Posts Tagged ‘freedom

21
Aug
22

Exhibition: ‘Brick Lane 1978: The Turning Point’ at Four Corners, London

Exhibition dates: 10th June – 10th September 2022

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947) 'Adler Street, London E1, 14 May 1978. The start of the march behind Altab Ali's coffin from Whitechapel to Hyde Park, organised by the Action Committee Against Racial Attack' 1978

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947)
Adler Street, London E1, 14 May 1978. The start of the march behind Altab Ali’s coffin from Whitechapel to Hyde Park, organised by the Action Committee Against Racial Attack (ACARA)
1978
Gelatin silver print
© Paul Trevor

 

 

1977-1978 were tumultuous years in Britain. In 1977 Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Silver Jubilee but the disaffection and alienation of large sections of society were evidenced in the numerous riots, strikes and protests that spread across the country. There were many “youth cultural movements in the late 1970s in the UK – namely skinheads, punks, and soulboys – along with the social, political, and cultural tensions between them.” Racism and homophobia were rife in both West Indian and white British communities.

Punk ruled the airwaves and the streets, the “Yorkshire Ripper” was running amok and undertakers went on strike in London, leaving more than 800 corpses unburied. “On 7 June, Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren and the record label Virgin arranged to charter a private boat and have the Sex Pistols perform while sailing down the River Thames, passing Westminster Pier and the Houses of Parliament. The event, a mockery of the Queen’s river procession planned for two days later, ended in chaos. Police launches forced the boat to dock, and constabulary surrounded the gangplanks at the pier. While the band members and their equipment were hustled down a side stairwell, McLaren, Vivienne Westwood, and many of the band’s entourage were arrested.”1

On the 13th August 1977, the Battle of Lewisham took place took place, “when 500 members of the far-right National Front (NF) attempted to march from New Cross to Lewisham in southeast London and various counter-demonstrations by approximately 4,000 people led to violent clashes between the two groups and between the anti-NF demonstrators and police.”1 On the 30th January 1978, then opposition leader Margaret Thatcher says that many Britons fear being “swamped by people with a different culture”.

And on the 4th May 24-year-old Bengali leather garments worker Altab Ali is murdered in East London in a racially motivated attack which mobilises the British Bangladeshi community to protest. These photographs pay tribute to the activists who mobilised around the rallying cry of justice that followed.

Socio-documentary photographers like Paul Trevor are vital in recording the roiling emotions and feelings of people during periods of great stress, protest and change. What is striking about his documentary photographs of the local Bengali community’s mobilisation against racist violence and institutional police racism is their power and directness – the grim determination of the people and their anger against what was and had been happening to them for a very long time comes across in the photographs with visceral force, perhaps even their anger against being photographed as well. The looks of defiance aimed at the camera lens is an act of defiance toward racism itself – no more they are saying. Never again!

We can see it in they eyes of the elderly gentleman in shirt and tie (with the protective, open hand across his chest) and the women at right in the photograph Adler Street, London E1, 14 May 1978. The start of the march behind Altab Ali’s coffin from Whitechapel to Hyde Park, organised by the Action Committee Against Racial Attack (ACARA) (1978, above); we can observe it in the stare of the man underneath the placard at left in the photograph Hyde Park, London W2, 14 May 1978. Rally following the march behind Altab Ali’s coffin from Whitechapel, organised by the Action Committee Against Racial Attacks (ACARA) (1978, below); and we can feel it in the gaze of the man at right in the photograph Leadenhall Street, London, 14 May 1978. Thousands of Bengalis follow the coffin of Altab Ali from Whitechapel to Hyde Park, organised by the Action Committee Against Racial Attacks (ACARA) (1978, below). We can feel the emotion, outrage, and passion in all of these photographs. We are human beings and we don’t deserve to be treated like animals…

Today, arm in arm, we still need to march to protect our freedoms and rights as human beings. And we still need photographs to document our resistance toward right wing ideology, discrimination and racism. Which reminds me – in the recent Commonwealth Games, “In 35 out of the 56 Commonwealth nations homosexuality is considered a crime, with some countries still punishing it with the death penalty… Seven Commonwealth nations have a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for being gay.”3 Still this, in the 21st century. It’s barbaric. And none of this hiding behind the cloak of religion and religious dogma … for religion is just a salve to the conscience of the unconscionable.

Brothers, we need to protest against discrimination and racism of any form around the world.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Anonymous. “Silver Jubilee of Elizabeth II,” on the Wikipedia website Nd [Online] Cited 21/08/2022
  2. Anonymous. “Battle of Lewisham,” on the Wikipedia website Nd [Online] Cited 21/08/2022
  3. Benjamin Butterworth. “Commonwealth Games 2022: Tom Daley and protesters criticise anti-gay laws in 35 Commonwealth countries,” on the iNews website, July 28, 2022 [Online] Cited 21/08/2022

.
Many thankx to Four Corners for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

.
Martin Luther King Jr.

 

“Tolerance, inter-cultural dialogue and respect for diversity are more essential than ever in a world where peoples are becoming more and more closely interconnected.”

.
Kofi Annan

 

“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist.”

.
Angela Davis

 

“Freedom is never given; it is won.”

.
A. Philip Randolph

 

 

On display at Four Corners: an exhibition of photographs by Paul Trevor, celebrating east London’s Bengali activists of 1978.

This exhibition reveals the dramatic events which were sparked by the racist murder of Altab Ali, a 24-year-old Bengali leather garments worker, and pays tribute to the activists who mobilised around the rallying cry of justice that followed.

Local East End photographer Paul Trevor documented how members of the local Bengali community endured racial abuse as a constant factor of everyday life, and the moment at which they mobilised against racist violence and institutional police racism. The exhibition brings together 75 of Trevor’s photographs for the first time, alongside oral history recordings by original activists.

The show marks the culmination of a major heritage project led by Four Corners and Swadhinata Trust, in partnership with Paul Trevor. With the help of volunteers and original activists, the project is creating a record of this watershed moment as told by local people. The exhibition, alongside project oral history interviews, short films and podcasts, will be available as a touring show, and will be lodged at the Bishopsgate Institute Archives.

Text from the Four Corners website

 

Altab Ali Day is held each year on 4 May. It commemorates the racist murder of a young Bengali man in 1978 and the transformative events that followed. East London’s Bengali community mobilised with mass demonstrations, meetings and sit-down protests. Their actions were a turning point in resistance against racism and discrimination in Britain.

Photographer Paul Trevor captured the dramatic events of that year. Guided by these photographs, Four Corners and Swadhinata Trust are working with local volunteers to record the memories of people involved at the time, creating a vital record of this watershed moment.

 

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947) 'Hyde Park, London W2, 14 May 1978. Altab Ali's coffin departs for Downing Street' 1978

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947)
Hyde Park, London W2, 14 May 1978. Altab Ali’s coffin departs for Downing Street
1978
Gelatin silver print
© Paul Trevor

 

 

 

“On the week after that murder had taken place, maybe … six or 7,000 people, all different backgrounds, came to the park. And we walked behind his coffin in a black… van… We walked to Downing Street to protest and appeal for help. That was an extraordinary gathering of people from different backgrounds, from the mosque, from the churches, all sorts of people, different politics, Anti-Nazi League then joined us, but it was done at no notice, very just quickly from the heart. And it was yes, an important turning point I think.”

.
Dan Jones

“It was cold and wet and horrible, and a lot of people went home before we left Altab Ali Park as it is now… it was you know predominantly Bangladeshis that went, a lot of the men who’d normally be working but would have Sunday off were on it. It was quite remarkable like that… there was a great sense of solidarity in that.”

.
Claire Murphy

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947) 'Hyde Park, London W2, 14 May 1978. Rally following the march behind Altab Ali's coffin from Whitechapel, organised by the Action Committee Against Racial Attacks' 1978

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947)
Hyde Park, London W2, 14 May 1978. Rally following the march behind Altab Ali’s coffin from Whitechapel, organised by the Action Committee Against Racial Attacks (ACARA)
1978
Gelatin silver print
© Paul Trevor

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947) 'Downing Street, London SW1, 14 May 1978. Bengali delegation outside No 10 after delivering Petition' 1978

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947)
Downing Street, London SW1, 14 May 1978. Bengali delegation outside No 10 after delivering Petition
1978
Gelatin silver print
© Paul Trevor

 

 

The hard facts about the resistance movement of the 1970s in East London are that different umbrella organisations at different periods of time were formed to mount the resistance movement in the 1970s in East London. It was never ever a national organisation and certainly not an individual, but the local community groups who mobilised the Bangladeshi community to mount the resistance movement. When the community was under attack by the far-right National Front (NF), we looked to the authority to protect us from the vicious racist attacks. However, the police turned a blind eye to the situation. Various local Bangladeshi organisations and the anti-racist individuals felt the necessity of forming an umbrella organisation to protect the community from racist attacks. The first such umbrella organisation was the ‘Anti Racist Committee of Asians in East London’ (ARCAEL). The ARCAEL organised a mass meeting at the Naaz cinema Hall in the middle of Brick Lane on 12th June 1976 and convinced the Bangladeshi community that we could not rely on the authorities to protect us and we had to fight back and defend ourselves. ARCAEL organised vigilante groups and confronted the NF thugs who would run their stall at the corner of Bethnal Green Road and Brick Lane every Sunday to sell their filthy propaganda literature and to recruit new members. The police took notice of these confrontations. However, this resulted in increasing numbers of arrests of the Asians. At one point the police told us that whichever group went to the spot first would be allowed to have their presence. We started mobilising ourselves early in the morning and the NF tried to be there before us. We then decided to start gathering at the corner of Brick Lane and Bethnal Green Road on Saturday evenings and kept on occupying the spot overnight.

It was the entire community under the leadership of ARCAEL engineered the resistance movement in East London in the 1970s.

After Altab Ali was brutally murdered on 4th May 1978, the Bangladeshi community vowed to stamp out racist attacks once and for all. We took to the street and we shouted slogans, “Enough is Enough” “Come What May, We Are Here to Stay.” “Here to Stay, Here to Fight” “Black and White Unite and Fight”. Immediately, after the death of Altab Ali, another umbrella organisation, “Action Committee Against Racial Attacks” (ACARA), was formed for the specific purpose of organising a national demonstration. In just 10 days preparation, ACARA successfully organised a National Demonstration to highlight the lack of police action to protect the victims of racial attacks in East London. We marched from Brick Lane to Hyde Park for a rally and then went to Downing Street to give a petition to the Prime Minister demanding a full investigation into the police handling of racist attacks in East London and more protection of immigrants. The petition was given by the chair of the ACARA, Mr Taibur Rahman who was accompanied by the General Secretary, Jamal Hasan and five other committee members, namely Shiraz Uddin, Shoeb Chowdhury, Gulam Mustafa, Akikur Rahman and Zia Uddin Lala.

