It’s probably necessary to let you in on my state of being before describing my reaction to the current display at The Photographers Gallery in London. Prior to my visit, I had donated my tenth pint of blood, my deca-donation if you like. This is no mean feat when you’ve spent most of your life putting a blanket ban on films that contain gore and violence and feeling faint at the mere mention of blood. On this occasion I had decided that it was finally time to look at the needle and blood bag. Unsurprisingly, this left me cold, clammy and white as a sheet with the nurses huddled around me trying to keep me from fainting. I’m sure you can then imagine my wobbly disposition when entering the The Photographers gallery shortly after.
Noémie Goudal’s top floor presence contains a collage of realities. The vast photographs, hung low to fill ones gaze, are inspired by the ‘human fascination with the sky.’ Goudal presents landscapes, interrupted by printed digital imagery, each photo contains another photo, and the execution is such that at first the placement of one image inside the other appears seamless. Upon closer inspection, the construction of the images becomes much more obvious. Goudal positions the somewhat crudely cut out photographs in front of the lens, creating a simple extra layer on top of the background landscape. She allows you to see how the image has been constructed by including the brackets and wires holding it in place, making allusions to a theatre-like stage where the intention isn’t to fein realism but to evoke a willingness to understand a new idea or narrative. Her influences described in the accompanying text are communicated in simple visual language and avoid the art world faux pas of merely illustrating a concept. This floor is an absolute treat.
Walking down to the subsequent level, my mood had been settled. Goudal’s works have a subtle, therapeutic effect and allowed my somewhat giddy mood to mellow. This next floor contained what I later found out to be the second part of Burden of Proof, an exhibition demonstrating the historical lineage of the introduction of photography and moving image into criminal investigations.
The exhibition is extensive so I’m just going to pick out a few pieces that struck chords with me. The first piece I came across was a film demonstrating how video footage can be analysed to understand, in impressive detail, the impact of a drone attack. In the case shown, forensics rely on footage filmed by a citizen in a neighbouring building to determine where the building was situated, where the drone came from and whether there were fatalities. The process is disturbingly fascinating.
Richard Helmers ‘face-skull superimpositions’, on the same floor, were realised by placing stock footage of Josef Mengele’s face over the top of images of a skeleton found in the suburbs of São Paulo. This process allowed the researchers to determine that the skeleton in question was in fact Mengele – the ‘executioner of Auschwitz.’ The images themselves reveal a disturbing dichotomy between life and death – ‘face wrapped over skull, subject over object, an image of life over an image of death.’
The star piece of the show is a short documentary film that describes the first moment moving image was used in a court room and the case in hand happened to be one of the infamous Nuremberg trials. The narrator details the build up and context of the case and demonstrates how the courtroom underwent a structural make-over in order to display the film. It then moves on to show parts of the moving image used in the trial. The footage is nothing short of harrowing and unlike most gallery housed films, where the viewers come and go, no one left the room until the credits ran. I felt glued to my seat. It is one thing to see still images from the second world war, it is quite another to see the victims of this regime walking around like living skeletons with the guards standing in stark contrast next to them.
The atrocities displayed in this exhibition feel as though they should belong in some well crafted dystopian timeline, not one that represents the true historical lineage of the relationship between image and criminal behaviour. I would highly recommend visiting, but please do so with all the blood in your body.