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Paraphrasing the introduction to Domestic Slavery: The cold and stark photographs of ordinary-looking buildings in and around Paris by Raphael Dallaporta are combined with Ondine Millot’s texts to become chilling portraits of hidden agony. The texts describe what went on in these photographed buildings, confronting the viewer with stories of abuse and cruelty, forcing us to consider the idea that behind the façade of the ordinary can lie a discomforting reality. […] Domestic Slavery bears witness to the banality of everyday inhumanity.

Some of the stories in Domestic Slavery are harrowing, and in some cases not least because the abusers are women, or a collection of individuals from the same extended family. These are tales of evil made normal.

From Domestic Slavery:

“For four years Violette slept without a mattress on the tiled kitchen floor of an apartment in the 13th arrondissement in Paris. Her work timetable was carefully planned. In the morning, she got up at 4am to prepare breakfast for Sahondra, her employer, and her son; afterwards, she travelled into central Paris where, at 6am, she began work for a cleaning company run by Sahondra’s brother-in- law; at 10am she returned to Sahondra’s apartment where she did the housework and prepared lunch and dinner; at 4pm, she travelled to Massy-Palaiseau – about 20kms from Paris – where she cleaned the apartment of Mamy, Sahondra’s brother. When she returned to the 13th arrondissement around 10pm each day, there was more work: a pile of washing-up or ironing kept her busy until midnight, either at Sahondra’s or in her sister’s next-door apartment. For four years, during which time she was hardly fed, Violette worked 18 to 20 hours a day. She had left Madagascar aged 22 in the hope of earning enough money to feed her child, who she left behind. During the whole ordeal her four employers paid her nothing.”

“With the aid of the CCEM, the Committee Against Modern Slavery, she took her employers to court. Her case was heard in 1999 in Paris and it became the first-ever case of modern slavery dealt with in France under penal law. Her employers were ordered to pay Violette €22,900 in damages and interest; they were also fined and given suspended prison sentences.”


The type of sorrowful external view (long after the matter) employed by Dallaporta brought to mind Angela Strassheim‘s stake-out street shots of former crime-scenes for her series Evidence, of which I have written about previously. The two leave me feeling so differently however, I’d like to explore the reasons.

Both Dallaporta and Strassheim found their building-subjects due to information on public record following judicial process/trial. Neither photographer makes effort to show the architectures as extraordinary – because they are not. Yet, Dallaporta’s photography leaves me morose and confused about the human condition. I think it has something to do with closure – or lack of – in each of the projects.

Strassheim’s work leads the viewer through the crime. In the titles, she lists the weapons used. Strassheim shows us the traces of metals, that are traces of DNA, that are traces of blood, not only by being their but by using specialist forensic techniques. She literally reveals the marks of homicides.

Strassheim’s effort is two-fold in showing us the evidence but more crucially the conclusion of violence. It was bloody murder, but it was brief and it is over. Dallaporta’s works on the other hand don’t offer me an out. I am not mollified by the idea that this was a collection of one-off final acts. Often the buildings are only one of multiple sites of abuse.

I have no idea about the prevalence of domestic slavery in France, but I presume it is no different to other Western nations. If I need homicide figures I can find them, but if I want figures on illegal imprisonment and servitude I’m at a dead-end. Dallaporta’s work is an attack on our complacency.

In describing the bare details of each abuse, Dallaporta and Millot succeed in positioning domestic slavery as anywhere and everywhere; they present it as a national issue and as everyone’s problem. Domestic Slavery might just be the harshest indictment of absent community in our societies. Dallaporta’s work certainly plays on the unknown.

Inside of me, Domestic Slavery induces fear of the unknown. I can understand murder – it has been explained to me since I was a young child – but I do not understand modern slavery. Dallaporta’s work brings that to bear and, for me, that it is what makes Domestic Slavery so successful.



The Oracle gathering? An International Mob of Mystery? Well, not exactly but given that Oracle is the main meeting of the world’s most influential people in the museum/fine art photography scene it is amazing the gathering flies under the radar year on year.

I’ve done some internet sleuthing to tell you some of what you need to know about the Bilderberg of the photography world.