One can see the news coverage with a photograph in front of 10 Downing Street in the East London Advertiser, dated 19th May 1978. This is available in the Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives, 277 Bancroft Rd, London E1 4DQ (near the Queen Mary University). Two days before the national demonstration, ACARA issued a press release which appeared in the East London Advertiser on 12 May 1978, “… In a joint statement, committee members Taibur Rahman, Jamal Hasan and Shiraz Uddin told the Advertiser: ‘This march condemns the death of Altab Ali. It has been called to publicise what is happening to Asians in East London so that everyone can learn of the attacks which make us daily victims…'”

From these two newspaper articles, it is obvious that it was the umbrella organisation ACARA which mobilised the community and organised the national demonstration. There were a few more umbrella organisations since 1978. Hackney and Tower Hamlets Defence Committee was another important umbrella organisation which organised a one day strike by the Asian and black workers in East London and had a sit-in protest in front of the Bethnal Green Police station demanding the release of some of our members who were arrested in the demonstration. The police had to give in to our demand and released the three of our members arrested earlier.

Jamal Hasan. “The big lie,” on the Altab Ali Foundation website May 2019 [Online] Cited 05/08/2022

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947) 'Leadenhall Street, London, 14 May 1978. Thousands of Bengalis follow the coffin of Altab Ali from Whitechapel to Hyde Park, organised by the Action Committee Against Racial Attacks' 1978

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947)
Leadenhall Street, London, 14 May 1978. Thousands of Bengalis follow the coffin of Altab Ali from Whitechapel to Hyde Park, organised by the Action Committee Against Racial Attacks (ACARA)
1978
Gelatin silver print
© Paul Trevor

 

 

Exhibition reveals a dramatic struggle for justice in east London A major exhibition of photographs by Paul Trevor documents a dramatic struggle for justice.

Following the racist murder of Altab Ali in May 1978, east London’s young Bengali community took to the streets in protest. Four Corners’ new exhibition, Brick Lane 1978: The Turning Point, brings together seventy of Paul Trevor’s images alongside accounts of pioneering activists, to produce a powerful narrative of the time.

The show marks the culmination of a major heritage project led by Four Corners and Swadhinata Trust with a dedicated group of volunteers, and who have interviewed many people involved in these momentous events. The exhibition pays tribute to a generation whose actions changed the course of civil rights in the UK.

Julie Begum, Chair of Swadhinata Trust, said, “It is important to commemorate Altab Ali Day to remember the racist violence the Bengali community faced in the East End of London, and to celebrate the community’s united defence to defeat the evils of racism.” Paul Trevor said: “They say a photo is worth a thousand words. But sometimes, as in this case, words are essential. This project is an opportunity to add the voices of those who made history to the images of that story.” Carla Mitchell, Artistic Development Director at Four Corners said: “This history is highly relevant today, with an increase of racist attacks and violence making the headlines. Thanks to National Lottery players we will be able to ensure that this powerful heritage is made publicly accessible for a wide audience of current & future generations.”

 

Historical background

1978 began with opposition leader Margaret Thatcher on ‘World in Action’ television programme saying that many Britons feared being “rather swamped by people with a different culture.” Her comments were seen as a direct appeal to would-be National Front voters in working class neighbourhoods. Racist violence was endemic in east London, and particularly around Brick Lane recently arrived Bengali migrants worked in the local rag trade, as had the Jews before them.

The National Front’s newspaper pitch at Brick Lane’s Sunday morning market attracted skinheads who harassed the local Bengali community. They were a target for far-right groups, who wrongly blamed them for high unemployment and bad housing. East London has always been a haven for migrants, from the French Huguenots fleeing 17th century religious persecution, to the Irish poor of the 19th century, and Jews escaping Cossack pogroms in Russia and Poland. It also has an equally long history of racist violence and resistance to it. Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists tried to march east to the docks in 1936, but were stopped by Jews, Irish dockers and communists in the famous ‘Battle of Cable Street’.

Altab Ali’s murder on the night of the May 1978 local elections in which 41 National Front candidates stood, marked a turning point for the Bengali community. 7,000 people marched behind his coffin to a rally in Hyde Park, then to Downing Street where they handed in a petition demanding police protection. That year young Bengali people mobilised in a community-led, anti-racist struggle which brought about a radical social transformation both locally and far beyond.

Anti-racist protests against the electoral threat of the far right National Front party were supported by a grass-roots, multi-cultural movement – Rock against Racism – which held open-air concerts in nearby Victoria Park, headlined by The Clash, Steel Pulse and Tom Robinson. Community protest and music radicalised a generation, and helped destroy National Front support.

Local photographer Paul Trevor documented the dramatic events of the era in over 400 photographs, many of which will be on show for the first time in this exhibition. His photographs show how the local Bengali community endured racial abuse as a constant factor of everyday life, and how they united to end violence and institutional racism. Trevor was also a member of the Half Moon Photography Workshop collective, whose work focused on socially-committed photography. Some of his images were covered in their Camerawork magazine: Exhibition Poster for Brick Lane 1978 A Community Under Attack; Review of the exhibition Brick Lane 1978. A community under attack.

By the end of 1978, the National Front was forced to leave its headquarters near Brick Lane, though far-right racist attacks in east London persisted into the 1990s. To this day the name Altab Ali remains linked with the struggle against racism and for human rights in London’s East End.

Press release from Four Corners, London

 

Paul Trevor

Trevor was born in London (b. 1947) and grew up on a kibbutz in Israel. He studied at the National Film & Television School, and was a founder member of Camerawork, the UK’s first radical photo magazine. In 1973, together with the photographers Chris Steele-Perkins and Nicholas Battye, he formed the Exit Photography Group. Their largest project, Survival Programmes documented life in the inner cities, both in photographs and recorded interviews over a period of six years. Works from the project were shown at the Side Gallery, Newcastle in 1982 and brought together in a book; the photographs here are drawn from this project. The works were as much about documenting the squalor of the inner cities, as they were about recording the process of poverty – inadequate housing, unemployment, overcrowding, illness and old age. The Exit archive is now housed and administered by the LSE.

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947) 'New Road, London E1, June 1976. Demonstration organised by ARCAEL' 1976

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947)
New Road, London E1, June 1976. Demonstration organised by ARCAEL (Anti Racist Committee of Asians in East London)
Left: Chomok Ali Noor. Centre: Mala Sen
1976
Gelatin silver print
© Paul Trevor

 

 

 

“… the Bangladeshi workers who used to work in sweatshops by and large in the East End, experienced a lot of what they called Paki bashing… People would just for fun… they would beat isolated people walking on the streets.”

“And there was of course, the death of Altab Ali which caused the huge huge meeting, which of course we went to the community centre and we said we ought to call a protest and get the government to see that this stops because the police are not paying any attention… So from the Altab Ali meeting from the meeting of Anti-Racist Committee of Asians in East London, we called it ARCAEL… huge meeting in a cinema in Brick Lane. And when we called the meeting, we thought we’d get you know fifty people – thousands of people turned up, the cinema was full, and the entire Brick Lane was packed with people listening through loudspeakers outside… and the emotion poured out, the determination to do something poured out.”

.
Farrukh Dhondy

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947) 'Whitechapel Road, London E1, June 1976. Demonstration organised by ARCAEL' 1978

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947)
Whitechapel Road, London E1, June 1976. Demonstration organised by ARCAEL (Anti Racist Committee of Asians in East London)
1976
Gelatin silver print
© Paul Trevor

 

 

The banner at left refers to Enoch Powell (British, 1912-1998), “politician, classical scholar, author, linguist, soldier, philologist, and poet. He served as a Conservative Member of Parliament (1950-1974) and was Minister of Health (1960-1963) then Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) MP (1974-1987)…

Powell attracted widespread attention for his “Rivers of Blood” speech, delivered on 20 April 1968 to the General Meeting of the West Midlands Area Conservative Political Centre. In it, Powell criticised the rates of immigration into the UK, especially from the New Commonwealth, and opposed the anti-discrimination legislation Race Relations Bill. The speech drew sharp criticism from Powell’s own party members and the press, and Conservative Party leader Edward Heath removed Powell from his position as Shadow Defence Secretary…

Polls in the 1960s and 1970s showed that Powell’s views were popular among the British population at the time.[35] A Gallup poll, for example, showed that 75% of the population were sympathetic to Powell’s views. An NOP poll showed that approximately 75% of the British population agreed with Powell’s demand for non-white immigration to be halted completely, and about 60% agreed with his call for the repatriation of non-whites already resident in Britain.

The Rivers of Blood speech has been blamed for leading to violent attacks against British Pakistanis and other British Asians, which became frequent after the speech in 1968; however, there is “little agreement on the extent to which Powell was responsible for racial attacks”. These “Paki-bashing” attacks later peaked during the 1970s and 1980s.

Powell was mentioned in early versions of the 1969 song “Get Back” by the Beatles. This early version of the song, known as the “No Pakistanis” version, parodied the anti-immigrant views of Enoch Powell.

On 5 August 1976, Eric Clapton provoked an uproar and lingering controversy when he spoke out against increasing immigration during a concert in Birmingham. Visibly intoxicated, Clapton voiced his support of the controversial speech, and announced on stage that Britain was in danger of becoming a “black colony”. Among other things, Clapton said “Keep Britain white!” which was at the time a National Front (NF) slogan.

In November 2010, the actor and comedian Sanjeev Bhaskar recalled the fear which the speech instilled in Britons of Indian origin: “At the end of the 1960s, Enoch Powell was quite a frightening figure to us. He was the one person who represented an enforced ticket out, so we always had suitcases that were ready and packed. My parents held the notion that we may have to leave.”

Whilst a section of the white population appeared to warm to Powell over the speech, the author Mike Phillips recalls that it legitimised hostility, and even violence, towards black Britons like himself.

In his book The British Dream (2013), David Goodhart claims that Powell’s speech in effect “put back by more than a generation a robust debate about the successes and failures of immigration”.

“Just when a discussion should have been starting about integration, racial justice, and distinguishing the reasonable from the racist complaints of the white people whose communities were being transformed, he polarised the argument and closed it down.”

.
Text from the “Enoch Powell” and “Rivers of Blood speech,” on the Wikipedia website

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947) 'Outside police station, Bethnal Green Road, London E2, 17 July 1978. Sit down protest' 1978

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947)
Outside police station, Bethnal Green Road, London E2, 17 July 1978. Sit down protest
Bengali Youth Movement Against Racism sit-down protest outside Bethnal Green Police Station, 17 July 1978

1978
Gelatin silver print
© Paul Trevor

 

 

 

“I thought Britain would love us. But in fact it was the opposite, they hated us. So the reason I never had my childhood teenage I was frightened. I was living in fear. We never had a place to go to apart from Brick Lane.”

“… people got beaten up in streets, people used to get mugged… after work coming home by racists. Then we came into the realisation that we… have to fight back. Then all some of the young teenager we named we set up an organisation called Bangladesh Youth Front.”

“… 1978, I was 18 or 19 at the time… Then I came to know the name of Altab Ali… We organised a demonstration to march from Whitechapel St Mary’s Churchyard to Hyde Park Corner… And that was the day gave us the strength after seeing all these people supported us. All these people was chanting. ‘Here to stay. We are here, here to stay’… and there was… slogans saying ‘black and white, unite and fight. We are black, we are white, we are united.'”

