Through Images: Photography and Memory

29 May 2016, 4:33 pm

(by Marly Porto)

In and around the 1980s, with the impact caused by the arrival of new media and possibilities of disseminating images, photography becomes insufficient to register the world. As such, the model for portraying the real is altered. The quality of evidence normally attributed to photography is subverted in view that the artist begins to question the veracity contained in each image, showing that photography is not a reality, but rather a game of cultural codes. By incorporating situations belonging to other people’s lives and situating them in an artistic context, artists such as Marcelo Brodsky explore the force that photography possesses as testimony of cultural rites and shared memories. They are images that, when transposed to a new context, vivify the past and expand the present.

The set of objects that integrates our history, the so-called biographical objects, is formed to establish our identity and relationship with the world and ends up becoming a link between the people from a given community. In many cases, this set of objects is transmitted from generation to generation. Take for example the Creencias series that Mexican artist Maruch Sántiz Gomez created by combining several forms of visual representation. Sántiz Gomez shows, through images and comments in tzotzil (Mayan language), Spanish and English, the beliefs and living conditions of her indigenous ancestors. By associating her beliefs to the images she builds, the artist takes us beyond the visual field portrayed and opens doors to a world of collective ideas and concepts that integrate the soul of nature and of objects. With this, while preserving the customs, rites and knowledge of her people for future generations, she also creates intercultural relations through images that go way beyond mere documentation.

Contemporary art is not interested anymore in producing knowledge, but rather articulating issues. Hence, the emergence of ordinary objects being used, remnants of culture being reutilized and, like bricoleurs, artists articulating these elements creating a vast network of new meanings. Contemporary artists no longer work with the desire of breaking away or transcending, but rather a desire of shifting, through collages and overlaps. With this, it is the art experience itself that is modified, as well as our parameters of perception and discourse.

The photographic series Operaciones y Ceremonias, by Paraguayan artist Fredi Casco, reveals the imaginary and cultural contexts composed of post-colonial Latin American conditions. In it, we have a coexistence of images from Italian magazine Killing and photos published in books produced by School of the Americas, which, when grouped by the artist, reveal the obscure aspect of the continent’s history – which, given its extreme violence, could easily be mistaken for a fictional story. Casco manipulates images with the intention of reflecting on the memory recollection and erasing process, making a clear allusion to the transitory nature of human existence, of nature and of history.

In using images that, one day, had the primary function of documenting, registering and marking a moment, Casco is not seeking to construct a new language for photography. However, such procedure leads to a problematization of limits that photography presents as a form of registering and preserving memory. Documental fiction – created by the artist, using photographic record as a starting point – builds itself like a plot that develops after selecting the theme and material, through the digital editing and manipulation of images. Casco deviates the main function of photography and adds to the image the unveiling of layers until then subordinated to the original materiality of the document, showing that the same story can have different narratives that go beyond the surface and appearance and hide behind their details. The iconic character of photography is put into question and suggests revisiting the photographic paradigm, making it clear that the photographic act was always subject to interferences. As much as you try to create an image that clearly defines its content, there will always be multiple forms of interpretation, not only in the way of doing so, but also in the reading exercised by different receivers.

As said by University of Paris III – Sorbonne Nouvelle professor Philippe Dubois: “A photo is only a surface, lacking in depth, but burdened with fantastic weight. A photo always hides (at least) another one, below it, behind it, around it”.1


Marly Porto is curator of the seminars The image: analytical and transdisciplinary aspects (2015) – which includes the participation of artists Fredi Casco, Marcelo Brodsky and Maruch Sántiz Gomes, as well as researchers Dario Arce, Geoffrey Kantaris and Sylvia Valdes – and of The kidnapping of images: appropriations in contemporary photography – held in 2013, with the participation of artists Oscar Muñoz, Dor Guez, Rosângela Rennó and Cássio Vasconcellos. She is also director of company Porto de Cultura and a master’s student in the Post-graduate Program in Aesthetics and Art History of Universidade de São Paulo (USP).


Note: (1) DUBOIS, Philippe. Photography mise-en-film of modern autobiographical cinema. Revista Laika, São Paulo, July 2012, p. 34.

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