Photography and Violence 4: On Memory

August 25th, 2014


1. Shimon Attie’s The Writing on the Wall, 1991-1992

Walking in the streets of the city that summer, I felt myself asking over and over again, Where are all the missing people? What has become of the Jewish culture and community which had once been at home here? I felt the presence of this lost community very strongly, even though so few visible traces of it remained.
– Shimon Attie


In Berlin in 1991, after weeks of research, Shimon Attie projected images from the 1920s and 1930s that belong to a lost Jewish past. These slides were projected onto the same or nearby spaces where the photographs have been taken sixty years earlier. He wanted to confront a city haunted by the absence of its murdered and deported Jews. The Writing on the Wall project was realized in one of Berlin’s former Jewish quarters, the Scheunenviertel, located in the Eastern part of the city, close to the Alexanderplatz. Each installation ran for one or two evenings for the local audience and passersby to see. Attie also photographed the installations themselves in time exposures lasting from three to four minutes. This project is part photography, part installation, and part performance.


Shimon Attie

Shimon Attie, Almstadtstrasse (formerly Grenadierstrasse)/corner Schendelgasse. Slide projection of former religious book salesman, 1930, Berlin, 1992, color photograph and on-location installation.


Shimon Attie

Shimon Attie, Joachimstrasse 2. Slide projection of former Jewish residence, ca. 1930, Berlin, 1992, color photograph and on-location installation.


Shimon Attie

Shimon Attie, Joachimstrasse/corner Auguststrasse: Slide projection of former Jewish resident, 1931, Berlin, 1992, color photograph and on-location installation.



2. Marcelo Brodsky’s Buena Memoria (Good Memory), 1997

In Argentina over 30,000 people were tortured and killed during the Dirty War that started after the military junta, led by Army Commander in Chief Lieutenant General Jorge Rafael Videla, dissolved in 1976 the Argentine Congress. During that period, some 10,000 people “disappeared,” or more precisely, were disappeared, considered a political or ideological threat to the military junta. When Marcelo Brodsky came back to Argentina from exile in 1994, after having lived more than a decade abroad, he tried to locate his old classmates. Taking as his starting point the graduation photograph of the class of 1967 at the Colegio Nacional in Buenos Aires, he found out that 105 of them had disappeared. His installation Good Memory exhibits photographs and video of the intensive research he undertook. It includes a blown-up photograph of his eighth-grade class taken in 1967, in which he has circled 13 out of the 32 figures to indicate friends who, as adults, went into political exile or disappeared. Good Memory also shows the last picture of the artist’s brother, Fernando, before he was taken to a military prison, where he was jailed and murdered, as well as a video that shows a memorial organized by the artist that included a public reading of names of his disappeared schoolmates.


 Marcelo Brodsky

Marcelo Brodsky, La Clase, “Buena memoria” (Good Memory) series, 1996



3. Susan Meiselas’ Reframing History, 2004

In July 2004, for the 25th anniversary of the overthrow of Somoza, Meiselas returned to Nicaragua with nineteen mural-sized images of her photographs from 1978-1979, collaborating with local communities to create sites for collective memory. The project, Reframing History, placed murals on public walls and in open spaces in the towns, at the sites where the photographs were originally made. (Source: Susan Meisela’s website.)


Susan Meiselas

Susan Meiselas, Cuesto del Plomo, Managua, from the series, “Reframing History,” 2004. Hillside outside Managua, a well-known site of many assassinations carried out by the National Guard. Original image taken July, 1978.


Susan Meiselas

Susan Meiselas,Residential neighborhood, Matagalpa, from the series “Reframing History,” 2004. Original photo taken August, 1978.







Photography and Violence 3: Carlos Aguirre and the Mexican Landscape

August 20th, 2014

It was not only its escalation and its geographical expansion that set apart the violence experienced throughout the so-called “war against drug trafficking” in Mexico. It was also the brutality of the executions; its expressive level of cruelty, which is impossible to forget. The violence exercised by the narco-gangs or the narco-machine as Rossanna Reguillo calls it, is determined to dissolve the singularity of human beings by turning them into suffering bodies, sometimes fragmented –heads, torsos, legs, arms. These bodies, exposing their own vulnerability, are a mirror of Mexico’s inoperative political and judiciary system, one that allows a contagious spread of criminality and leaves thousands of crimes, related and unrelated to drug trafficking, unresolved. For Felipe Calderón’s office  –which declared war against the drug cartels in 2006 with an over-confident discourse that assured that “we are not going to war if we are not sure that we are going to win” –the dead became a negative image. And because we are not talking about one or two, but more than 120,000 violent murders in a six-year term, the constant representation of the dead became evidence of an explosive national crisis.