.
Rafique Ullah

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947) 'Brick Lane, London E1, 17 July 1978. Bangladesh Youth Movement Against racism march' 1978

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947)
Brick Lane, London E1, 17 July 1978. Bangladesh Youth Movement Against racism march
1978
Gelatin silver print
© Paul Trevor

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947) 'Curtain Road, London EC2, 20 August 1978. Hackney & Tower Hamlets Defence Committee & ANL march' 1978

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947)
Curtain Road, London EC2, 20 August 1978. Hackney & Tower Hamlets Defence Committee & ANL (Anti Nazi League) march
Left to right: Syed Mizan, Jamal Miah, Abdul Manik
1978
Gelatin silver print
© Paul Trevor

 

 

 

“We wanted to defend our community. We wanted to show the world that Altab Ali was a very simple and innocent garments worker who was murdered by racists for no reason. He was simply working in rag trade, and on his way from work to home he was murdered.”

“We marched from Brick Lane to Hyde Park corner, we marched to House of Commons, we marched to major roads in London protesting the murder of Altab Ali.”

“… there were a huge number of people that needs to be recognised by the community, by the next generation, by the future generations, by the history that you are involved. I think these people need some recognition.”

.
Syed Mizan

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947) 'Brick Lane, London E1, September 1978' 1978

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947)
Brick Lane, London E1, September 1978
1978
Gelatin silver print
© Paul Trevor

 

 

Four Corners
121 Roman Road
Bethnal Green
London E2 0QN
Phone: 020 8981 6111

Gallery hours:
Tuesday to Saturday 11am – 6pm
(8pm on Thursdays)

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09
Jun
17

Exhibition: ‘Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017’ at Tate Modern, London

Exhibition dates: 15th February – 11th June 2017

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The State We're In, A' 2015

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The State We’re In, A (Room 14)
2015
Ink-jet print
Dimensions variable
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The Cock (Kiss)' 2002

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The Cock (Kiss)
2002
Ink-jet print
Dimensions variable
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

If one thing matters, everything matters
(A love letter to Wolfgang Tillmans)

I believe that Wolfgang Tillmans is the number one photo-media artist working today. I know it’s a big call, but that’s how I see it.

His whole body of work is akin to a working archive – of memories, places, contexts, identities, landscapes (both physical and imagined) and people. He experiments, engages, and imagines all different possibilities in and through art. As Adrian Searle observes in his review of the exhibition, “Tillmans’ work is all a kind of evidence – a sifting through material to find meaning.” And that meaning varies depending on the point of view one comes from, or adopts, in relation to the art. The viewer is allowed to make their own mind up, to dis/assemble or deepen relationships between things as they would like, or require, or not as the case may be. Tillmans is not didactic, but guides the viewer on that journey through intersections and nodal points of existence. The nexus of life.

Much as I admire the writing of art critic John McDonald, I disagree with his assessment of the work of Wolfgang Tillmans at Tate Modern (see quotation below). Personally, I find that there are many memorable photographs in this exhibition … as valuable and as valid a way of seeing the world in a contemporary sense, as Eggleston’s photographs are in a historic visualisation. I can recall Tillmans’ images just an intimately as I can Eggleston’s. But they are of a different nature, and this is where McDonald’s analysis is like comparing apples and pears. Eggleston’s classical modernist photographs depend on the centrality of composition where his images are perfectly self-contained, whether he is photographing a woman in a blue dress sitting on a kerb or an all green bathroom. They are of their time. Times have changed, and how we view the world has changed.

For Tillmans no subject matter is trivial (If One Thing Matters, Everything Matters – the title of a 2003 exhibition at Tate Britain), and how he approaches the subject is totally different from Eggleston. As he says of his work, his images are “calls to attentiveness.” What does he mean by this? Influenced by the work of the philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti whom I have also studied, a call to attentiveness is a way of being open and responsive to the world around you, to its infinite inflections, and to not walk around as if in a dream, letting the world pass you by. To be open and receptive to the energies and connections of the world spirit by seeing clearly.

Krishnamurti insightfully observed that we do not need to make images out of every word, out of every vision and desire. We must be attentive to the clarity of not making images – of desire, of prejudice, of flattery – and then we might become aware of the world that surrounds us, just for what it is and nothing more.1 Then there would be less need for the absenting of self into the technological ether or the day dreams of foreign lands or the desire for a better life. But being aware is not enough, we must be attentive of that awareness and not make images just because we can or must. This is a very contemporary way of looking at the world. As Krishnamurti says,

“Now with that same attention I’m going to see that when you flatter me, or insult me, there is no image, because I’m tremendously attentive … I listen because the mind wants to find out if it is creating an image out of every word, out of every contact. I’m tremendously awake, therefore I find in myself a person who is inattentive, asleep, dull, who makes images and gets hurt – not an intelligent man. Have you understood it at least verbally? Now apply it. Then you are sensitive to every occasion, it brings its own right action. And if anybody says something to you, you are tremendously attentive, not to any prejudices, but you are attentive to your conditioning. Therefore you have established a relationship with him, which is entirely different from his relationship with you. Because if he is prejudiced, you are not; if he is unaware, you are aware. Therefore you will never create an image about him. You see the difference?”2

.
Then you are sensitive to every occasion, it brings its own right action. You are attentive and tremendously awake.

This is the essence of Tillmans work. He is tremendously attentive to the images he is making (“a representation of an unprivileged gaze or view” as he puts it) and to the associations that are possible between images, that we make as human beings. He is open and receptive to his conditioning and offers that gift to us through his art, if we recognise it and accept it for what it is. If you really look and understand what the artist is doing, these images are music, poetry and beauty – are time, place, belonging, voyeurism, affection, sex. They are archaic and shapeless and fluid and joy and magic and love…

They are the air between everything.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Krishnamurti. Beginnings of Learning. London: Penguin, 1975, p. 131
  2. Ibid., pp. 130-131

.
Many thankx to the Tate Modern for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“To look at Eggleston alongside those he has inspire [Wolfgang Tillmans and Juergen Teller for example] is to see a surprisingly old-fashioned artist. No matter how instinctive his approach or how trivial his subjects, Eggleston believes in the centrality of composition. His images are perfectly self-contained. They don’t depend on a splashy, messy installation or a political stance. …

In the current survey of Tillmans’s work at Tate Modern photos of every description are plastered across the walls in the most anarchic manner, with hardly a memorable composition. Yet this shapeless stuff is no longer reviled by the critics – it’s the height of fashion.”

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John McDonald for The Sydney Morning Herald column. “William Eggleston: Portraits” on the John McDonald website June 1, 2017 [Online] Cited 17/12/2021

“For a long time in Britain, there was a deep suspicion of my work. People saw me as a commercial artist trying to get into the art world, and the work was dismissed as shallow or somehow lightweight. There are still many misconceptions about what I do – that my images are random and everyday, when they are actually neither. They are, in fact, the opposite. They are calls to attentiveness.”

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Wolfgang Tillmans quoted in Sean O’Hagan. “Wolfgang Tillmans: ‘I was hit by a realisation – all I believed in was threatened’,” on The Guardian website Monday 13 February 2017 [Online] Cited 17/12/2021

 

 

Installation view of room 4 (detail) from the exhibition 'Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017', which includes the latest iteration of the 'truth study centre' project

 

Installation view of room 4 (detail), which includes the latest iteration of the truth study centre project, with
Image © Tate Modern showing Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 at Tate Modern 15 February – 11 June

 

 

The Tate show includes a room full of his “truth study centres”, which comprise often contradictory newspaper cuttings as well as photographs and pamphlets that aim to show how news is manipulated according to the political loyalties of those who produce it. As activists go, though, Tillmans is defiantly centre ground. “This is about strengthening the centre. I can understand left-wing politics from a passionate, idealistic point of view, but I do not think it is the solution to where we are now. The solution is good governance, moderation, agreement. Post-Brexit, post-Trump, the voices of reason need to be heard more than ever.”

Wolfgang Tillmans quoted in Sean O’Hagan. “Wolfgang Tillmans: ‘I was hit by a realisation – all I believed in was threatened’,” on The Guardian website Monday 13 February 2017 [Online] Cited 17/12/2021

 

Installation view of room 13 (detail) from the exhibition 'Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017' at Tate Modern

 

Installation view of room 13 (detail), which focuses in on Tillmans’ portraiture with Eleanor / Lutz, a (2016) at right
Image © Tate Modern showing Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 at Tate Modern 15 February – 11 June

 

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Eleanor / Lutz, a' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Eleanor / Lutz, a
2016
Ink-jet print
Dimensions variable
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Portrait of Wolfgang Tillmans, Tate Modern Boiler House, Level 3, 14/02/2017 in front of his works, Transient 2, 2015 and Tag/Nacht II, 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Tag/Nacht II' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Tag/Nacht II
2010
Ink-jet print
Dimensions variable
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

The State We’re In, A, is part of Neue Welt [New World], the loose family of pictures I began at the end of the last decade. These had two points of departure: “What does the outside world look like to me 20 years after I began photographing?” and “What does it look like in particular with a new photographic medium?”

.
Wolfgang Tillmans

 

“This exhibition is not about politics, it’s about poetry, it’s about installation art. It’s about thinking about the world. I’ve never felt that l can be separated, because the political is only the accumulation of many people’s private lives, which constitute the body politics…”

“My work has always been motivated by talking about society, by talking about how we live together, by how we feel in our bodies. Sexuality, like beauty, is never un-political, because they relate to what’s accepted in society. Two men kissing, is that acceptable? These are all questions to do with beauty.”

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Wolfgang Tillmans quoted in Lorena Muñoz-Alonso. “Inside Wolfgang Tillmans’s Superb Tate Modern Survey,” on the artnet website February 15, 2017 [Online] Cited 17/12/2021

 

“There is music. There is dancing. Bewilderment is part of the pleasure, as we move between images and photographic abstractions. Tillmans’ asks us to make connections of all kinds – formal, thematic, spatial, political. He asks what the limits of photography are. There are questions here about time, place, belonging, voyeurism, affection, sex. After a while it all starts to tumble through me.”

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Adrian Searle. “Wolfgang Tillmans review – a rollercoaster ride around the world,” on The Guardian website Wednesday 15 February 2017 [Online] Cited 17/12/2021

 

 

What are we to make of the world in which we find ourselves today? Contemporary artist Wolfgang Tillmans offers plenty of food for thought.

This is Wolfgang Tillmans’s first ever exhibition at Tate Modern and brings together works in an exciting variety of media – photographs, of course, but also video, digital slide projections, publications, curatorial projects and recorded music – all staged by the artist in characteristically innovative style. Alongside portraiture, landscape and intimate still lifes, Tillmans pushes the boundaries of the photographic form in abstract artworks that range from the sculptural to the immersive.

