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The Day Nobody Died (detail), by Broomberg and Chanarin

SOURCE, the Belfast based contemporary photography magazine, has recently been considering how we can define (if at all) and think of conceptual photography.

The series WHAT IS CONCEPTUAL PHOTOGRAPHY is anchored by three well researched and neatly edited videos that canvas the opinions of artists, photographers, curators and critics.

I enjoyed learning about the work of John Hilliard in the first video. The surprise that conceptual photography – to which I will apply the adjectives non-figurative and self-referential – finds a welcome reception in art galleries and art festivals such as Documenta should be no surprise at all. People still expect representations of things in photography and as such representational photographs still dominate our visual culture, and especially our news culture.

The debate gets interesting is in the third video when it attaches itself to a specific body of work, The Day Nobody Died, by Broomberg and Chanarin.

In June of 2008, Broomberg and Chanarin traveled to Afghanistan to be embedded with British Army units on the front line in Helmand Province. Instead of making *traditional* photojournalistic images of the conflict, they rolled out seven metre sections of a roll of photographic paper and exposed it to the sun for 20 seconds. The Day Nobody Died is a refusal of photojournalism tropes and a question to audiences: what constitutes evidence in war, and in photography?

Broomberg and Chanarin make an effective challenge to the mechanisms at play in the embedding system – a system that routinely denies the public many accurate images of war, i.e. the wounded or dead soldier. Sean O’Hagan, photography critic for the Guardian, on the other hand, describes the project as an “arrogant” and “narcissistic” stunt.

Recommended viewing.


Photobloggers have come out in force to deliver their tributes to photographers doing significant work. These sprawling congrats are congealing into a tasty list of practitioners who exhibit cunning, skill, bravado and novelty in their approach and product.

Colin Pantall began all these shenanigans fresh from a summer of non-blogging and sipping fines teas. He says these photographers are leading us toward “a brave new world.”

Joerg has listed the names put forward so far:

Blake Andrews: Philip Perkis

Stan Banos: Aaron Huey, Taryn Simon, Eva Leitolf, Matt Black, Brenda Ann Keneally, James Baalog, Edward Burtynsky, Bruce Haley, Daniel Shea

Harvey Benge: Paul Graham, Jason Evans, Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, Jens Sundheim & Bernhard Reuss, Collier Schorr, Antoine d’Agata, Martha Rosler

Peter Evans: Obara Kazuma

Bryan Formhals: Asger Carlsen, Jessica Eaton, Kate Steciw, Alec Soth, Paul Kwiatkowski, Vivian Maier

Julie Grahame: Michael Massaia

Tom Griggs: Bryan Graf, Amy Elkins, Paul Graham, Abelardo Morell, Jessica Eaton

Stella Kramer: Sophia Wallace

Mark Page: Mishka Henner, Philippe Spigolon, Craig Atkinson, Stuart Griffiths, TomRS

Colin Pantall: Mishka Henner, Lauren Simonutti, Stephen Gill, Tony Fouhse, Paul Graham, Claus Stolz, Olivier Jobard and others

Christopher Paquette: Zoe Strauss, Alec Soth

Andrew Phelps: Peter Miller

Heidi Romano: Taryn Simon, Myoung Ho Lee

Joerg Colberg: Thomas Ruff, Katy Grannan, Erik Kessels, Geert van Kesteren, Christian Patterson

Some superb photographer and photomanipulators. I wholeheartedly agree with choices Broomberg & Chanarin and Geert van Kesteren who have cleverly worked with archives and cell phone wartime images respectively.

I’ve got six on my list.


I’ll be another to name Mishka Henner. I think his time has come. Bound to wind a few folk up, he at least steps forward to defend his use of satellite, GSV and Google Earth images. He’s forcing everyone past the unnecessary reverence we have for images as single art objects and imaginatively pointing out the visual cultures all around us.

Henner does not lazily appropriate and his next series (which I’ve seen snippets of on his iPhone) is a robust political critique of humans’ abuse of the environment. And then there is Photographers, a 10 minute montage looking at photographers on the silver screen. Surprising, fun, entertaining.


It might seem strange to add a well established photographer like Jim Goldberg to this list but I’m interested in his reissue of Rich and Poor with TBW Books in Oakland, CA.

I also saw Rich and Poor at Pier24 recently and was left angered and energised; the best possible reaction to art.

Jim talked about his reasons for revisiting old work including the legendary Raised By Wolves with TIME’s Lightbox this week:

“The children in Raised by Wolves were living hard lives—lives that were leading to nowhere. So now, when I reheard a recording that Brandon the intern had found in some box, and I heard the voice of, lets say, Tweeky Dave, well that added something that would extend to the viewers experience of the project.”

It’s pretty ballsy to hand over the reigns to the intern! But great product.


Alyse Emdur‘s name on the list reflects my interest in prisons, but I was impressed by her Photograph A Recruiter before she got neck deep in the visual culture of incarceration. Emdur’s correspondence with hundreds of prisoners and their donated prints reveal a specific, a widespread, but a little seen genre of vernacular American photography.

Her book is just around the corner! My interview with Alyse.


Alixandra Fazzina is one of the least self-promoting documentary photographers I know. Her work about Somali refugees A Million Shillings – Escape From Somalia is one of the best pieces of social reportage from Africa in this century and the last. And the book is beautiful.


The Instagramer. I’m being contrary with the inclusion of Peter DiCampo on this list, but he is young, using Instagram, and less well known than other famous photographers such as Kashi, Stanmeyer and Pinkhassov making images with their phones.

No need to argue anymore; cell phones allow us to share images instantly and there is an inherent worth to that. Peter DiCampo represents that seismic shift we’ve yet to get to grips with. See his Everyday Africa project.

A woman hangs laundry in Takira, Uganda on May 29, 2012. © Peter DiCampo.


Another recent discovery, Tomoko Sawada is a self portrait specialist. I spent ten minutes in front of Recruit/Grey knowing that they were all images of her but still unwilling to accept it. She’s a grand manipulator in the quietest way; a refreshing tonic to Cindy Sherman.

I greatly admire Broomberg and Chanarin‘s work and I’ve followed Massive Attack since their debut album Blue Lines. So, I was stoked to see them pair up and meditate on the tortuous capacity of sound, mix in an interview with former Gitmo prisoner and UK citizen Ruhal Ahmed, and then get Damon Albarn in on the act too.

Saturday Comes Slow was recorded at Cambridge University’s anechoic chamber (designed to create total silence). It is neither film, photography nor journalism; the video is part activism, probably art and definitely a call to thought.

It’s pretty cool that if you punch in ‘Broomberg and Chanarin‘ on Google, after their website, my commentary is next up.

I have great respect for Broomberg and Chanarin’s work.

Don’t worry, it won’t go on my resume or anything but it shows at least Google notices what I’m doing.

What would be the phrase for this faceless recognition? Googlelove > G-Love > Glove? I’m wittering.

Image: From Afterlife, an investigation and de-construction of iconic images taken in 1979 that came to define a moment  in both Iranian and photographic history. (Source)


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