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Past and present ruminations about what is and isn’t a photograph have been a source of frustration for me. For one, people can draw whatever lines they wish to determine the point at which manipulation tricks out a photograph and thus qualifies it as photo-illustration. And for another, as Errol Morris keeps banging on about, ALL photography is lies (and manipulation).

These debates are not about truth. Interventions – power relations, habit, photographic custom, complicity among subjects, props, political agendas (and framing), cropping, tweaking of exposure levels before and after development, digital alterations – mean that photography can never be, will never be truthful.

People forget that often it is the ingenious tricks that have spurred the largest wonder among viewing public – think Oscar Rejlander’s Two Ways of Life, Spirit Photography and – in a different sense – Ansel Adams’ Zone System.

It is therefore, with some relief that an artist like Azzarella comes along using photo-manipulation as the tactic and purpose for his work.

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Last week, I questioned Anton Kratochvil’s Homage to Abu Ghraib, mainly because I think it makes little contribution to the discourse on the political aesthetics of Abu Ghraib. The blurry references to torture in Kratochvil’s images are in response only to a personal, conscious and willing point of view. I understand that Kratochvil’s work was an exercise in self-therapy but that shouldn’t stop me comparing it to Azzarella’s broader concerns about more general and unconscious reactions to well-circulated images.

If I w re to wr t th s sent nce wi h lette s m ss ng, you can still read it. The human brain is a wonderful instrument drawing on past experience to quickly filter out the non-possibilities. Just as the brain instantaneously deciphers gaps in text so it does with gaps in images.

With every passing hour the Spectacle suffuses itself further. It isn’t so much us reading images but images reading us. Our involuntary responses to images are predictable, predicted, precoded. The redacted action of violence in Azzarella’s pictures plays second fiddle to the original image, for it is the original image we drooled over and devoured.

The hooded detainee, dead student, wailing child or falling soldier needn’t even be present; our internal, emotional feedback spun by these images will forever be the same. We fill in the gaps and short circuit to prescribed disgust, sadness and politics, thus confirming our prevailing bias.

Azzarella’s works expose the fraud in us all … and our cheapened, robotic response to image.

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ALL IMAGES © JOSH AZZARELLA. FROM TOP TO BOTTOM: UNTITLED #13 (AHSF); UNTITLED (SSG FREDERICK); UNTITLED #24 (GREEN GLOVES); UNTITLED #35 (CAFETERIA); UNTITLED #39 (265); UNTITLED #20 TRANG BANG; UNTITLED #43 (PAR115311).

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