The year 2003 is the exhibition’s point of departure, representing for Tillmans the moment the world changed, with the invasion of Iraq and anti-war demonstrations. The social and political form a rich vein throughout the artist’s work. German-born, international in outlook and exhibited around the world, Tillmans spent many years in the UK and is currently based in Berlin. In 2000, he was the first photographer and first non-British artist to receive the Turner Prize.

 

Room one

Static interference typically appears on a television screen when an analogue signal is switched off. This can occur when a station’s official programme finishes for the night or if a broadcast is censored. In Tillmans’s Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast 2014 it represents the coexistence of two different generations of technology. The chaotic analogue static was displayed on a digital television, which allowed Tillmans’s high-resolution digital camera to record the pattern as it really appeared, something that would not have been possible with a traditional cathode ray tube television. This work shows Tillmans’s interest in questioning what we believe to be true: the seemingly black-and-white image turns out to be extremely colourful when viewed very close up.

Other works in this room reflect on digital printmaking and photography today. For example, the technical ability to photograph a nightscape from a moving vehicle without blurring, as in these images of Sunset Boulevard, is unprecedented. Itself the subject of many famous art photographs, this iconic roadway appears here littered with large format inkjet prints in the form of advertising billboards. In Double Exposure 2012-13 Tillmans juxtaposes images of two trade fairs – one for digital printers, the other for fruit and vegetables. Encounter 2014 shows a different photo-sensitive process. A pot had been left on top of a planter preventing light from reaching the sprouts underneath and leaving them white, while the surrounding growths that caught the daylight turned green.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I
2014
Pigmented inkjet print
107 1/2 × 161 1/2″ (273.1 × 410.2cm)
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Television white noise that the artist photographed while in Russia. For Tillmans, the image signifies resistance on his part to making clear images, but without the text its ostensibly radical nature would not be known.

 

Installation view of room 1 (detail), with 'Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I' 2014, at left

 

Installation view of room 1 (detail), with Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I, 2014, at left

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Double Exposure' 2012-13

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Double Exposure
2012-13
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room two

Tillmans spends much of his time in the studio, yet he only occasionally uses it as a set for taking portraits. Instead, it is where prints are made and exhibitions are planned in architectural models, and where he collects materials and generates ideas. Over the years this environment has become a subject for his photographs, presenting a radically different view of the artist’s studio to the more traditional depictions seen in paintings over the centuries.

These works made around the studio demonstrate Tillmans’s concern with the physical process of making photographs, from chemical darkroom processes and their potential to create abstract pictures without the camera, to digital technology that is vital to the production of contemporary images, and the paper onto which they are printed. Tillmans’s understanding of the material qualities of paper is fundamental to his work, and photographs can take on a sculptural quality in series such as Lighter, 2005-ongoing and paper drop, 2001-ongoing, seen later in the exhibition.

In CLC 800, dismantled 2011 Tillmans uses photography to record a temporary installation, the result of unfastening every single screw in his defunct colour photocopier. He prefers to photograph his three-dimensional staged scenarios rather than actually displaying them as sculptures. He has often described the core of his work as ‘translating the three dimensional world into two dimensional pictures’.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'paper drop' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
paper drop Prinzessinnenstrasse
2014
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Perhaps as a continuation of his more textural photographs – depicting fabrics and still lifes so close up they become difficult to read – experiments in abstraction followed suit, many of them featuring what is perhaps his favourite motif: the fold, which, as the exhibition’s curator Chris Dercon kindly reminded us, was considered by the philosopher Leibniz as one of the most accurate ways to depict the complexities of the human soul.

Lorena Muñoz-Alonso. “Inside Wolfgang Tillmans’s Superb Tate Modern Survey,” on the artnet website February 15, 2017 [Online] Cited 17/12/2021

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'CLC 800, dismantled' 2011

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
CLC 800, dismantled
2011
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room three

Having spent the preceding decade working largely on conceptual and abstract photographs, in 2009 Tillmans embarked on the four-year project Neue Welt. Looking at the world with fresh eyes, he aimed to depict how it has changed since he first took up the camera in 1988. He travelled to five continents to find places unknown to him and visited familiar places as if experiencing them for the first time. Interested in the surface of things as they appeared in those lucid first days of being in a new environment, he immersed himself in each location for just a brief period. Now using a high resolution digital camera, Tillmans captured images in a depth of detail that is immediately compelling, but also suggests the excess of information that is often described as a condition of contemporary life.

Communal spaces, people, animals, and still-life studies of nature or food are just some of the subjects that feature in Neue Welt. Seen together, these images offer a deliberately fragmented view. Rather than making an overarching statement about the changing character of modern life, Tillmans sought only to record, and to create a more empathetic understanding of the world. Over the course of the project, however, some shrewd observations about contemporary worldviews did emerge. One related to the changing shape of car headlights, which he noted are now very angular in shape, giving them a predatory appearance that might reflect a more competitive climate.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'astro crusto, a' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
astro crusto, a
2012
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Installation shot of room 3 from the exhibition 'Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017' at Tate Modern

 

Installation view of room 3 (detail), with Headlight (f) 2012, at left; and Munuwata sky, 2011 at right
Image © Tate Modern showing Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 at Tate Modern 15 February – 11 June

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Headlight (f)' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Headlight (f)
2012
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Munuwata sky' 2011

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Munuwata sky
2011
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room four

In the mid-2000s, prompted by global events, such as the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, Tillmans became interested in the assertions made by individuals, groups or organisations around the world that their viewpoint represented the absolute truth about a number of political and ethical questions.

He began his wryly-named truth study center project in 2005. Photographs, clippings from newspapers and magazines, objects, drawings, and copies of his own images are laid out in deliberate – and often provocative – juxtapositions. These arrangements reflect the presentation of information by news outlets in print and online. They also draw attention to gaps in knowledge, or areas where there is room for doubt. For each installation, the material presented in the truth study centers is selected according to its topical and geographic context. In 2017, the subject of truth and fake news is at the heart of political discourse across the world. This iteration of the project focuses in particular on how constructions of truth work on a psychological and physiological level.

The Silver 1998-ongoing prints connect to reality in a different way. Made by passing monochromatically exposed photographic paper through a dirty photo-developing machine, they collect particles and residue from the rollers and liquids. This makes them, in effect, a record of the chemical and mechanical process from which they originate.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'truth study center' 2017

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
truth study center
2017
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room five

Tillmans has described how, as a photographer, he feels increasingly less obligated to reflect solely on the outside world through documentary images. In his abstract works, he looks inwards: exploring the rudiments of photographic processes and their potential to be used as a form of self-expression.

Like the Silver works in the previous room, the abstract Greifbar 2014-15 images are made without a camera. Working in the darkroom, Tillmans traces light directly onto photographic paper. The vast swathes of colour are a record of the physical gestures involved in their construction, but also suggest aspects of the body such as hair, or pigmentation of the skin. This reference to the figurative is reflected in the title, which translates as ‘tangible’.

Tillmans has observed that even though these works are made by the artist’s hand, they look as though they could be ‘scientific’ evidence of natural processes. For him, this interpretation is important, because it disassociates the works from the traditional gestural technique of painting. That the image is read as a photographic record, and not the result of the artist’s brushstroke, is essential to its conceptual meaning.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Greifbar 29' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Greifbar 29
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room six

Tillmans is interested in social life in its broadest sense, encompassing our participation in society. His photographs of individuals and groups are underpinned by his conviction that we are all vulnerable, and that our well-being depends upon knowing that we are not alone in the world.

Tillmans has observed that although cultural attitudes towards race, gender and sexuality have become more open over the three decades since he began his artistic practice, there is also greater policing of nightlife, and urban social spaces are closing down. His photographs taken in clubs, for example, testify to the importance of places where people can go today to feel safe, included, and free.

This concern with freedom also extends to the ways in which people organise themselves to make their voices heard. Images of political marches and protests draw attention to the cause for which they are fighting. They also form part of a wider study of what Tillmans describes as the recent ‘re-emergence’ of activism.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The Blue Oyster Bar, Saint Petersburg' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The Blue Oyster Bar, Saint Petersburg
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'NICE HERE but ever been to KRYGYZSTAN free Gender Expression WORLDWIDE' 2006

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
NICE HERE but ever been to KRYGYZSTAN free Gender Expression WORLDWIDE
2006
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room seven

Playback Room is a space designed for listening to recorded music. The project first ran at Between Bridges, the non-profit exhibition space Tillmans opened in London in 2006 and has since transferred to Berlin. In three exhibition (‘Colourbox’, ‘American Producers’ ‘Bring Your Own’) that took place between September 2014 and February 2015, he invited visitors to come and listen to music at almost the same quality at which it was originally mastered.

Whereas live music can be enjoyed in concert halls and stadiums, and visual art can be enjoyed in museums, no comparable space exists for appreciating studio music. Musicians and producers spend months recording tracks at optimal quality, yet we often listen to the results through audio equipment and personal devices that are not fit for perfect sound reproduction. Playback Room is a response to this. An example of Tillmans’s curatorial practice, he has chosen to include it here to encourage others to think about how recorded music can be given prominence within the museum setting.

The three tracks you hear in this room are by Colourbox, an English band who were active between 1982 and 1987. Tillmans, a long-term fan of the band, chose their music for Playback Room because they never performed live, thus emphasising the importance of the studio recordings.

 

Room eight

Tillmans began experimenting with abstraction while in high school, using the powerful enlargement function of an early digital photocopier to copy and degrade his own photographs as well as those cut from newspapers. He describes the coexistence of chance and control involved in this process as an essential ingredient in most of his work.

Ever since then, he has found ways to resist the idea that the photograph is solely a direct record of reality. In 2011, this area of his practice was compiled for the first time in his book Abstract Pictures. For a special edition of 176 copies Tillmans manipulated the printing press, for example by running it without plates or pouring ink into the wrong compartments, to create random effects and overprinted pages.

Some of his abstract photographs are made with a camera and others without, through the manipulation of chemicals, light, or the paper itself. Importantly, however, Tillmans does not distinguish between the abstract and the representational. He is more interested in what they have in common. The relationship between photography, sculpture and the body, for example, is expressed in abstract photographs made by crumpling a sheet of photographic paper, but also in close-ups of draped and wrinkled clothing such as Faltenwurf (Pines) a, 2016 in Room 9.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Concorde L433-11' 1997

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Concorde L433-11
1997
Ink-jet print
Tate
© Wolfgang Tillmans, courtesy Maureen Paley, London

 

 

Room nine

Artist books, exhibition catalogues, newspaper supplements and magazine spreads, posters and leaflets are an integral part of Tillmans’s output. These various formats and the ways in which they are distributed or made visible in the public space allow him to present work and engage audiences in a completely different manner to exhibitions. For him the printed page is as valid a venue for artistic creation as the walls of a museum. Many such projects are vital platforms on which he can speak out about a political topic, or express his continued interest in subjects such as musicians, or portraiture in general.

