Fotograf Magazine


Something’s Happening, That’s Absolutely Clear

Society is standing at a threshold. At the threshold of what, however, is something no one knows for sure – some adhere to the technocratic interpretation of the digital revolution and its global consequences, others look for their own rendering of the situation and become aware of deeper spiritual values, and yet another group considers a combination of both or the transformation of these energies into an engaged approach and are motivated to initiate a change of the existing rules for the better. Those rules of order that are in disorder include the environmental crisis resulting from the greatly polluted state of the planet, the capitalistic exploitation of natural and human resources, military conflicts, the vehement production and promotion of weapons, the waves of human migration, the concentration of extreme wealth in the hands of a growing number of billionaires, increasing oligarchism, the disintegrating certainties of democratic organisation, authoritative regimes striving to strengthen their positions… and this is only a partial list of the current phenomena that reflect the contents of this issue.

We may find inspiration in investigative journalism, which is not only the main whistle- blower in the currently quite sorely tried democratic systems (and not only them), but is essentially the most important impulse for preserving the basic principles of political and social equality. When we were coming up with a title for this issue, a phrase, or more specifically the subtitle of Mathieu Asselin’s book Monsanto: A Photographic Investigation captured our attention. In this case, it is a very apt expression of both the results and the process used for the entire project summarising the influence of the infamous international Monsanto Corporation, whose pesticides and chemical agents increase agricultural production at the expense of devastating the soil at the global level. Monsanto is patently the bad guy on the stage that encompasses the entire planet, and even more so in the article written by Tereza Rudolf and fittingly entitled “Melon-Sized Corn, Orange Rain, and a Two-Headed Baby”. Nevertheless, in this issue we have used the word “investigation”, a term usually associated with journalism, to designate the process of systematic exploration, the search and collection of information not only for reporting purposes but also to serve as the starting point for artistic projects that seek to decipher the power tactics and suspicious activities damaging the ideals of a civil society.

Peter Fend, with his conspiracy theory based on the interpretation of the famous photo of Cindy Sherman, takes his investigation to extremes. What was originally a good joke turns bitter on the lips within the context of acquired information and becomes a sad testimony of the primordial causes of several key affairs in which the United States has been involved. With his lifelong work, but probably even more with his investigative, often collective and activist activities, Fend is an exemplary investigative utopian who uses the visual arts for his multi-layered messages. Jiří Žák speaks similarly about his own work in the interview included in the introduction of this issue, which is devoted to methods of creation and clarifies the role of research as a key component of the artistic process. The Polish visual artist Tytus Szabelski focused his attention, investigation, and personal time as an Amazon employee to take a look at the position of the company’s warehouse packers. We can partly envision the consequences that this global phenomenon is provoking based on the stereotypes associated with this type of corporate entity, but we can experience them much more deeply through Szabelski’s original visual testimony, which builds on the foundations of new factuality in combination with contemporary art forms.

As we go through our list of the most burning issues of today’s world, one of the key topics is migration, but here it is reflected in a different way than is reported by the mainstream media. In this respect, the investigative report produced by the Czech photographer Stanislav Krupař and the German journalist Wolfgang Bauer is absolutely exceptional: despite their outward appearances as white European men, they went incognito and undertook the same journey as that taken by migrants who travel from Egypt to Italy across the Mediterranean, using questionable contacts and questionable boats in order to make an undercover report from a journey many have not survived. As compared with their journalistic, albeit unique, approach, Seba Kurtis is an artist whose own personal experience with migrating from Argentina and his life in the UK both add a different interpretation and authenticity to his work than that which is seen in the aesthetic playing around with the options offered by documentary strategies. His visual stylisations are founded on immediate contact with the reality of the here and now, made under the influence of difficult external circumstances as well as with the technical errors and shortcomings associated with analogue photography.

Andrzej Steinbach introduces topics associated with the medium of photography and also with the more ambiguous identities of the participants in the artist’s fabulations. In his precisely staged scenarios, which play with the confusing individualistic components of the portrayed individuals, he asks basic questions regarding the inner construction of personal identity and external representation in society. Is the model on the cover of this issue a photographer or actually more of a model? Is he meant to represent an army officer or only a well-equipped reporter, agent, or non-profit organisation employee, or is it once again only a face used for advertising unisex sports fashion? Introducing uncertainty to roles is typical for the investigative process, when the artist’s position is not ensured by the safety of any institution and the right to information may range from satisfying no particularly conditional individual curiosity to the legal obligation to provide information.

I would like to thank all of the members of the editorial board who were willing to spend their time untangling the knots resulting from the combination of investigations, photography, and art, and, in closing, I wish to thank Pavel Baňka for initially establishing and continuing to lead this magazine to the present day, a magazine that has the luxury of being able to address the chosen topics in a grand form and at the international level. As the editors, for almost twenty years we have been systematically verifying that this vision has always had – and continues to have – a purpose. The time has come for him to transfer his role of editor-in-chief and I hope that with additional effort and the redesign planned for next year we will confirm yet again that publishing a periodical conceived in this way still has meaning.


Markéta Kinterová