According to Facebook, in 2015 around three trillion photographs were taken, suggesting that more images were taken that year than in the entire history of the analogue camera business. Most of these images were distributed in social media, mostly tools of self-promotion and self-flagellation.
For the past twenty years, the work of Broomberg & Chanarin has challenged the role of photography in the digital age, the meaning of being a photographer at a time when everyone takes photographs, as well as the relevance of the archive in the configuration of our ideas about history. The results of their investigations tack politics, religion, war and history, opening the fault lines associated with such imagery, creating new formules towards an understanding of the human condition.
In Bandage the knife not the wound (which takes the name of a work by Joseph Beuys), the artists reflect on their precarious sense of place and belonging to their homeland (South Africa), to photography as medium and to each other, by turning to those images belonging to their archive that still seem relevant in today’s digital world. These include Lee Miller photographed in Hitler’s bath the day she photopraphed the dead camp; two masks from Documents, a surrealist magazine edited by Bataille; or images of the artist’s hands, their family members and from The Musée de l’Homme in Paris – images that refuse to be deleted and that resurface again and again in their exchanges.
Turning to their own archives, and embracing accidents and mishaps, Broomberg & Chanarin have produced a series of montages through a correspondance of images between both artists: a game of visual ping-pong that recalls the surrealist method exquisite corpse, where one image responds to the next. This multiple authorship translates into a trinity of two in Broomberg & Chanarin, it’s not one nor is it another, it’s a sort of third personality that dilutes the concept of author in this collaborative space. They have reproduced the results in incremental layers on the backs of unfolded cardboard boxes used for packaging photographic paper. Dissecting their images along industrial folds and perforations on this cheap, readily available material suggests something frightening about the life of images in the digital age; algorithmic, disposable and further than ever from the original.
Adam Broomberg (born 1970, Johannesburg, South Africa) and Oliver Chanarin (born 1971, London, UK) are artists living and working between London and Berlin. They are professors of photography at the Hochschule für bildende Künste (HFBK) in Hamburg and teach on the MA Photography & Society programme at The Royal Academy of Art (KABK), The Hague which they co-designed.
Together they have had numerous solo exhibitions most recently at The Centre Georges Pompidou (2018) and the Hasselblad Center (2017). Their participation in international group shows include the Yokohama Trienniale (2017), Documenta, Kassel (2017), The British Art Show 8 (2015-2017), Conflict, Time, Photography at Tate Modern (2015); Shanghai Biennale (2014); Museum of Modern Art, New York (2014); Tate Britain (2014), and the Gwanju Biennale (2012). Their work is held in major public and private collections including Pompidou, Tate, MoMA, Yale, Stedelijk, V&A, the Art Gallery of Ontario, Cleveland Museum of Art, and Baltimore Museum of Art. Major awards include the ICP Infinity Award (2014) for Holy Bible, and the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize (2013) for War Primer 2. Broomberg and Chanarin are the winners of the Arles Photo Text Award 2018 for their paper back edition of War Primer 2, published by MACK.
With special thanks to Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg/Cape Town and Lisson Gallery, London/New York.