Winner of the Third Edition of The Anamorphosis Prize 2017
Rabbits are prey.
And as such, they must live their lives in a constant state of awareness. We would do well and benefit to emulate. Most do not. Fortunately, there are those rare among us who do. By virtue of their art, they make us aware of that which others would prefer be lost, forgotten or hidden. Yoshikatsu Fujii, artist, is such an individual and his standout photobook, Hiroshima Graph – Rabbits abandon their children is his method.
The book tells the history of Okunoshima Island, near Hiroshima, through photographs both contemporary and archival, interviews, drawings and diagrams in a most original and inventive way. Today a tourist destination known as “Rabbit Island” for the endearing creatures that now abound there, during the war years it held a terrible truth. Home to a poison gas factory so secretive that the location did not even appear on maps and locals and workers alike were forbidden to speak about it, the island manufactured misery for those casualties who suffered the ghastly effects of its deadly products and those forced to manufacture them.
During the war years, rabbits served as victims to experiments testing the effects of the various poison gases. Today, the island is overrun with rabbits, who, without predators, eagerly and friendly approach and surround visitors in hope of a treat.
With his rich, engaging and beautifully crafted book, Mr. Fujii has made us aware of a story, a time, a place and those individuals who lived, suffered and endured in it in a way that only great art can. We look through his book, read, consider, reflect and ultimately learn. And in doing so, we stand in hope and empathy that those awful mistakes and horrors of Okunoshima in the recent past and their unfortunate continued threat elsewhere in the world need not ever be repeated.
2017 Jury Special Mentions
Two hands caress a black void.
Nearly touching, a strip of abandoned Soviet era buildings.
At least it looks like that.
What’s going on in this black hole, underneath these 2 floaty hands? Are these hands pulling up some mysterious enchantment?
The cover image of Austrian artist Georg Zinsler’s book The Sentinel Script is prepossessing, as if a question mark to be partly answered once you open the it and plunge yourself inwards, deeply. Here begins a photographic tale into an imagination of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster’s traces. It’s memories; no life and no future.
Page after page we’re dragged down deeper into this murkiness. Browsing through feels like balancing between the real desolated area around the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and walking along with some spurious electronic signals vibrating through our bodies, as if we are waiting for the nonappearance of electricity to return to us. Mysterious powers still vibrate and lead us to the nebulous space between our partly unknown digital existence and our more familiar grounded one. Huge forests, grey weather; walking along railroad tracks which lead us nowhere. We are pressing buttons and flipping switches which will never turn on again. Observing forgotten plants and dead animals. Watching a scared fox stuck like a glitch, as if remaining nature is now transforming into technical problems unresolved.
This book drains our brain into a fictional story, but awakens us into a further awareness of the very real, dark consequences of our never ending abusive behavior towards our planet. Us humans. Boringly repetitive in a global denial, our contemporary state of mind. Stuck in between several different dimensions, unable to escape the secret exit of our inner fears.
Amanda de la Garza Mata
Documentary in the age of the Internet
The notion of the documentary has radically changed with social media and the Internet. Self-portraits on video done with cellphones and small recording cameras fill YouTube and other platforms. The characteristic of this new form of the documentary is the will that its viewing is public, massive, anonymous, thrown into the public space of the digital. This has also radically changed the idea of cultural self-representation.
Facing these facts, what images can be produced in the photographic documentary discourse? With Melancholic Road Alnis Stalke has created an artist book that reflects the definition of the documentary in the era of Internet. Screenshots of Russian self-made videos, printed in small size—like contemporary Polaroids—depict riots, attacks, fights and other violent acts. This group of images are separated by original archival material—oil transit customs declarations found by the author in a military base on the border between Latvia and Russia, stamped and handwritten documents from the mid 90’s, just a few years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Most of the scenes selected by Stalke are related to the recorded documentation of violent events. In that sense, the historical relationship between violence and the documentary reappear. As the author says in his artist statement, there is no intention of explanation of Russian culture, but rather a look at how people build a cultural self-representation, which is not autonomous but rather influenced by other narratives that exist in the public sphere.