Contrary to President Calderon’s wishes –who urged the media to “give violence its proper dimension,” and criticized the press for “amplifying” the problem of Mexico’s violence– Mexican artist Carlos Aguirre (Acapulco, 1948) started collecting violent imagery from local “sensationalisttabloids of the state of Morelos. Aguirre belongs to a tradition of artistic activism similar to that of its Latin American counterparts who criticized the military dictatorships and dirty wars of the 1970s and 1980s. As part of a generation that responded to the political and social unrest that emerged in Mexico in 1968, he has positioned himself as an artist who emphasizes the tensions between economic, social and political realities.

His work Paisaje mexicano (Mexican Landscape), which is exhibited permanently at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana in Mexico City, is a large-scale mural (3 x 12 meters) that consists of the recompilation of approximately 1,400 nicknames of drug dealers and hundreds of newspaper clippings of photographs of violent deaths. These nicknames, arranged chaotically, one on top of the other in different opacities of black, create, from a distance, an indecipherable mural. When one gets closer, the words become clear: one can recognize famous capos, such as “El Chapo” and “El Barbas,” printed in large bold letters, as well as lesser-known nicknames, such as “El Harry” or “El Koreano,” in smaller fonts.


Carlos Aguirre

Carlos Aguirre. Paisaje mexicano (Mexican Landscape), 3 x 12 mt., 2010. Vinyl and newspaper clippings.


Aguirre’s overwhelming universe of drug-dealers can be seen as a powerful interpretation of the narco’s strategic multiplication throughout Mexico’s geography. According to Reguillo, the narco-machine’s power relies on its unfathomable presence, on the fact that it is always strategically de-localizing itself. Aguirre’s Mexican Landscape deliberately follows a traditional composition of a landscape, in which a horizontal line is used to enhance an open view of the scenery, giving a sensation of vastness and continuity. This horizon is constructed by pasting hundreds of color photographs of violent deaths, following one editorial criteria: selecting “the most violent images” found, since, according to the artist, “these images respond to the cruelty that has escalated.”


Carlos Aguirre

Carlos Aguirre. Paisaje mexicano (Mexican Landscape), 3 x 12 mt., 2010. Vinyl and newspaper clippings. (Side view)


Aguirre’s usage of sensationalist photographs is his own way of depicting his contemporary abject version of a Mexican landscape, opposing the celebratory and colorful landscapes of the Mexican valley by famous Mexican landscape painters, like José María Velasco (1840 –1912) and Gerardo Murillo (Dr. Atl) (1875 –1964), with the latter turning Mexican geography into a positive symbol of post-revolutionary national identity, through the use of lively blue skies, rich foliage and mighty volcanoes.


José María Velasco

José María Velasco, El Valle de México, 1873, oil on canvas (Private collection).


Conversely and quite unexpectedly, Mexican Landscape also reminds me of Rothko’s No.5/No 22 (1949). More precisely, what it recalls is Anna Chave’s symbolic interpretation of the canvas. Her controversial take suggests that the horizontal framing derives from earlier depictions of dead figures lying horizontally. If Chave was right and Rothko’s pictorial segments have symbolic references to entombments, in the case of Aguirre the reference is more than just symbolic: it is obvious. Moreover, in Aguirre’s horizontal placement of the images of the dead a far more wretched image is implicit: that of a massive grave.


Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko, No. 5/No. 22, oil on canvas, 1950. © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Photography and Violence 2: Sontag vs. Butler

August 10th, 2014

What does it mean to protest suffering, as distinct from acknowledging it?

Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others.


In last week’s entry, I inaugurated my participation in this blog with a quote by Jay Prosser, from his book Picturing Atrocity (2012):“Atrocity is going on all around us —he said— the least we can do is acknowledge it.” In the third chapter of her book Regarding the Pain of Others (2003), Susan Sontag explains how we have acknowledged suffering since the Christian depictions of hell or representations of famous biblical decapitations (like that of John the Baptist). But when did we start to use the iconography of horror to express our disagreement? Sontag recalls Jacques Callot’s (1592–1635) eighteen etchings titled Les Misères et les Malheurs de la Guerre (The Miseries and Misfortunes of War) from 1633, which depicted many atrocities committed against civilians by French troops during the invasion of his native Lorraine in the early 1630s.


