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Indepth Arts News:

"Facts, Fictions and Stories: Two Projects by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin"
2006-11-10 until 2007-02-25
Stedelijk Museum
Amsterdam, , NL

‘Facts, Fictions and Stories’ is the first solo exhibition in The Netherlands for Adam Broomberg (South Africa, b. 1979) and Oliver Chanarin (Great Britain, b. 1971). Stedelijk Museum CS presents two impressive projects by this pair of photographers, totalling more than 70 large-format photographs. Their most recent work, ‘Chicago’ (2006), shows various aspects of the war and propaganda in Israel. The series ‘Mr. Mkhize’s Portrait’ (2004) casts a glance at South Africa ten years after the end of apartheid. The photographs (generally portraits) are combined with texts and interviews, and give us a convincing picture of the social changes and complexity of daily life in that country. Both projects are not only striking examples of photo reportage, but also make an important contribution to the discussions within documentary photography. The exhibition ‘Facts, Fictions and Stories’ opens on Thursday, November 9, at 5:00 p.m. in Stedelijk Museum CS, and runs through February 25, 2007.

In their work Broomberg and Chanarin focus attention on the processes which lie behind the creation of a photograph. For instance, among the things investigated in ‘Mr. Mkhize’s Portrait’ is the ever problematic relation between the photographer and the subject, and with ‘Chicago’ they raise the issue of the friction between reality and fantasy. The photographers first worked together in the 1990s, at the magazine COLORS, published by Benetton. As editors under Oliviero Toscani they saw hundreds of photos that passed through their hands daily, pictures in which the identity of the subject always remained unknown to them. When in 2000 they were given the opportunity to reshape the contents of the magazine, they decided to deal with this problem of representation and only publish a photograph if there had been contact with the subject. Rather than buying in photographs, they produced the photo series themselves, and travelled around the world in order to record twelve contemporary ghettos in words and pictures. This also resulted in the book Ghetto, with series shot in a high security prison in South Africa and a chic ‘gated community’ for senior citizens in the United States, among other places. The project poses interesting questions for us about the role of photography in the perception of the world, and the way in which the medium represents a topic. Both photographers have a very objective manner of recording their subjects, without inordinate aesthetic input. What makes their work so special and unique is the fact that with their photographs they stimulate us to think about questions of this sort, without giving us a ready-made answer.

The pair, now living in London, grew up in South Africa. For the photo series ‘Mr. Mkhize’s Portrait’ they returned to South Africa and recorded how life there looks for different groups in the population, ten years after apartheid. By means of impressive portraits and interviews they reveal to us the contrasts, possibilities and problems of that complex land. For example, they assemble fascinating impressions of people and their conduct at places with great political or social unrest. In doing this they not only show themselves knowledgeable about historical events, but also about developments in photography, and are able to place their own work within the photographic tradition.

At first glance the series ‘Chicago’ appears to be a photographic report on a Palestinian village destroyed by war. On closer examination however it proves to be about an Israeli military training camp where the daily practice of the Palestinian conflict is reproduced in a very realistic manner for the soldiers. Broomberg and Chanarin, both with a Jewish background, photographed Israeli sniper nests and Palestinian precision bombs camouflaged as everyday objects. They also visited Mini Israel, a gigantic scale model of the most important places in Israel, created as a tourist attraction. By placing images of this Madurodam of Israel next to photographs of real landscapes, their photographic themes come together. What is reality? What is fantasy? And how can you represent such paradoxes within a country? The Israel without the remains of bombed busses proves to be a scale model, the innocent landscapes that we see are built over the ruins of Palestinian settlements reduced to rubble by shelling.

Broomberg and Chanarin
from series 'Mr. Mkhize's Portrait', 2004

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