The cover of the book is a cardboard hard cover that resembles a government bureaucratic case file. The front has the title of the book “Melancholic Road” which might also address the idea of a national character—placed inside the Russian Federation coat of arms, a bicephalous eagle that originated in the time of the tsars.
Two levels of the documentary unfold in this book: the archival and the self-documentation. Going back to the question about what images can be produced nowadays in a documentary discourse, Stalke decided to approach it through the resignification of the existing lo-fi pixelated images that circulate in the digital world. They produce tensions that tie up economy, history, territory and culture. But this is not a general idea of the documentary or its new forms but rather a specific proposal of approaching a conflictive history; the idea of Russia and Russianness almost three decades after the fall of communism and the constant territorial and ethnic conflicts in the region that have exploded afterwards. Therefore, the definition of what Russia is in our times can not be properly considered without this context and background, including the economical materiality of the archive used in the book.
The idea behind Arango’s photobook Los Gestos Muertos is both simple and powerful. Using Internet search, newspaper clippings and other sources, she gathered an extensive database of images showing Colombian politicians discussing the peace process with Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces. Arango cropped the images focusing on hands only, removing the speakers and any emotions and intentions we might read from their facial expressions.
As a photobook Los Gestos Muertos is small and simple; its red cover stands in high contrast to the collection of full bleed black and white images inside. As we quickly flip the pages back and forth, we dive into an effluence of hands: pointing, gesturing, holding, touching, shaking. Details such as suits, ties, watches and jewelry hint that these hands have a strong connection to power. We are looking at performative act put together in a visual flow of a book format. This representation of the political moment also plays with the idea of how the negotiations were held—behind closed doors and shrouded in secrecy.
Los Gestos Muertos, with is visual humor and political context can also be seen as a sharp and witty protest photobook, delivering its message of political power and its intentions with surprising force.
John A. Phelan
A curious eros, this.
Book as sculpture. Only this time for real. A de-con-struct-ion. Heavy on the hyphens. Parts.
A welcome receptacle of grand grotesque gestures.
The first page a torn sheet of latex that flops about its silver spiral binding like some impotent flounder fish skin, a prophylactic. But against what? Itself? Things turn inward; the crab discards his shell only in search of a bigger one. Inside there is a hum. Hold this book to your ear. Hear the ocean whoosh of an artificial heart.
Consider the images:
Stretch marks, fingerprints, tongues.
Wet washcloth a blue rat, its spiky fibers fur.
A balloon knot that rises not; a concrete hand cast from a rubber glove.
Here a pipe is a pipe. That is a steel pipe, connected to a tubular sex toy, sinister. Together they make a right angle. Cardinal direction. Orifices likely and unlikely. The not so sweet imitation of life.
Nipples, sacs, sacred folds. Things that deliver. Things that take. Systems, vivisections, parts.
Parts familiar but disguised, recognizable but distorted.
Cavities, sacred caves. The velvet places imagined but not meant to be seen.
VENUS. Made from man parts and woman parts, both. Holy grotto.
Sublingual, we dose. Speak in bumpy tongues.
Flesh tones both real and manufactured sing, but off key. And the tune is pleasantly unsettling, an industrial grind atonal that hints with fey notes, but whose score, purposefully disheveled, leaves one unsure whether or not to grab a chair when the music stops. It does not. An auto loop organic of timeless skin slapping skin punctured by occasional crisp blank pages—paper squares and rectangles that fill in the mind’s eye like a palimpsest with an invisible ink, skin tattooed from the inside. Out. Sticky notes unstuck, their glue rubbed off, reused and repurposed into the artificial mucus that fill the molds that will pop out a type of mold designed to be filled. Cyclic, chemical, pining for the biological only to ultimately fall short, fail. This smear. A wet glass slide freshly prepared to be placed under the lens of the microscope, its god-like all seeing eye. These parts. These glorious messy parts.