Okay, it might not be so cloak and dagger as I have set it up, but The Annual International Conference for Photography Curators dubbed ‘Oracle’ has no web presence and no connection to the circles outside of the attendees. This (presumably intended) detachment is – simply put – a shame. Granted, these are people predominantly involved in museum curating, but still wouldn’t it be great to know what they are talking about when they meet each November?! Museums still feed into the photography ecosystem, and often define it.

Oracle began in 1982 as an informal gathering. In 2003, Deidre Stein Greben wrote, “Attendance at Oracle […] has grown from ten to more than 100 over the last 20 years.”

With such an organically unhurried growth, why should curators care to share their dialogues? Hell, the week might be the closest thing many of them get to a holiday. Add to that the fact that there’s no external promotion or grand narratives to push, it makes sense that no-one would take on the extra workload of interfacing with the public and all that entails.

I also think of photography curators as a similar breed to university professors; the culture of research, writing and custodianship of department agendas does not dovetail with blogging the discoveries and knowledge from their daily work. (David Campbell summarises well how the reluctance of universities to adopt social networking is to their detriment.) It’s a shame. How good would a Sandra Phillips blog be?!

The 2010 Oracle is ongoing right now in Israel (Jerusalem, I think).

This is where my sleuthing gets patchy but other host institutions/cities have included; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1992); George Eastman House, Rochester (1993); Washington (1999); Finnish Museum of Photogaphy, Helsinki (2000); Goa, India (2003); Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago (2004); Artimino, Florence (2005); Prague, Czech Republic (2006); Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, AZ (2007) and Paris, France (2009).

My guess is attendance is invitation only or some approximation thereof. Just because I gleaned a smattering of names, I’ll share them. Attendees have included Britt Salvesen, Director of photography and prints at LACMA; Doug Nickel, Professor of Photographic History at Brown University; Sunil Gupta, Artist, photographer, curator and educator; Allison Nordstrom, Curator of photography at George Eastman House; David E. Haberstich, Associate Curator of Photographs at the Smithsonian; Celina Lunsford, Director of the Fotografie Forum Frankfurt; Olivia Lahs-Gonzales, Director of the Sheldon Art Galleries in St. Louis; Dr Sara Frances Stevenson, Chief Curator of the Scottish National Photography Collection, National Galleries of Scotland (retired); Mary Panzer, freelance writer & curator of photography & American culture; Ms. Agne Narusyte, Curator, Vilnius Art Museum Photographic Collection, Vilnius, Lithuania; Shelly Rice, Professor of Arts at NYU Tisch School of Arts; Enrica Viganò, curator and fine art photography critic; Duan Yuting, founder of the Lianzhou International Photo Festival; Mark Haworth-Booth, Head of Photographs, Victoria & Albert Museum; Anne Wilkes Tucker, photography curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Sandra S. Phillips, Senior Curator of Photography at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Quite the list. And I can think of many other photography curators who presumably would attend (Rod Slemmons, Anthony Bannon, Brian Wallis, Charlotte Cotton, Malcolm Daniel?) Who knows?

It’s not a totally closed shop though. Despite the 2006 shuttering of the Oracle listserv, some plucky “Independents” have set up a NING type forum, Oracle Independents. It is sporadically updated with links to articles and events about historically significant photography. Currently there are 40 members, some names recognisable. But this doesn’t get us to the meat of those dialogues currently ongoing in Jerusalem.

Last thing to say, is that the museum world is separate from the worlds of gallery, photojournalist, fine art, auction house, social documentary, magazine, fashion and art-school photographies. Even if we did have a line in on the world’s leading curators’ discussions, the information may have no bearing on our aims, art or careers. Heck, we might not even be interested. But it’d be nice wouldn’t it?

Not wanting to be pessimistic, but unable to help myself, consider this quote from Marvin Heiferman, freelance author, editor and curator and “champion of the blue-collar nature of the silent majority of photographs.” Bear in mind he’s talking about very early Oracle, but nonetheless, the quote highlights potential disconnects between different orbits of the photography world.