Jacques Callot

Jacques Callot


In his etching No. 5, “Plundering of a Farm,” Callot uses both image and text to describe a scene in which soldiers murder, kidnap, steal and rape.


Here are the fine exploits of these inhuman hearts

They ravage all over, nothing escapes their hands

One invents forms of torture to get some gold,

The other, having committed 1,000 crimes, encourages his accomplices

And all in accord, they maliciously commit

Theft, kidnapping, murder, and rape.


Between 1810 and 1820 Goya created Los desastres de la Guerra (The Disasters of War), a series of works that could be seen as a “visual protest” against violence, specifically the atrocities perpetrated during the occupation of Madrid by French troops during the Peninsular War (1807–1814). He used various sketches to narrate violent scenes, such as the depiction of a disfigured body found mounted on a tree, and also included a brief caption which, rather than serving as a description of the event, functions as an expression of dissent by the artist: “This is worse” wrote Goya below one of these pieces.


Francisco Goya

Francisco Goya


Is Goya’s “protest” implicit in the image, or is the caption the element that “protests”?

At first it’s easy to agree with Susan Sontag that, when it comes to photographs, the image cannot offer itself an interpretation; that protest requires a caption in addition to an image to have any sort of political meaning. But we can also take another second and contest this view. Judith Butler, in her book Frames of War: When is Life Grievable? (2010), explains that framing already presupposes decisions and practices that leave substantial losses outside the frame. Inclusion and exclusion already affect the political meaning of an image. Despite the fact that Butler agrees with Sontag that we need captions and analysis, the frame, she argues, is never neutral. The image has already determined what will count, whose life will be grieved, what is perceivable and what isn’t.

Photography and Violence 1: How do you register all of these thoughts in that image?

July 8th, 2014

Atrocity is going on all around us. The least we can do is acknowledge it.

Jay Prosser, Picturing Atrocity


When I moved to New York in 2011 I left my hometown, Acapulco, in flames. That year, according to the Citizen Council for Security, Justice and Peace, Acapulco became the second most violent city in the world[1], with an alarming murder rate of 143 persons for every 100,000. Acapulco, a seaside resort once described as paradise on Earth, turned into a living hell in which disfigured bodies were found daily and military jeeps had taken over the streets. This was just not the case of Acapulco but of various cities throughout the country which were caught in the middle of what we now refer as “Mexico’s drug war.”

With Mexico living a humanitarian crisis with a death toll equal to that of the Balkans and Iraq wars –an escalating violence that has not been seen in the country since the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917)–[2] I became less concerned with art production within a tradition of modernist aesthetic self-reflection, and more and more captivated by artistic initiatives that examine the social and political climate of their times. More specifically, I am interested in the intersections between art and violence.

For the next couple of months I wish to pursue this interest further in the CCNY blog by focusing on photography. I plan to curate my entries not by surveying the theme of “Violence and Photography” through the past decades, but by addressing different themes and problematics that photographing violence, suffering or atrocity entail.

One first image: a necessary but impossible-to-look-at photography by American photographer Susan Meiselas (b. Baltimore, Maryland, 1948).

Caption: Susan Meiselas. Cuesta del Plomo, a well-known site of many assassinations near Managua carried out by the National Guard. People searched here daily for missing persons. July, 1978.

Caption: Susan Meiselas. Cuesta del Plomo, a well-known site of many assassinations near Managua carried out by the National Guard. People searched here daily for missing persons. July, 1978.


What lays outside the frame of this image, of what we can see in this image, is not less brutal than the image itself. In fact, one of Meiselas’ main concerns is the inadequacy of framing. One can see in her work, as well as in many photographs of violent murders, how relevant is the effort of “trying to fill” by narrating what happens “outside the frame.” She says:

“This was a known site of execution. I had often heard about such places. That body was left to terrorize everyone passing. It was at the top of a steep hill, so you can imagine the buses dragging themselves up, about a mile or so outside the capital of Managua. For a long time I’ve lived with the inadequacy of that frame to tell everything I knew, and I think a lot about what is outside the frame, what is beyond this body: parts of other bodies down the hill, right behind it, below in the trees, still caught in branches. Men and women were dismembered and never identified. I also think a lot about what else is outside of the frame, such as the families, and how they watched people being pulled out of their homes, sometimes never able to find their remains. That’s not in this photograph. I think of the man, not just a body on the hillside, being executed by someone who really thought they knew what he thought, not in fact killing him for what he had done. And that is also outside of the frame. How do you register all of these thoughts in that image?” (Susan Meiselas “Body on a Hillside” in Picturing Atrocity: Photography in Crisis, London: Reaktion Books, 2012)

(To know more about the images that Meiselas took of Nicaragua under the last years of the Somoza Regime, visit Susan Meiselas website.)