Recently, the print layout has enabled Tillmans to share a more personal aspect of his visual archive. Originally designed as a sixty-six page spread for the Winter 2015/Spring 2016 edition of Arena Homme +, this grid of images looks back at Fragile, the name he gave as a teenager to his creative alter-ego. Spanning 1983 to 1989 – the year before he moved to England to study – the photographs and illustrations provide a sensitive insight into a formative period in Tillmans’s life, predating the time when he chose photography as his main medium of expression.

The layout is also an example of the intricate collaging technique that he has employed in printed matter since 2011, deliberately obscuring some images by overlapping others on top of them

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Faltenwurf (Pines), a' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Faltenwurf (Pines), a
2016
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Tukan' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Tukan
2010
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room ten

An acute awareness of fragility endures across Tillmans’s practice in all of its different forms. Often this is expressed in his attentiveness to textures and surfaces. Collum 2011 is taken from Central Nervous System 2008-13, a group of portraits featuring only one subject, where the focus on intimate details, such as the nape of the neck or the soft skin of the outer ear, both emphasises and celebrates the frailty of the human body.

Weed 2014, a four-metre tall photograph taken in the garden of the artist’s London home, invites us to consider the beauty and complexity of a plant usually seen as a nuisance. The dead leaf of a nearby fig tree appears as both a sculptural form and a memento mori. Dusty Vehicle 2012, photographed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, is highly specific in its depiction of texture, yet the reasons leading to this roadside arrangement remain a mystery.

The focus on a very few works in this room serves as an example of Tillmans’s varied approaches to exhibiting his prints. Though best known for installations comprising many pictures, he always places emphasis on the strength of the individual image. By pinning and taping work to the wall, as well as using frames, Tillmans draws attention to the edges of the print, encouraging the viewer to interact with the photograph as an object, rather than a conduit for an image.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Dusty Vehicle' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Dusty Vehicle
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Collum' 2011

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Collum
2011
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Weed' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Weed
2014
Photograph, inkjet print on paper
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room eleven

In this room Tillmans highlights the coexistence of the personal, private, public, and political spheres in our lives. The simultaneity of a life lived as a sexual being as well as a political being, or in Tillmans’s case as a conceptual artist as well as a visually curious individual, plays out through the installation.

The entirely white view taken from the inside of a cloud, a word charged with multiple meanings, is presented alongside the close-up and matter-of-fact view of male buttocks and testicles. Like nackt, 2 2014, the small photograph The Air Between 2016 is the result of a lifelong interest in visually describing what it feels like to live in our bodies. Here the attention lies in photographing the air, the empty space between our skin and our clothes.

In still life, Calle Real II 2013, a severed agave chunk is placed on a German newspaper article describing the online depiction of atrocities by Islamic State. The image is as startling in its depiction of the finest green hues as it is in capturing how, simultaneously, we take in world events alongside details of our personal environment.

This room, which Tillmans considers as one work or installation in its entirety, is an example of his innovative use of different photographic prints and formats to reflect upon how we experience vastly different aspects of the world at the same time.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The Air Between' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The Air Between
2016
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Still life, Calle Real II' 2013

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Still life, Calle Real II
2013
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Nackt, 2 (nude, 2)' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Nackt, 2 (nude, 2)
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room twelve

Tillmans has always been sensitive to the public side of his role as an artist, acknowledging that putting images out in the public world unavoidably places himself in the picture as well. His participation in activities such as lectures and interviews has been a platform for his voice from the beginning of his career.

Since 2014 he has also allowed performance to become a more prominent strand of his practice. Filmed in a hotel room in Los Angeles and an apartment in Tehran, Instrument 2015 is the first time that Tillmans has put himself in front of the camera for a video piece. Across a split screen, we see two separate occasions on which he has filmed himself dancing. The accompanying soundtrack was created by distorting the sound of his feet hitting the floor. In the absence of any other music, his body becomes an instrument.

On one side of the screen we see his body, on the other only his shadow. Referring to the shadow, New York Times critic Roberta Smith commented that:

“Disconcertingly, this insubstantial body is slightly out of sync with the fleshly one. It is a ghost, a shade, the specter that drives us all. The ease with which we want to believe that the two images are connected, even though they were filmed separately, might also act as a reminder to question what we assume to be true.”

 

Room thirteen

Portraiture has been central to Tillmans’s practice for three decades. For him, it is a collaborative act that he has described as ‘a good levelling instrument’. No matter who the sitter – a stranger or someone close to him, a public figure, an unknown individual, or even the artist himself – the process is characterised by the same dynamics: of vulnerability, exposure, honesty and always, to some extent, self-consciousness. Tillmans sees every portrait as resulting from the expectations and hopes of both sitter and photographer.

The portrait’s ability to highlight the relationship between appearance and identity is a recurring point of interest. In 2016, at HM Prison Reading, Tillmans took a distorted self-portrait in a damaged mirror once used by inmates. The disfigured result is the artist’s expression of the effects on the soul wrought by physical and psychological confinement and also censorship. Whoever looked into the reflective surface would gain a completely inaccurate impression of what they looked like, and how they are perceived by others.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Separate System, Reading Prison' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Separate System, Reading Prison
2016
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Anders pulling splinter from his foot' 2004

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Anders pulling splinter from his foot
2004
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

“The image’s reference to both Dorian Gray and Francis Bacon is evident. This catapults a new association: perhaps Bacon was painting Gray all along. Insistently, fearlessly, longingly.

As with much of Bacon’s oeuvre, and the very particular picture of Dorian Gray, a distorted, forward-facing male figure intimidates the viewer with his unmade face. However, Tillsman’s piece is not a picture, it is a photograph. Here, the artist (as was the case with Bacon/Wilde) is not the one dissembling what’s inside the frame, subjecting it with his brush. No. In Tillsman’s image, a piece of thick glass distorts the artist. Here, the artist is no longer the lens that is able to affect his surroundings. Here, the surroundings distort the artist.

The message Tillsman delivers is clear: things have changed. The world disfigures the subject while the artist is trapped, forced to stand there and watch.”

Text by Ana Maria Caballero on The Drugstore Notebook website [Online] Cited 07/06/2017. No longer available online

 

Room fourteen

Symbol and allegory are artistic strategies Tillmans is usually keen to avoid. The State We’re In, A 2015 is a departure from this stance: the work’s title is a direct reference to current global political tensions. Depicting the Atlantic Ocean, a vast area that crosses time zones and national frontiers, it records the sea energised by opposing forces, but not yet breaking into waves. Differing energies collide, about to erupt into conflict.

The photographs in this room deal with borders and how they seem clear-cut but are actually fluid. In these images, borders are made tangible in the vapour between clouds, the horizon itself or the folds in the two Lighter photo-objects. The shipwreck left behind by refugees on the Italian island of Lampedusa, depicted in this photograph from 2008, is a reminder that borders, represented elsewhere in more poetic delineations, can mean a question of life and death.

The text and tables sculpture Time Mirrored 3 2017 represents Tillmans’s interest in connecting the time in which we live to a broader historical context. He always understands the ‘Now’ as the history of the future. Events perceived as having happened over a vast gulf of time between us and the past, become tangible when ‘mathematically mirrored’ and connected to more recent periods of time in our living memory.

In contrast to the epic themes of sea and time, the pictures of an apple tree outside the artist’s London front door, a subject he has photographed since 2002, suggest a day-to-day positive outlook.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Italian Coastal Guard Flying Rescue Mission off Lampedusa' 2008

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Italian Coastal Guard Flying Rescue Mission off Lampedusa
2008
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Lampedusa' 2008

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Lampedusa
2008
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Installation view of room 14 (detail)

 

Installation view of room 14 (detail), featuring at left, pictures of an apple tree outside the artist’s London front door and at right, La Palma 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'La Palma' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
La Palma
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Apple tree' 2007

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Apple tree
2007
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Apple tree' Various dates

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Apple tree
Various dates
Ink-jet prints
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Book for Architects

Book for Architects 2014 is the culmination of Tillmans’s longstanding fascination with architecture. First presented at Rem Koolhaas’s 14th International Architecture Exhibition, Venice, 2013, it explores the contrast between the rationality and utopianism that inform design and the reality of how buildings and streets come to be constructed and inhabited.

In 450 images taken in 37 countries, across 5 continents, Tillmans hones in on the resourceful and ingenious ways in which people adapt their surroundings to fit their needs. These are individual and uncoordinated decisions that were not anticipated in architects’ plans, but still impact the contemporary built environment.

Across the double projection, we see examples of how buildings come to sit within a city plan, the ad-hoc ways in which they are modified, and the supposed ‘weaknesses’ of a space such as the corners where there are service doors, fire escapes, or alarm systems.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Shit buildings going up left, right and centre' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Shit buildings going up left, right and centre
2014
Book for Architects Plate 083 2014
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Untitled' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Untitled
2012
Book for Architects 2014
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

“He has said of his photographs that “they are a representation of an unprivileged gaze or view … In photography I like to assume exactly the unprivileged position, the position that everybody can take, that chooses to sit at an airplane window or chooses to climb a tower.”

.
Wolfgang Tillmans quoted in Peter Halley, Midori Matsui, Jan Verwoert, Wolfgang Tillmans, London 2002, p. 136

 

 

Wolfgang Tillmans has earned recognition as one of the most exciting and innovative artists working today. Tate Modern presents an exhibition concentrating on his production across different media since 2003. First rising to prominence in the 1990s for his photographs of everyday life and contemporary culture, Tillmans has gone on to work in an ever greater variety of media and has taken an increasingly innovative approach to staging exhibitions. Tate Modern brings this variety to the fore, offering a new focus on his photographs, video, digital slide projections, publications, curatorial projects and recorded music.

Social and political themes form a rich vein throughout Tillmans’s work. The destabilisation of the world has arisen as a recurring concern for the artist since 2003, an important year when he felt the world changed with the invasion of Iraq and anti-war demonstrations. In 2017, at a moment when the subject of truth and fake news is at the heart of political discourse, Tillmans presents a new configuration of his tabletop installation truth study center 2005-ongoing. This ongoing project uses an assembly of printed matter from pamphlets to newspaper cuttings to his own works on paper to highlight Tillmans’s continued interest in word events and how they are communicated in the media.

Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 will particularly highlight the artist’s deeper engagement with abstraction, beginning with the important work Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I 2014. Based on images the artist took of an analogue TV losing signal, this work combines two opposing technologies – the digital and the analogue. Other works such as the series Blushes 2000-ongoing, made without a camera by manipulating the effects of light directly on photographic paper, show how the artist’s work with abstraction continues to push the boundaries and definitions of the photographic form.

The exhibition includes portraiture, landscape and still lives. A nightclub scene might record the joy of a safe social space for people to be themselves, while large-scale images of the sea such as La Palma 2014 or The State We’re In, A 2015 document places where borders intersect and margins are ever shifting. At the same time, intimate portraits like Collum 2011 focus on the delicacy, fragility and beauty of the human body. In 2009, Tillmans began using digital photography and was struck by the expanded opportunities the technology offered him. He began to travel more extensively to capture images of the commonplace and the extraordinary, photographing people and places across the world for the series Neue Welt 2009 – 2012.

