June 12: What is the value of longitudinal studies using an instantaneous medium?
Two photographers with a take on the anthropological that links it to the spiritual were born on this date; Laura Pannack (*1985 London) who exhibited until last Friday as one of two Laureates in the Prix HSBC pour la Photographie at Galerie Esther Woerdehoff, Paris, and Claudia Andujar (*1931, Neuchâtel, Switzerland) who is currently exhibiting Claudia Andujar: Tomorrow must not be like yesterday until 25 June at the MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst, Domstraße 10, 60311 Frankfurt am Main. Both photographers use film.
At the suggestion of her friend Darcy Ribeiro, in 1958 Claudia Andujar visited Bananal Island, a large river island formed from the bisection of the Araguaia River, in southwestern Tocantins, Brazil, and there photographed the land of the indigenous Karajá. Some of these images were bought by Edward Steichen, then director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and then were published by Life.
Made later, through the 1970s and part of the 80s, Claudia Andujar’s photography of the Yanomami indigenous peoples in Brazil is a visual storytelling that forges the photographic fields of classic documentary photography, ethnographic photography and photojournalism into a personal response.
This combining of documentary intent with an aesthetic research produces images with strong contrasts and visual effects in which Andujar brings into dialogue the light of substance and symbolic light.
She credits the idiosyncrasy of his work to her personal history from her wartime past, a past as a minority, a refugee;
This is something that not only concerns me, but disturbs me. It’s part of my life. I very interested in the question of justice and minorities who are trying to say in the world, but if we ever face a domineering looking trim them. But there is another side, which is the aesthetic balance, present in my images. Not always the social side can join the aesthetic side. I suffer for it. When I can bring the two together, I feel relieved.
Born in Switzerland, Claudia Haas moved to the United States after losing her father and most of her Jewish relatives during World War II. In New York, she met Julio Andujar, a Spanish Civil War refugee, and they married in 1949 but separated a few months later when Julio was sent to the Korean War.
In 1955, Claudia Andujar arrived in São Paulo, where her mother lived, and as well as making and exhibiting painting, traveled around Brazil and Latin America, mainly photographing as a way to make relate to the local population, since she had not yet mastered the Portuguese language. It was this experience that drew her toward a photojournalistic career with an expressive, artistic bent.
She began to have her images published both in Brazilian journals (Quatro Rodas, Setenta, Claudia, Goodyear Brasil) and foreign (Life, Look, Fortune, IBM, USA Horizon, Aperture). In particular, her work for the Brazilian magazine Realidade throughout the years it published between 1966 and 1976, which included a story on prostitution in Sao Paulo, is notable for an aesthetic that was ahead of its time and pushed the moral boundaries.
Realidade achieved mythological status in pushing a progressive social and political agenda, but from December 1968 the military regime, decreed Institutional Act nº 5 (AI- 5), establishing press censorship in Brazil, whenceforth the magazine’s investigative approach was gagged.
To shoot her subversive Rua Direita series (1970) during the censored period of the magazine, Andujar lay in the crowded street of the same name (it translates as ‘Right Street’) in São Paulo and photographed the passers-by from below, capturing their spontaneous surprised, cool or curious expressions in an unexpected encounter with the photographer.
From the 1970s she dedicated herself to the protection of the Yanomami, who are threatened by the invasion of their living environment. Artistic practice and activist involvement became inseparably linked when Andujar lived with the Yanomami herself for several years, and when in 1978 she joined Bruce Albert and Carlo Zacquini in founding the Comissão pela Criação do Parque Yanomami in defence of the Yanomami and their living environment.
Many of her photographs are shot with a wide-angle lens, a 28mm or even 21mm and invite a sense of intimate proximity to the subjects. In several cases the image appears to be smeared at the edges; in the tropical conditions perhaps condensation has fogged the lens and in her haste she has cleaned only the centre of the front element. It is possible that this was, or had become, a deliberate technique based on experiences with water droplets and fogging.
Others use multiple exposure and flash-and-blur for expressive effect, or exploit the vignetting of deep forest surrounds and the slow shutter speeds dictated by the low light levels.
In the early 1980s, the commission initiated a vaccination campaign against Western diseases which had arrived with construction crews bulldozing the highway which invaded their territory and with the illegal goldminers, garimpeiros, who followed. Andujar took photographic portraits of the Yanomami in various villages in the Amazon region in which the tribespeople – who traditionally don’t use names and address one another by way of family relations – were given necklaces with numbers as a means of identification on their vaccination records.
It was only twenty years later, in 2006, when Andujar first showed the photographs at the São Paulo Biennale, and entitled them Marcados, that these portraits of people marked with numbers became associated with the photographer’s own memories. While she and her mother had escaped the Holocaust, all of her Jewish relatives on her father’s side were murdered in the Nazi concentration camp. As Claudia Andujar herself explained:
They were the marcados para morrer [marked to die]. What I was trying to do with the Yanomami was to mark them to live, to survive.
Andujar’s genuine connection long-term with her subjects is increasingly considered the desired model in anthropological research by those at the cutting edge of the discipline, with surveys, like that of Robert V. Kemper & Anya Peterson Royce, showing that extended time spent in the field leads to both qualitative and quantitative transformations in research.
While Laura Pannack’s work is more closely aligned to sociology than anthropology, the same equation applies; many of her projects develop over several years. In her own words, she does all she can “to understand the lives of those captured, and to present them creatively”. She firmly believes that “time, trust and understanding is the key to portraying subjects truthfully”.
Where she does not spend extended periods on some projects, she finds ways to intensify the interaction.
An example is Digital Self Esteem in which she photographed subjects in a peaceful outdoor setting. All were aged between 7 and 17 and were pictured looking at their reflection. Pannack asked them to contemplate it, to concentrate intensely and meditatively to allow their attention to flow around their features in order to take time to confront and accept their appearance. The mirror was two-way and Pannack, unseen by the subjects, took the pictures from the other side.
The strategy permits an insight into the millennial generation who embrace the trend of the selfie to the extent of being likely to each make 25,700 selfies their lifetime, and who see online popularity as a measure of self-esteem and achievement. Her project also reveals the treachery of the phone-as-mirror; the disassociation and self-doubt generated by technology despite its promise of greater connectivity, by creating a gap between the illusory virtual self and the real self.
Theirs is a life in total contrast to that of Andujar’s Yanomami who lived without mirrors and had no names.
Petre Ispirescu, collector of Romanian folk tales wrote “Youth Without Age and Life Without Death” which holds out the dream of infinite life, which would be the most precious resource a long-term research project could wish. Ispirescu’s story however reveals it is an impossibility; that realisation becomes the guiding spirit for Pannack’s exploration of Romania which, like Andujar’s Yanomami series, crosses between fantasy and reality, which are footnoted in her images with red.