“When I started looking at this new [Postmodern] work, I loved its nonchalance, intelligence and cheekiness, the fact that it was interested in both seeing and seeing through images. The photo world, though, wasn’t as amused, and didn’t have a clue what the small group of us was getting so jazzed up about. Toward the end of my stint at Castelli in the early 1980s—and then when I went off on my own to work with photographers and artists and produce exhibitions—I attended some of the early annual meetings of Oracle. This was a conference of photography curators from around the world who gathered together supposedly to talk about the future of the field, and was funded by Sam Yanes at the Polaroid Corporation. Polaroid supported a lot of progressive photographic projects in the 1970s and ’80s. It was, to say the least, disappointing to me that most of the attendees were more excited to fuss over 19th- and 20th-century work and issues of preservation and storage. But there were a handful of us—including Andy Grundberg, who was writing for the New York Times, and Jeff Hoone from Syracuse—who did our best to raise interest in the new work we were so excited by. No one seemed to care.” (Source)

Alphonse Bertillon was born on April 24th, 1853. I call him “The Godfather of all things Criminally Photographic”.

Bertillon was the French criminologist and anthropologist who created the first system of physical measurements, photography, and record-keeping that police could use to identify recidivist criminals. Before Bertillon, suspects could only be identified through eyewitness accounts and unorganized files of photographs.

In 1883, the Parisian police adopted his anthropometric system, called signaletics or bertillonage. Bertillon identified individuals by measurements of the head and body, shape formations of the ear, eyebrow, mouth, eye, etc., individual markings such as tattoos and scars, and personality characteristics.

The measurements were made into a formula that referred to a single unique individual, and recorded onto cards which also bore a photographic frontal and profile portrait of the suspect – the “mug shot”. The cards were then systematically filed and cross-indexed, so they could be easily retrieved. In 1884, Bertillon used his method to identify 241 multiple offenders, and after this demonstration, bertillonage was adopted by police forces in Great Britain, Europe, and the Americas.

One of Bertillon’s most important contributions to forensics was the systematic use of photography to document crime scenes and evidence. He devised a method of photographing crime scenes with a camera mounted on a high tripod, to document and survey the scene before it was disturbed by investigators. He also developed “metric photography“, which used measured grids to document the dimensions of a particular space and the objects in it.


Anthropometric photography of a convict at his arrival in prison. Basse Normandie. Calvados. Caen. Prison. 1976. Photo: Jean Gaumy / Magnum Photos

You should know by now that I am obsessed with the l’Impossible Photographie exhibition in Paris (here, here, here and here).

There is a paucity of information about the full line-up of photographers in the show, compounded by very few online  images of those we do know about.

Brendan Seibel, the author of this review, and I have been exchanging emails and he has been filling me in.

First of all, many of the photographs from contemporary shooters had faces intentionally covered. This is due to French privacy laws.

There were shots of juvenile detention for which the photographer intentionally obscured faces through shutter drag or by means of scratched glass or the people covering their faces.

Other photographers shooting adults had either empty rooms, shots of people from behind, or the photos were displayed with marking tape covering the faces. Marc Feustel of Eye Curious thought it was funny, or interesting at least- I found it pretty inexcusable, particularly given the subject matter of the exhibition. Impossible Photography indeed.

I am gobsmacked! I asked Brendan to clarify. He did:

When I say tape on the pictures I mean the glass pane, not the prints themselves. Which is why I assume there’s some gallery work behind this manner of obstruction.

What!? Art-handlers and/or curators took the decision to use gaffer tape to make anonymous the portrait sitters!? Why bother using the photographs at all if you plan to deface them?

To apply tape after the fact is either a fantastic dada-turn (by artist, curator or the two in partnership) or it is the most ham-fisted exhibiting practice in recent history.

You might as well stop caring which way is UP^. What would the Art Handling Olympians say?

The three images above are not prints from the show.

They are illustrations I put together in my front room using a pane of glass, some gaffer tape and three portraits from Luigi Gariglio’s excellent book Portraits in Prisons.

Gariglio was not in the l’Impossible Photographie show.