The importance of Tillmans’s interdisciplinary practice is showcased throughout the exhibition. His Playback Room project, first shown at his Berlin exhibition space Between Bridges, provides a space within the museum for visitors to experience popular music by Colourbox at the best possible quality. The video installation Instrument 2015 shows Tillmans dancing to a soundtrack made by manipulating the sound of his own footsteps, while in the Tanks Studio his slide projection Book for Architects 2014 is being shown for the first time in the UK. Featuring thirty-seven countries and five continents, it reveals the tension between architectural form and function. In March, Tillmans will also take over Tate Modern’s south Tank for ten days with a specially-commissioned installation featuring live music events.

Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 is co-curated by Chris Dercon and Helen Sainsbury, Head of Programme Realisation, Tate Modern with Emma Lewis, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue from Tate Publishing designed by Wolfgang Tillmans and a programme of talks and events in the gallery.

Press release from Tate Modern

 

Images from the exhibition

Installation view of the exhibition 'Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017' at Tate Modern 15 February - 11 June

 

Installation view of the exhibition Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 with at left, Sunset night drive (2014) and at centre right, Young Man, Jeddah (2012)

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Sunset night drive' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Sunset night drive
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Young Man, Jeddah' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Young Man, Jeddah
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Young Man, Jeddah (B)' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Young Man, Jeddah (B)
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) '17 Years Supply' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
17 Years Supply
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

“Now the camera is staring into a big cardboard box, half-filled with pharmacist’s tubs and packages, 17 years’ supply of antiretroviral and other medications to treat HIV/Aids. I imagine the sound that box would make if you shook it, what that sound might say about a human life, its vulnerability and value.”

Adrian Searle. “Wolfgang Tillmans review – a rollercoaster ride around the world,” on The Guardian website Wednesday 15 February 2017 [Online] Cited 17/12/2021

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Market I' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Market I
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Studio still life, c' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Studio still life, c
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Juan Pablo & Karl Chingaza' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Juan Pablo & Karl Chingaza
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Iguazu' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Iguazu
2010
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Oscar Niemeyer' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Oscar Niemeyer
2010
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Tube escalator joint' 2009

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Tube escalator joint
2009
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'JAL' 1997

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
JAL
1997
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Port-au-Prince' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Port-au-Prince
2010
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'London Olympics' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
London Olympics
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Fespa Car' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Fespa Car
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The Spectrum Dagger' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The Spectrum Dagger
2016
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Gaza Wall' 2009

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Gaza Wall
2009
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Simon, Sebastian Street' 2013

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Simon, Sebastian Street
2013
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Arms and Legs' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Arms and Legs
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Tate Modern
Bankside
London SE1 9TG
United Kingdom

Opening hours:
Sunday – Thursday 10.00 – 18.00
Friday – Saturday 10.00 – 22.00

Tate Modern website

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30
Jul
12

Artwork: ‘Transit’ series by Katrin Koenning, Melbourne

July 2012

 

Katrin Koenning. 'Untitled' from the series 'Transit' (2009 - )

 

Katrin Koenning (Australian born Germany, b. 1978)
Untitled from the series Transit
2009

 

 

Transit is a stimulating body of work by Melbourne artist Katrin Koenning that documents mostly everyday journeys. As Koenning notes, “It is concerned with the space that lies between destinations, routines and obligations – the space between distances, if you so like,” where strangers are thrown together in an intimate space. The outcome of these encounters is mainly silence. In these works photography and the depiction of the lived world becomes the primer and reference point for a mediated existence, one based on longing, desire, reverie, absent presence and the phantasies of daydreams.

Compositionally the work is strong. Koenning shows an excellent understanding of the construction of the image plane and the use of colour, light and dark complements her intellectual enquiry. This much is given: these are excellent images that immerse the viewer in a visual dreamscape. What I am more interested in here is the transitional spaces of the journey, the traces of light that reflect back to us the concerns of the photographer and the conceptual ideas upon which the work is based.

Even when people are asleep in these photographs (which they sometimes are) it is as if an internal image, a day dream, a subconscious image is projected into/onto the external world in an act of scopophilic [the desire for pleasurable looking] voyeurism. It is as though our daydreams are inscribed in a physical location and we identify with this imaginary image and take it for reality.1 “This specific joy of receiving from the external world images that are usually internal… of seeing them inscribed in a physical location… of discovering in this way something almost realisable in them”2 becomes one reality of the journey. We become possessed, possessed by the phantasies of our daydreams, possessed by desire for this imaginary image.

Paradoxically these daydreams, the longing and yearning of the inner voice for a better place to be, for a holiday, for an escape from the drudgery of everyday life (for an imaginary, hallucinatory image) promote an escapism in the traveller and the absenting of presence that can be seen on any tram or train, any day of the week in cities throughout the world. The enactment of absent presence is usually performed through technology of some kind – a book, headphones, smart phones that connect to the internet, conversation on the mobile which is mainly gossip and texting – that distract people from having a quiet mind that leads to the contemplation of Self. The fear of silence is the fear of quietening the chattering voice in your head, being afraid of what you might find. The act of non-engagement is supplemented by the necessity of avoiding eye contact with fellow travellers, of making conversation, of engaging with strangers in any meaningful way. Hence the silence of forcibly intimate spaces.

The photographs that make up the series Transit form a theatrical space, a dramatic space where the people in them are separated from the outside world, neither here nor there, present but absent at one and the same time. This ritual of (non)spectatorship begins long before we begin our journey: the preparation, leaving the house with headphones and iPod, iPad, iPhone and I. This is followed by the ritual of buying a ticket (or not), boarding the train, tram, bus, plane or car being an effective way of transforming time and space. Our practices of mobility, that is our acts of moving are constituted in our acts of staying. What we take with us (for example our passport when we go overseas), always takes our place of residing, of staying, with us. Travel becomes the enactment or enfolding of bodies that move and bodies that stay, of stability.3 As Mary Louise Pratt has observed recently, the Western subject is an autonomous being with inherent conditions attached to its body and mobility is the privileged figure of its freedom, the proof and performance of its liberated state. In the metaphor of flow there is the enactment of freedom.4 Ironically, in the flow of travel envisaged in these photographs there is a dis/placement of desire onto the object of our (non)attention: in other words if we observe the world and desire it (as in the woman looking out of the window onto the distant view of the city, below) we displace our desire onto the object of our affection. If, on the other hand, we ignore the distant vista (as in the man playing with his iPod while the world flashes past outside, below) we displace our own presence through non-attention and our desire becomes a narcissistic attraction to Self. The remainer (who remains) and the remainder (what is left) is dictated by the place and placedness of the encounter, the interdependent modalities along the points of un/freedom (displacement of desires onto other may, in fact, not be freedom at all!)

In a sense, and I use that word advisedly, these images become trans-sensual, hovering between one desirous place and the next, between one condition or possibility of becoming and another. Here I must note that I see a philosophical difference between ‘transit’ and ‘in transit’. ‘Transit’ suggests a pre-determined path between point A and point B: for example in the transit of Venus that recently took place the path that Venus would take was already mapped out, even before the event happened, even if Venus was absent. The DNA of the journey, its blueprint if you like, is already formed in the knowledge: we are going to Collins Street, Melbourne, the path immanent in the tabula rasa of the journey even before it has started. ‘In transit’ on the other hand, suggests an amorphous space that has no beginning and no end. There is no boundary that defines the journey, much as in these images “amorphous thinking in visual terms is inextricably bound up with sensation and perception. In many ways, how we think is how we see and vice versa.”5 Perhaps the series should have been called In Transit, for the images visualise a conception of boundary and form that is constantly in flux, emanating as it does from the subconscious desires of the traveller. These are scenarios for an intuitive vision of an amorphous space that image a lapse in time, where energy and information, light and shadow, harmony and form challenge an absolute identity, the pre-determined path.6

Projection of inner desires onto the actual world becomes the locality for the contemporary mythologies of values, beliefs, dreams and desires.7 In a Buddhist sense, in the longing of an individual to effect his or her liberation this flow of sense-desire must be cut completely. Instead of a desire to possess the object of their longing and then to be possessed by that desire (desire to possess / possessed by desire) we must learn, as Krishnamurti has insightfully observed, not to make images out of every word, out of every vision and desire. We must be attentive to the clarity of not making images – of desire, of prejudice, of flattery – and then we might become aware of the world that surrounds us, just for what it is and nothing more.8 Then there would be less need for the absenting of self into the technological ether or the day dreams of foreign lands or the desire for a better life.

The strength of this work is the trans-sensuality of the photographs. Their trans-sensuality initiates differently configured constructions of the world, one that will not allow the world to simply be displaced by a lack of awareness, a lack of presence in the world. The photographs physically queer the performative aspect of the actor upon the stage, allowing the viewer to understand the process that is happening within the photographs and then NOT construct alternate narratives of longing and desire if they so wish. What they do for the viewer is collapse the boundaries between the subjective and the objective, between the conscious and the subconscious, inducing in the viewer a glimpse of self-actualization,9 whereby the viewer has the ability to enjoy the experience of just being. As the viewer becomes the person in the photograph (by understanding the experience of being, not by making an image) the permeability and lack of fixity of the boundaries between self and other, between self and amorphous space, between self and the physical world becomes evident. We become aware of the suspension of time and space in these momentary, (photographic) acts of transcendence. These wonderful, never ending moments.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

July 2012

 

  1. Leonard, Richard. The Mystical Gaze of the Cinema: the Films of Peter Weir. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2009, p. 23
  2. Metz, C. Essais Sémiotiques. Paris: Klincksieck, 1977, p. 136 quoted in Leonard, Op. cit.
  3. Pratt, Mary Louise. “On Staying.” Keynote speech presented at the international conference Travel Ideals: Engaging with Spaces of Mobility. July 18th 2012 at the University of Melbourne
  4. Ibid.,
  5. Navarro, Kevin. “An Amorphous Image Process,” on Rhizome: Image Theory website. January 19th 2010 [Online] Cited 29/07/2012
  6. Ibid.,
  7. Leonard Op. cit., p. 56
  8. KrishnamurtiBeginnings of Learning. London: Penguin, 1975, p. 131
  9. “It must be noted that self-actualization is not necessarily related to vocation or career choice … From Malsow’s (Maslow, A (1970) Motivation and Personality. New York, Harper & Row) standpoint, self-actualization is not primarily concerned with results of a particular kind of activity – it is concerned with the experience of the activity itself – not the composition but the composing – not the work of art but the creative process by which it is produced – not the taste of the food, but the creativity in the cooking of it. This is not to say that the product has no importance. What Maslow is emphasizing is the fact that the self-actualized persons is fulfilling his potentiatlities in the act itself. A byproduct of this creative act is a unique outcome. He may admire the result of this process. But the enjoyment of the process itself is also extremely important. The ability to enjoy the experience of being, therefore, is one of the essential capabilities of the healthy individual.” (My italics)
    Benson, Lou. Images,Heroes and Self-Perceptions. Englewood Hills, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1974, pp. 352-354

.
Many thankx to Katrin Koenning for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All photographs Untitled from the series Transit (2009) © Katrin Koenning.