[1] San Pedro Sula in Honduras was ranked the first.

[2] The last major conflict in Mexico before the current drug war was The Cristero War (1923-1929), which claimed the lives of ninety thousand people in three years.


Thread 5:Vidisha Saini

June 30th, 2014

Vidisha Saini is an artist who grew up in the 90s in India. She likes to queer utopia, colonialism, gender, and history. Saini works with alter-egos (Fadescha), satire, tourism, memory, hyper-text and other performative mediums. She social as well as anti-social. Vidisha‘s recent works include “You Might Be Discorvered”, LAST Projects (LA), ‘Building On Ruins’, Cirrus Gallery (LA), ‘A Bomb With Ribbon Around It’, Queens Museum of Art (NY). Saini holds a MFA in Photography & Media, and Integrated Media from California Institute of the Arts, CA.


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Hotel El Dorado

“Hotel El Dorado”, 2013
Gold Balloon (Record Object) found in the hundred-year old lobby
of the “El Dorado Loft Building” on Spring Street.




Eldorado to Eldorado

Eldorado to Eldorado,
Episode 2 from “Of Eldorado” Performance, 2014




Tourist, Pratibimb

Tourist, Pratibimb, 2010-11




You Like Mr. Shekhar, Of Eldorado from Vidisha Saini on Vimeo.
Performance, CA, 2013




You Like Mr. Shekhar

Record Objects, Museum Vitrines
You Like Mr. Shekhar,2013




Thread 4: Kay Walkowiak

June 18th, 2014

Kay Walkowiak lives and works in Vienna. He studied philosophy and psychology at the University of Vienna, photography and video art at the Academy of fine Arts, Vienna and art & communication and sculture & multimedia art at the University of Applied Arts, Vienna. He has received several grants and awards such as Artist in Residence Grant Banff(2014), Beijing(2013), Varaansi (2013), Theodor Körner Preis (2010), Otto Prutscher award (2008), Fred Adlmüller scholarship (2006).




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Kay Walkowiak Flat Tyre (#1), 2013

 Flat Tyre (#1), 2013




Kay Walkowiak Flat Tyre (#2), 2013

 Flat Tyre (#2), 2013




Kay Walkowiak Flat Tyre (#6), 2013

 Flat Tyre (#6), 2013




Kay Walkowiak Rotkehlchen, 2006

 Rotkehlchen, 2006
Steel, varnish, plastic




Kay Walkowiak Worship (#1), 2013

 Worship (#1), 2013




Kay Walkowiak Minimal Vandalism, 2013

 Minimal Vandalism, 2013
HD Video | 3 min. 49 sec.
In collaboration with Kilian Martin and Brett Novak




Kay Walkowiak Minimal Vandalism, 2013

 Minimal Vandalism, 2013
HD Video | 3 min. 49 sec.
In collaboration with Kilian Martin and Brett Novak




Kay Walkowiak Minimal Vandalism, 2013

 Minimal Vandalism, 2013
HD Video | 3 min. 49 sec.
In collaboration with Kilian Martin and Brett Novak




Kay Walkowiak Minimal Vandalism, 2013

 Minimal Vandalism, 2013
HD Video | 3 min. 49 sec.
In collaboration with Kilian Martin and Brett Novak




Kay Walkowiak Minimal Vandalism, 2013

 Minimal Vandalism, 2013
HD Video | 3 min. 49 sec.
In collaboration with Kilian Martin and Brett Novak



Thread 3: Rony Maltz

June 14th, 2014

Rony Maltz is a photographer, writer, bookmaker based in Rio de Janerio. He received a Master’s degree in Fine Art Photography from ICP-Bard program in New York City. Rony recently completed a long term video project on the sinking city of Atafona in Brazil.



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ATAFONA_Trailer from r_maltz on Vimeo.





















