Throughout my photographic practice, I am constantly looking for contextual inspiration and artists to inspire me. Broomberg and Chanarin are a collective that I often revisit as I find some similarities between them the way I work, as well as admiring their photography/art/collage crossover practice as a viewer. Broomberg and Chanarin have worked together since meeting as principal photographers for Colors magazine. Their practice is a distinct mixture of art, archival experiments and photojournalism, adopting traditional photographic methods, but bringing them right up to the contemporary by applying them in a different context. The way they work is not structured, and possesses a ‘free ranging thought process’ (Williams, 2008). Their work sets out to end the idealistic view of society that documentary photography portrays. Each work addresses the world and confronts themes of histories, conflict and emotion in a very different way. Holy Bible (2013) is a violent conversation set among the pages of a Bible inspired by Brecht’s very own copy, whilst Scarti (2003) is an entirely melancholic journey into gated communities, with a sensitive approach to portrayal. I link them directly to the photo book culture that I am currently embroiled in- I own their books, have seen their books and even when I visited the Deutsche Borse Prize exhibition last year (which they won) the work was indeed- a book. Set out in many glass cabinets of the books and some selected prints, the audience was invited to see a different type of photographic work in a gallery space. Whilst in conversation with Jeffrey Ladd, Chanarin and Broomberg spoke of the resurgence in the photo book:
As collaborators, you have worked both in books and exhibitions in a certain degree of success where many of your projects work well in both forms. You have also started your own small imprint Chopped Liver Press. I was wondering if you have a preference for the intimacy of books over the public exhibitions?
The definition of ‘book’ is undergoing a radical transformation. Far from becoming obsolete, the book — particularly the photo book — is experiencing a new lease of life. They speak to us. They turn their own pages. They update themselves. They have been de-materialized. Chopped Liver Press emerged as a response to this. We make handmade books in our studio. Very limited runs. When they are gone, that’s it. ForWar Primer 2, however, we produced two versions, a handmade edition of just 100 copies that was instantly sold out, and an e-book version that was freely available and continues to be downloaded. The code that powers these digital books is limited. But there’s great potential for intimacy.
The work they have produced contains a mixture of found imagery, online imagery and their own photographs. They collage and appropriate into different materials to achieve their desired outcome. Neither one of the pair has had formal photographic training and I think this is reflected in the free, unique style their work possesses. Having been ‘trained’ in formal photographic education, this particular point interested me quite a lot. Coming through an institution with a set of ideals to what photography should look like, my style has been influenced and shaped according to this. It is only until I felt confident enough with the skills and knowledge of photography that I felt it was ok to experiment with the style in which I presented photographic work. Presenting collage of existing imagery as a medium of practice as a photographer is a grey area and difficult to pin down both for myself as an artist, and the audience member. When selecting images to use within my work I make judgements solely based on aesthetic value, I can only see the 2D image, I have no facts to work with. Chanarin addressed this issue when discussing their work, Trust (2000).
Trust contains no narrative other than the one which we impose upon it
through looking. We can imagine what the subjects are seeing, making these conclusions through studies of the faces that we see. But we have no facts.
Reinterpreting work moves it through time, with each new encounter giving it more and more meaning for both artist and audience. These fragments are often marked randomly, offering up ‘a self contained universe all of their own’ telling stories of desire, frustration or ‘thwarted communication’. Broomberg and Chanarin comment on the ‘upsetting of the archive’ but insist it is resisting the traditional categorization and sequence to which it was destined. I see the work of this collective pair as a refreshing model for contemporary photography, and view it as a model of experimentation. Using these ideas and experiments myself has helped me realise ideas and produce strong work that I am confident in and proud of. Garden Book Club (2014) is an example of experimental practice I undertook with varying success- letting myself work freely with any material and medium I wished rather than within the constraints of photographic ideals, has meant I have enjoyed the process of making as well as being satisfied with the outcome.
Williams, V. (2008). No Statistics. Netherlands Photo Museum
Ladd, J. (2013) The Holy Bible, Appropriated: An illustrated scripture by Broomberg and Chanarin. TIME Lightbox