 

 

Katrin Koenning. 'Untitled' from the series 'Transit' (2009 - )

 

Katrin Koenning. 'Untitled' from the series 'Transit' (2009 - )

 

Katrin Koenning. 'Untitled' from the series 'Transit' (2009 - )

 

Katrin Koenning. 'Untitled' from the series 'Transit' (2009 - )

 

Katrin Koenning (Australian born Germany, b. 1978)
Untitled from the series Transit
2009

 

 

Transit documents people on mostly everyday journeys. It is concerned with the space that lies between between destinations, routines and obligations – the space between distances, if you so like. While I travel and observe, I write down snippets of overheard conversations. Old ladies talk about the weather, teenagers gossip, you hear laughter and bits of stories in amongst the monotonous sighing of the train or the mourning sound of an aching ship. Mostly, you hear silence – strangers are thrown together for a short while, forced to share an intimate space. They rarely talk.

Artist statement

 

Katrin Koenning. 'Untitled' from the series 'Transit' (2009 - )

 

Katrin Koenning. 'Untitled' from the series 'Transit' (2009 - )

 

Katrin Koenning. 'Untitled' from the series 'Transit' (2009 - )

 

Katrin Koenning. 'Untitled' from the series 'Transit' (2009 - )

 

Katrin Koenning. 'Untitled' from the series 'Transit' (2009 - )

 

Katrin Koenning. 'Untitled' from the series 'Transit' (2009 - )

 

Katrin Koenning. 'Untitled' from the series 'Transit' (2009 - )

 

Katrin Koenning. 'Untitled' from the series 'Transit' (2009 - )

 

Katrin Koenning (Australian born Germany, b. 1978)
Untitled from the series Transit
2009

 

 

Katrin Koenning website

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13
Jul
12

Exhibition: ‘Christer Strömholm: Les Amies de Place Blanche’ at the International Centre of Photography (ICP), New York

Exhibition dates: 18th May – 2nd September 2012

 

Christer Strömholm. 'Pepita' 1963

 

Christer Strömholm (Swedish, 1918-2002)
Pepita
1963
Gelatin silver print
© Christer Strömholm/Strömholm Estate

 

 

It was then – and still is – about obtaining the freedom to choose one’s own life and identity.

.
Christer Strömholm

 

 

These are stunning photographs; they glow with an inner light and energy. With perfect composition and use of chiaroscuro the artist let’s the women speak for themselves – confident, self assured and happy in the life they are leading. Having come out as a gay man myself in 1975, six short years after the Stonewall Riots in New York, I can attest to how difficult and how much prejudice there was against gay men in the early 1970s. Imagine then, being a transexual living in Paris in the early to mid 1960s and the issues that these woman had to deal with.

And yet there is a joyous quality to these photographs, an intimate relationship between people (not just artist and subject), a sense of fondness, friendship and fraternity. There is an intimacy here that transcends documentation. The last photograph in the posting (Gina, 1963, below) is just this wonderful, happy photograph where you just can’t help smiling yourself. There is a lightness here that is at variance with Brassai’s heavy set Parisian nights, that is more sensitive to the subject than Diane Arbus’ thrusting camera and her depiction of transexuals.

As good as the quote by Strömholm is, it is not just the freedom to choose one’s own life and identity, it is the ability to make that choice an informed choice, where you can select from a variety of things, where your preference indicates that your choice is based on one’s values or predilections. Without being informed the decision you may make is not free; if you are uninformed you may be unaware. An informed choice is based upon a clear appreciation and understanding of the facts, implications, and future consequences of any action.

Despite the prejudice and pain these woman would have suffered living an everyday life in the 1960s they have made an informed choice. These are strong, courageous woman and their friend has captured their resolve beautifully.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the International Centre of Photography for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 Christer Strömholm. "Little Christer" 1955

 

Christer Strömholm (Swedish, 1918-2002)
“Little Christer”
1955
Gelatin silver print
© Christer Strömholm/Strömholm Estate

 

Christer Strömholm. 'Belinda' 1967

 

Christer Strömholm (Swedish, 1918-2002)
Belinda
1967
Gelatin silver print
© Christer Strömholm/Strömholm Estate

 

Christer Strömholm. 'Soraya and Sonia' 1962

 

Christer Strömholm (Swedish, 1918-2002)
Soraya and Sonia
1962
Gelatin silver print
© Christer Strömholm/Strömholm Estate

 

Christer Strömholm. 'Jacky' 1961

 

Christer Strömholm (Swedish, 1918-2002)
Jacky
1961
Gelatin silver print
© Christer Strömholm/Strömholm Estate

 

 

Raising profound issues about identity, sexuality, and gender, Christer Strömholm: Les Amies de Place Blanche, on view at the International Center of Photography (1133 Avenue of the Americas at 43rd Street) May 18 – September 2, 2012, presents 40 photographs, historical publications, and ephemera documenting young transgender males in the heart of Paris’ red-light district in the 1960s.

Arriving in Paris in the late 1950s, Christer Strömholm (Stockholm, 1918-2002) settled in Place Blanche, home of the famous Moulin Rouge. There, he befriended and photographed young transsexuals – “ladies of the night” – struggling to live as women and to raise money for sex-change operations. In General Charles de Gaulle’s ultra-conservative France, transvestites were outlaws, regularly abused and arrested by the police for being “men dressed as women outside the period of carnival.” Some of these women had tragic fates. Others, like “Nana” and “Jacky,” eventually fulfilled their destiny and led happy lives as women. Living alongside them for 10 years, Strömholm photographed his subjects in their hotel rooms, in bars, and in the streets of Paris.

“These intimate portraits and Brassaï-like lush night scenes form a magnificent, dark, and moving photo album, a vibrant tribute to these girls,” said ICP Curatorial Assistant Pauline Vermare, who organised the exhibition. These photographs were first published in Sweden in 1983, and the book Vännerna från Place Blanche (“The Girlfriends of Place Blanche”) – which will be reissued this year in French and English – quickly sold out, becoming a cult classic and solidifying Strömholm as one of the great photographers of the 20th century. The work for this exhibition is provided by the Strömholm Estate in Stockholm, the Marvelli Gallery in New York, and from the collection of Alice Zimet.

As Strömholm wrote in 1983: “These are images of people whose lives I shared and whom I think I understood. These are images of women – biologically born as men – that we call ‘transsexuals.’ As for me, I call them ‘my friends of Place Blanche.’ It was then – and still is – about obtaining the freedom to choose one’s own life and identity.”

Christer Strömholm is a lesser known artist, but may well be the father figure of Scandinavian photography. A prominent artist and winner of the prestigious Hasselblad Award in 1997, he was also an influential teacher and the mentor to some of today’s leading Swedish photographers including J.H. Engström, Anders Petersen, and Lars Tunbjörk. Highly revered in his native Sweden since the 1980s, he is still little known outside of Europe. This exhibition is the first presentation of Strömholm’s work in an American museum, and features his most powerful and acclaimed body of work.

Press release from the International Centre of Photography website

 

Christer Strömholm (Swedish, 1918-2002) 'Nana' 1959

 

Christer Strömholm (Swedish, 1918-2002)
Nana
1959
Gelatin silver print
© Christer Strömholm/Strömholm Estate

 

Christer Strömholm. 'Sonia, Hôtel Pierrots' 1962

 

Christer Strömholm (Swedish, 1918-2002)
Sonia, Hôtel Pierrots
1962
Gelatin silver print
© Christer Strömholm/Strömholm Estate

 

Christer Strömholm. 'Suzannah and Sylvia' 1962

 

Christer Strömholm (Swedish, 1918-2002)
Suzannah and Sylvia
1962
Gelatin silver print
© Christer Strömholm/Strömholm Estate

 

Christer Strömholm. 'Gina' 1963

 

Christer Strömholm (Swedish, 1918-2002)
Gina
1963
Gelatin silver print
© Christer Strömholm/Strömholm Estate

 

 

International Center of Photography
1133 Avenue of the Americas at 43rd Street
New York NY 10036
Phone: 212 857 0045

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Monday 11am – 7pm
Closed Tuesdays

International Center of Photography website

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11
Sep
11

Michael Leunig. ‘Commemoration’ 2011

September 2011

 

 

Michael Leunig (Australian, b. 1945)
Commemoration
2011

 

 

“It begins with ideas. Something like September 11 demands a narrative to explain it. But narratives are tricky, and frequently self-serving. They can obscure as much as they explain. And so it was. For Western political elites, September 11 quickly became a story about our own virtue. You will be familiar with the lines: it was an attack on the very idea of freedom; we were attacked, not for anything we did, but for nothing more than who we are; because we’re – in President George Bush’s phrase “the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world.” The consequences of this are profound. If the attack has nothing to do with us, then there is nothing to be done in response except bomb the problem out of existence. It cannot be managed, contained, or in any other way ameliorated.”

.
Waleed Aly writing in The Sunday Age newspaper, September 11, 2011, p. 13

 

 

Michael Leunig on Wikipedia

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29
Jan
11

Exhibition: ‘Forced Labour. The Germans, the Forced Labourers and the War’ at the Jewish Museum, Berlin

Exhibition dates: 28th September 2010 – 30th January 2011

 

Gerhard Gronfeld (German, 1911-2000). 'Arrival at the transit camp' 1942

 

Gerhard Gronfeld (German, 1911-2000)
Arrival at the transit camp
1942

 

Female forced labourers from the Soviet Union on their arrival at the Berlin-Wilhelmshagen Transit Camp, December 1942.
Source: Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin

 

 

This is an emotional and sobering posting. The photograph of the Liberated forced laborer with tuberculosis by an unknown photographer (1945, below) is as heartbreaking as the photograph of a mother and child, Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath, Minamata (1972) by Eugene Smith. The look on the man’s face when I first saw it made me burst into tears… it is difficult to talk about it now without being overcome. An unknown man photographed by an unknown photographer.

There is something paradoxical about the solidity of the doctor’s steel helmet, his uniform and the fact he is a doctor contrasted with the strength, size and gentleness of his hand as it rests near the elbow of this emaciated man, this human … yet the intimacy and tenderness of this gesture, as the man stares straight into the camera lens – is so touching that to look at this picture, is almost unbearable. Man’s (in)humanity to man.

 

Some pertinent facts

The Germans abducted about 12 million people from almost twenty European countries; about two thirds of whom came from Eastern Europe. Many workers died as a result of their living conditions, mistreatment or were civilian casualties of the war. They received little or no compensation during or after the war … At the peak of the war, one of every five workers in the economy of the Third Reich was a forced labourer. According to Fried, in January 1944 the Third Reich was relying on 10 million forced labourers. Of these, 6.5 million were civilians within German borders, 2.2 million were prisoners of war, and 1.3 million were located at forced labor camps outside Germany’s borders. Homze reported that civilian forced labourers from other countries working within the German borders rose steeply from 300,000 in 1939 to more than 5 million in 1944.