Thread 2: David Gagnebin-de Bons

April 29th, 2014

David Gagnebin-de Bons is an artist working with images. He lives and works in Lausanne, Switzerland and is a graduate of the School of the Applied Arts, Vevey.


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Untitled, 2013



Untitled, 2013


Untitled, 2012


Untitled, 2012


Untitled, 2012


My Father In Front Of The Sea of Fertility, 2013 (Projected Image)

Untitled, 2013 (Project Image)

Above two images are projected together along with a description of the image for blind people.













Installation View



Untitled, 2013


Running Conversations With Threads

April 22nd, 2014

Threads can be long and winding, in fact it can be an effort to keep them straight. They tie things together and they also get into perplexing entanglements. Conversations are threads sometimes, where surprising connections are possible. Instead of writing about art, I feel the more urgent question is how to live an examined life as an artist? It’s an old question but hopefully not a redundant one. In the course of two months, I will invite artists to talk about what nurtures them as people. What sort of communities do they seek? How do they support art making? What are their current concerns and challenges? If you’d like to engage in a conversation and wrestle with these questions, please do write to me

 Thread 1: Qiana Mestrich

Qiana Mestrich is a photo-based visual artist and writer from Brooklyn, NY. Founder of the blog Dodge & Burn: Diversity in Photography History, her Namesake Series is on view at the RUSH Arts/Corridor Gallery through May 17, 2014. She graduated from the ICP-Bard’s MFA program in 2013.


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Group of Five Mugshots from The Namesake Series (2013)



“Untitled” from The Mist in Mystic series (2012)


“Tear” from the Trust Your Struggle series (2010) 


History of the World (2012), Altered book

The “Land lords” are taking over the city

March 9th, 2014

Walking around the various art fairs over the weekend I entertained myself with the shiny pretty objects and large amounts of over priced Prosecco. Because seriously, that’s what you need to do just to survive the insane amount of similar shiny objects  that are differentiated only by location of booth and name of venue. (see bottom for my definition of shiny) However, in the midst of my escape from Scope I stumbled on a stall that stood out. Mainly because it felt like home , Brooklyn, but also because I had just seen this artist last weekend at the Buschwick Beat Night.

The work of Rafael Fuschs stood out, like a soar thumb, and I was happy to see it there; throbbing away despite all the sleek shiny work around it. Rafael doesn’t hold back and makes no apologies. In this series called the “Land Lords” was not only the most controversial studio space at the Bushwick Beat Night ( all my friends HAD to see what the fuss was about) but also the most cutting edge. His merging of images in a collage style talks about the ever changing identity of Brooklyn. The vast array of culture that clashes in the day to day lives are shown with uncomfortable tension and at times questionable stance. The glossy Photoshop technique he uses, gives an element of advertising and a sense that there is more to convey about mass communication and mass media and how they influence the community of these cultures. He stakes in his bio that ” In the realm of art and commerce photography, he puts himself out there, and invites those who see themselves as test makers, to make judgements” . Rafael is not only testing the waters with his provocative imagery but also examining the roles people play within communities , perhaps exposing stereotypes and encouraging others. But with each image you question yourself ,and your role with each image that is in front of you. Thoughts on your own relationship to economy, rent, personal identity and culture becomes all part of the analysis of this work. Rafael Fuchs is originally from Tel Aviv and moved to New York in 1985 after getting his BFA in Bezalel Art Academy in Jerusalem. His has a vast array of work stemming from a humorous yet critical perspective of the world. This includes several videos he has made as well as Saturday night live appearance that on vimeo he calls his ” My 5 minutes of fame “. He also is prolific commercial photographer as well as documentary and several commissioned art pieces. But all in all he enjoys t push those buttons. Perhaps a bit too much at times , but at least they are beings pushed.    After the shock of viewing the work I had to go back and re examine it several times. I love work that makes you question if it’s art.  I love work that makes you want to go back and hate it; but in the end, its just stuck in your head. Repeating that darn tune over and over until it becomes part of you. And that is why his work … works. It was so stuck in my head, that when on the sunny Saturday walking around Scope I smiled. Dragged my Colombian friend over to the booth and said “don’t you just hate this … ” and she smiled and said “wow we just found art. ”

Check out more of his work at Rafael Fuchs for other projects look at 56 Bogart St #1E Brooklyn NY 11206

*Shiny – super glam/ really well crafted  but perhaps too well crafted/ Cheesy/ to decorative/  trying to hard to be art/ overproduced/ tacky/ ok you get my point