Sunday, 5 July 2009

Photography and Memory (4): Jonathan Moller

This is the fourth in a series of posts on photographers whose work is concerned with issues of memory in Latin America. One could argue all photography is 'about' remembering, in that photographs show us images from the past and are so often used as part of memory work. I'm interested principally in photographic images that are more explicitly concerned with political violence in twentieth-century Latin American and its aftermath. Some of the photographers featured will lean more to the 'arty' side, others to the field of 'photojournalism'. Post one is here, post two here, post three here.

It's post four in the memory photographers series and a third photo of a photo appears. Coincidence? Well of course not; I select which images I show and I have a particular interest in photos of photos. But it's not just me. All over Latin America, and beyond, where forced disappearance was and is a method of state repression, images abound of people holding photographs of their missing relatives. Often the photographs are passport-size, made for use in identity documents and voting cards - possibly the only image the family has available. I could probably find dozens more examples, but compare this one by Vera Lentz, which I have posted before:

Another aspect that these two images have in common is their focus on hands to the exclusion of the rest of the body. This gives both a symbolic, rather than specific quality, despite the fact that the latter was made in Peru, and the former in Guatemala.

The first image here is the work of Jonathan Moller, who has photographed the people of Guatemala for his work Our Culture is our Resistance. I've mentioned before that measuring the devastation caused by a civil war is about more than sheer numbers; nevertheless, reading that "the death toll in the Guatemalan war exceeded that of El Salvador, Nicaragua, Argentina, and Chile combined" to enough to give anyone pause for thought. Moller was no casual visitor to Guatemala, but spent many years working there, including collaborating with a forensic anthropology team to document exhumations of clandestine graves. His black and white images are infused with a deep sense of sadness, even the ones which show people carrying out their everyday activities.

More of his photographs can be seen on his website, or on Zonezero, and the book is also available.

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