Examples:

Russian Foreign Civilian Forced Labourers in Nazi Germany (total number approximately): 2,000,000

Russian Number of Known and Estimated Survivors Reported by Reconciliation Foundations: 334,500

(Source: Beyer, John C. and Schneider, Stephen A. “Forced Labour under Third Reich – Part 1” (pdf). Nathan Associates Inc.. 1999.)

 

Russian “volunteer” POW workers

“Between 22 June 1941 and the end of the war, roughly 5.7 million members of the Red Army fell into German hands. In January 1945, 930,000 were still in German camps. A million at most had been released, most of whom were so-called “volunteer” (Hilfswillige) for (often compulsory) auxiliary service in the Wehrmacht. Another 500,000, as estimated by the Army High Command, had either fled or been liberated. The remaining 3,300,000 (57.5 percent of the total) had perished.”

(Source: Streit, Christian. Keine Kameraden: Die Wehrmacht und die Sowjetischen Kriegsgefangenen, 1941-1945, Bonn: Dietz (3. Aufl., 1. Aufl. 1978))

The remaining 3,300,000 had perished. A sobering figure indeed (if you can even imagine such a number of human beings).

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Jewish Museum in Berlin for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photograph for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Unknown photographer. 'Liberated forced laborer with tuberculosis' 1945

 

Unknown photographer
Liberated forced laborer with tuberculosis
1945

 

 

A doctor of the U.S. Army examines a former forced labourer from Russia who was ill with tuberculosis. The Americans had discovered the sick forced labourers in a barrack yard in Dortmund. Dortmund, 30 April 1945.
Source: National Archives, Washington

 

Gerhard Gronfeld (German, 1911-2000). 'Registration at the transit camp' 1942

 

Gerhard Gronfeld (German, 1911-2000)
Registration at the transit camp
1942

 

 

Berlin-Wilhelmshagen Transit Camp, December 1942. Labour office staff registered the forced labourers and handed out employment certificates.
Source: Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin

 

Unknown photographer. 'Humiliation of Bernhard Kuhnt in Chemnitz' Nd

 

Unknown photographer
Humiliation of Bernhard Kuhnt in Chemnitz
Nd

 

 

The inscription, “Always dignified! The naval fleet’s mutineer Bernh. Kuhnt arrives at his new workplace (washing off the dirt),” refers to the myth that mutinous social democratic and communist sailors were responsible for the defeat of the German empire in the First World War.
Source: Bundesarchiv, Koblenz

 

Workbooks issued by the employment office of the German Reich for foreign forced labourers

 

Workbooks issued by the employment office of the German Reich for foreign forced labourers; Buchenwald Concentration Camp Memorial, Weimar

 

Unknown photographer. 'Selection in a Prisoner of War Camp: Recruitment for Mining' 1942

 

Unknown photographer
Selection in a Prisoner of War Camp: Recruitment for Mining
1942

 

In the summer of 1942, Soviet prisoners of war were selected from the prisoner of war camp Zeithain to perform forced labor in Belgian mines.
Source: Gedenkstätte Ehrenhain Zeithain

 

 

Selection in a Prisoner of War Camp

In the summer of 1942, Karl Schmitt – head of the Wehrmacht mining division in Liège, Belgium – went to Berlin on vacation with his wife. On the way, he visited the Zeithain prisoner of war camp in Saxony. The Soviet POWs were ordered to present themselves for inspection with the aim of deploying them to Belgian mines under German control. They were accordingly checked for physical fitness. Karl Schmitt decided who was to be transported to Belgium and who was not.

Soviet prisoners of war were frequently put to work in mines. The Reich Security Main Office had ruled that they could be employed only in work gangs kept separate from German workers. The authorities considered the mines particularly suitable in that respect.
Source: Gedenkstätte Ehrenhain Zeithain.

 

Over 20 million men, women, and children were taken to Germany and the occupied territories from all over Europe as “foreign workers,” prisoners of war, and concentration camp inmates to perform forced labor. By 1942, forced labourers were part of daily life in Nazi Germany. The deported workers from all over Europe and Eastern Europe in particular were exploited in armament factories, on building sites and farms, as craftsmen, in public institutions and private households. Be it as a soldier of the occupying army in Poland or as a farmer in Thuringia, all Germans encountered forced labourers and many profited from them. Forced labor was no secret but a largely public crime.

The exhibition Forced Labor. The Germans, the Forced Laborers, and the War on view at the Jewish Museum in Berlin provides the first comprehensive presentation of the history of forced labor and its ramifications after 1945. The exhibition was curated by the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation and initiated and sponsored by the “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future” Foundation. Federal President Christian Wulff has assumed patronage for the exhibition. The exhibition’s first venue on its international tour is the Jewish Museum Berlin, other venues are planned in European capitals and in North America.

Forced labor was without precedent in European history. No other Nazi crime involved so many people – as victims, perpetrators, or onlookers. The exhibition provides the first comprehensive presentation of the history of this ubiquitous Nazi crime and its ramifications after 1945. It shows how forced labor was part of the Nazi regime’s racist social order from the outset: The propagated “Volksgemeinschaft” (people’s community) and forced labor for the excluded belonged together. The German “Herrenmenschen” (superior race) ruthlessly exploited those they considered “Untermenschen” (subhumans). The ordinariness and the broad societal participation of forced labor reflect the racist core of Nazism.

The exhibition pays special attention to the relationships between Germans and forced labourers. Every German had to decide whether to treat forced labourers with a residual trace of humanity or with the supposedly required racist frostiness and implacability of a member of an allegedly superior race. How Germans made use of the scope this framework reveals something not only about the individuals but also about the allure and shaping power of Nazi ideology and practice. Through this perspective, the exhibition goes beyond a presentation of forced labor in the narrow sense to illustrate the extent to which Nazi values had infiltrated German society. Forced labor cannot be passed off as a mere crime of the regime but should rather be considered a crime of society.

Over 60 representative case histories form the core of the exhibition. As is true of the majority of documents on show, they resulted from meticulous investigations in Europe, the USA, and Israel. Moreover the exhibition team viewed hundreds of interviews with former forced labourers that have been carried out in recent years. In terms of content, these case histories range from the degrading work of the politically persecuted in Chemnitz through the murderous slave labor performed by Jews in occupied Poland to daily life as a forced labourer on a farm in Lower Austria.

Among the surprises of the extensive international archival research was discovering unexpectedly broad photographic coverage of significant events. The photos relating to the case histories represent the second pillar of the exhibition. Whole series of photos were traced back to their creator and the scene and people depicted. This presentation, based on well-founded sources, allows quasi dramatic insight into aspects of forced labor. Cinematically arranged photo or photo-detail enlargements form the introduction to the continued inquiry into the history of forced labor.

The exhibition is divided into four sections. The first covers the years from 1933 to 1939 and unveils in particular how the racist ideology of Nazi forced labor struck roots. What was propagated up to the beginning of WWII, partly laid down in laws and widely implemented by society in practice, formed the basis for the subsequent radicalisation of forced labor in occupied Europe culminating in extermination through labor. This escalation and radicalisation is the focus of the second section of the exhibition. The third part covers forced labor as a mass phenomenon in the Third Reich from 1941/1942, ending with the massacre of forced labourers at the end of the war. The fourth section explores the period from the time of liberation in 1945 to society’s analysis and recognition of forced labor as a crime today. Former forced labourers have the last word.

Press release from The Jewish Museum website

 

Unknown photographer. 'Daimler facility in Minsk' 1942

 

Unknown photographer
Daimler facility in Minsk
1942

 

Female forced laborers of the Daimler facility in Minsk, September 1942.
Source: Mercedes-Benz Classic, Archive, Stuttgart

 

 

Minsk: German firms in occupied Eastern Europe

In Minsk, a town which had suffered major destruction, Daimler-Benz ran a large repair facility for motorised Wehrmacht vehicles. Together, Daimler and Organisation Todt set up more than thirty repair sheds on the grounds of a ruined military base. With a workforce of five thousand, the facility was soon one of the largest enterprises in occupied Eastern Europe. The management exploited prisoners of war and members of the local population, among them Jews. Labourers were also deported from White Russian villages to the Minsk works as part of the effort to crush the partisan movement.

In the occupied areas of Eastern Europe, many German companies took advantage of the opportunity to take over local firms or establish branch operations. The unlimited availability of labourers was an important factor in their business strategies.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Foreign workers at BMW in Allach' 1943

 

Unknown photographer
Foreign workers at BMW in Allach
c. 1943

 

All the foreigners in aircraft engine production had to be visibly identifiable as such. The Soviet prisoners of war had the “SU” symbol on their jackets. Concentration camp inmates could be recognised by their striped uniforms. These photographs were most likely propaganda photos. Munich-Allach, c. 1943.
Source: BMW Group Archiv.

 

 

Munich-Allach: Working for BMW

Toward the end of the war ninety percent of the workforce at the largest aircraft engine factory in the German Reich – BMW’s plant in Munich-Allach – consisted of foreign civilian workers, POWs and concentration camp inmates. The number of workers had risen from 1,000 in 1939 to more than 17,000 in 1944.

Forced labourers worked not only in the assembly halls, but also on the factory’s expansion. Due to BMW’s importance to the armament industry, the authorities gave it priority over other companies in the assignment of workers. Nevertheless, its personnel demand was never completely met.

Some of the Western European workers lived in private quarters. For all others, barrack camps were set up all around the factory grounds until 1944, ultimately accommodating 14,000 people. That figure included several thousand concentration camp inmates which the company management had applied for already in 1942.

 

Unknown photographer. 'KZ-prisoners on the industrial union color building site, Auschwitz' c. 1943

 

Unknown photographer
KZ-prisoners on the industrial union color building site, Auschwitz
c. 1943
Source: © Bundesarchiv, Koblenz

 

Unknown photographer. 'Liberated Jewish women' 1945

 

Unknown photographer
Liberated Jewish women
1945

 

 

These young Jewish women were released from a forced labor camp at Kauritz (Saxony) by U.S. Army troops in early April, 1945. They are part of a large group removed from homes in France, Holland, Belgium and other occupied areas in Europe.
Source: National Archives, Washington

 

Unknown photographer. 'Wladyslaw Kolopoleski' Nd

 

Unknown photographer
Wladyslaw Kolopoleski
Nd

 

 

“In addition to the hard work, which exceeded my strength, I was beaten on the slightest provocation, sometimes to the point of unconsciousness. Once, for example, I suffered a severe head injury after I was beaten by Max Ewert, an SA officer. I not only lost consciousness, but I had to have head surgery,” wrote Władysław Kołopoleski, a young Pole born in Łódź in 1932. He was deployed in April 1940 on the estate of mayor Max Ewert in Gervin, now Górawino, in Pomerania.
Source: Foundation “Polish-German Reconciliation,” Warsaw

 

 

Jewish Museum Berlin
Lindenstraße 9-14, 10969 Berlin
Phone: +49 (0)30 259 93 300

Opening hours:
10am – 7pm

The Jewish Museum website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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