ‘metric’ photography in crime scenes, to the use of digital technologies in drone attacks in Pakistan in 2012. Less a photography exhibition and more an exploration of the way in which researchers, historians and other experts have used photography as evidence of crimes or violence. Photography records and validates and so its use has been essential in the service of the law and justice. This exhibition asks how much does a photograph reveal and conceal and mislead and what part of the clues are presented or constructed. It is a powerful display of imagery, accompanied by information and research, to examine who makes these images and who presents them and why as well as their capacity to be used as evidence of fact or proof.
The artist duo Broomberg & Chanarin were invited to respond to a Grain commission at the Library of Birmingham. Over two years they encountered, researched and questioned the photography collections at the library. In the book ‘Spirit is a Bone’ they have made connections with the archive and their own work and concerns.
The book combines a new series of portraits made with a Russian camera which was made for face recognition and surveillance, ‘non collaborative portraits’, where human contact is not made, with a new critically engaged essay by Eyal Weizman and a response to images from the Sir Benjamin Stone archive.
In the book photographs open up the relationship between technology and ideology – theories of race, class and occupation. The photographs collected by Stone in the second half of the nineteenth century, in the Library of Birmingham archive, are visual evidence of his interest in history, science, nature and cultures. Like many, widespread in the Victorian period, Stone had a need to classify, know, collect, control and own. His album no 50 ‘Types and Races of Mankind’ includes what might be called non-consensual images, made for the scrutiny of others and to increase understanding.
The book and essay prompt questions about engaging with archives and access to them.