Last month, I gave a tip of the hat to Melinda Hawtin’s graduate work. Thereafter, Melinda’s graduate advisor Amanda Crawley Jackson dropped me a line to tell me about the exhibition L’IMPOSSIBLE PHOTOGRAPHIE, Prisons Parisiennes (1851-2010) at the Musee Carnavalet in Paris early next year. (Details via Google translate)

I have already enlisted a reporter in the field to visit and review the exhibition for Prison Photography, so there’s something to look forward to in the new year.

Amanda also pointed out the collection of over 2,500 photographs by Henri Manuel archived at the National Museum of Prisons, France.

Between 1929 and 1931, the Henri Manuel studio documented prisons and juvenile institutions for the Ministry of Justice.

Manuel’s photographic survey is characterised by its scope, its exhaustiveness and its will to show that prison is not merely a place of detention and punishment but education and work also.

The survey resulted in craftsman-made albums for each prison, and several photographs were published in the press or distributed as postcards.

However, no records exist so exact reasons for the contract such as who ordered the work (and for what purpose) remain unknown. (Source)

Some of Manuel’s photographs blow my mind.

© Rana Javadi

© Rana Javadi. (This image is not in the show, but the artist is.)

Photoquai‘s mission : to highlight and make known, artists whose work is previously unexhibited or little known in Europe, to foster exchanges and the exchanging of views on the world.

The 2009 Photoquai biennial is directed by Anahita Ghabaian Etehadieh, an Iranian gallerist and founder of the Silk Road Gallery, Tehran – the only space in Iran dedicated to exhibiting photography.

Photoquai shows the work of 50 contemporary photographers from around the world, unknown or little known photographic talents in European terms, who come from Latin America, North America, Asia, Oceania, Africa and the Near and Middle East.

© Nomusa Makhubu

© Nomusa Makhubu

Presumably, Photoquai will propel debates about diversity and representation. I desperately wanted to write something important about Photoquai.

It is a photo-festival hell-bent on avoiding the usual names and well-worn paths of sight and (re)appreciation. But …

As part of my due diligence (sat on my arse, browsing the web, dipping into sources) I was stopped in my tracks by Colin Pantall’s “rant”:

Even 10 years ago, if you wanted to see somebody’s work, you had to buy the book or look in a magazine – which made buying a book or looking in a magazine that much more exciting and attractive. Now you just link to it and see it twittered and facebooked and blogged in a random stream of pictures that you have neither the time nor the will to linger on or contemplate. You can pretend viewing pictures like this is worthwhile in some way, but it’s not and it doesn’t allow for intelligent comment or insight to appear.

The idle, rapid-fire online viewing of photography has it’s knock on effects to writing about photography. Both are debased. I am as guilty as the next person.

So why should you listen to my opinion when I’ve not left my desk in the hour since I became aware of PhotoQuai? Read the following reviews from people who actually went and stood in front of the prints.

Jon Levy of Foto8 gives a pretty anemic description of his preview tour, but is ultimately thankful that new events are still blossoming despite the “undoubtedly harsh” climate for photojournalism.

Diane Smyth at 1854, the BJP blog, first has an overview of Photoquai. Smyth then provides a description of an “unusual exhibition in the Pavillon des Sessions at the Louvre. Portrait croises pairs a selection of 40 images from the Musee du Quai Branly’s extensive archive with indigenous sculptures and artworks from around the world.” Personally, the curatorial premise of this exhibit seems problematic – mainly because the pairings would seem to devalue the original meanings and conditions of production, if not strip them completely.

Marc Feustel of eyecurious loved the ambition but was “pretty disappointed” by the quality throughout. He felt guilty for criticising a small, brave, new-festival-on-the-block but couldn’t forgive the “photographers who should be tried for Photoshop crimes against photography.”

If you look through Jim Casper’s LensCulture gallery, you’ll sympathise with Feustel’s point.

© Daniela Edburg

© Daniela Edburg

© Nadiah Bamadhaj

© Nadiah Bamadhaj


Iranian photography gets special attention on the 30 year anniversary of the revolution, and the approximate 20 year anniversary of the end of the Iran/Iraq war.

Afghanistan photography inevitably remains within the implications of its ban during Taliban rule.

Only a few well-known names are knocking about, noticeably Abbas Kowsari.

Pablo Hare is the darling so far.

© Pablo Hare

© Pablo Hare


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