BROOMBERG & CHANARIN
March 11th through April 10th, 2011
With this first solo show in Germany consecrated to these young globetrotters, the Karsten Greve Gallery
reiterates its collaboration with the photographers that were already presented in the group show
EChO Wanted in 2008 and in a solo show last year in the Karsten Greve Gallery in Paris. Broomberg
and Chanarin have been collaborating for over a decade. This show permits to highlight the unique photographic
approach by Broomberg & Chanarin.
Conceived in 2005, “The Red House” series feature photographs of graffiti made by Kurd prisoners on
the walls of their cells hidden in the headquarters of Saddam Hussein’s party and discovered only in
1991 when the site had been abandoned. These intense images capture the isolated details as well as the
creativity of the prisoners living in the solitude, fear, endless boredom and supreme horror of incarceration.
In spite of the grim context, the walls tell various stories through figurative and abstract inscriptions
and drawings. Like much of their work, “The Red House” is concerned with the gathering of visual
data relating to matters of human behaviour, often in place of political tension as a form of “conceptual
ethnography” (David Company 2006). The camera is used to isolate these things, to cut them out
for interpretation and reflection.
In June 2008, during a trip to Afghanistan, Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin realised the series
“The Day Nobody Died”. Embedded with British Army units on the front line in Helmand Province,
they took along in a simple cardboard box a roll of photographic paper 50 meters long and 76,2 cm
wide. They arrived during the deadliest month of the war, on the first day of their visit they witnessed
several executions; a person from BBC was dragged from his car and executed, nine Afghan soldiers
were killed in a suicide attack. The following day, three British soldiers died, pushing the number of
British combat fatalities to 100. Casualties continued until the fifth day when nobody died.
In response to each of these events, and also to a series of more mundane moments, such as a visit to the
troops by the Duke of York and a press conference, all events a photographer would record, Broomberg
& Chanarin instead unrolled a six-meter section of the paper and exposed it to the sun for 20 seconds.
They obtained peculiar abstract forms and patterns with tones of black, white and different colours, all
modulated by the heat and the light. Instead of a conventional photographic language the photographers
invite the viewer to question his relationship with the representation of violence and the real nature of
the relationship between culture, politics and morality.
Broomberg & Chanarin’s work is in opposition with the traditional role of photographer as a professional
witness that serves in a way as a moral intermediary for the viewer who stays comfortably at
home. In the series The Day Nobody Died this position is strengthened to the extreme. It consists of
radically non-figurative, unique, action-photographs, offering a profound critique of conflict photography
in the age of embedded journalism.
Working in tandem with this deliberate evacuation of content, are the circumstances of the works’ production,
which amount to an absurd performance in which the British Army, unsuspectingly, played the
lead role. Co-opted by the artists into transporting the box of photographic paper from London to Helmand,
these soldiers helped in transporting the box from one military base to another, on Hercules and
Chinooks, on buses, tanks, and jeeps. In this performance, presented as a film - also on view in the exhibition
– the box becomes an absurd, subversive object.
In “Afterlife”, Broomberg & Chanarin dissect the controversial photograph taken in Iran in 1979 by
Jahangir Razmi some weeks after the revolution. This photograph that shows the execution of a group
of Kurdish prisoners has been widely reproduced in the press and it was awarded the prestigious Pulitzer
Price. Based on numerous discussions with Razmi to understand the chain of events, and on the
examination of the images produced that day, Broomberg & Chanarin realised their own version in using
the technique of collage. They disrupt normal spatial and temporal aspects of Razmi’s photographs,
presenting a mechanical break-down of the image, an autopsy that challenges our understanding of the
event and our relationship to images of trauma.
In 2009 they produced a series untitled “American Landscapes”. Taken in commercial photography
studios across the USA, they show studio interiors - combinations of surfaces, walls, floors, ceilings and
cycloramas – neutral backdrops used in the photography to isolate an object – that become in this case
the topic itself of the photograph. As in the previous series, Broomberg & Chanarin, refer to events outside
the area of the photograph and capture the traces of past moments confronting us with an open expanse
rich with possibilities.
All these different projects refer to non represented events and explore the question of abstraction in
photography, placing the form before the content and the background before the foreground.
Broomberg and Chanarin live and work in London. They regularly teach workshops and give master
classes in photography, as well as lecturing on the MA in Documentary Photography at LCC and they
are trustees of the Photographers’ Gallery and Photoworks in the UK. For their work they received numerous
awards, including the Vic Odden Award from the Royal Photographic Society. Their work has
been shown in several international Solo- and Groupexhibitions and they published seven ambitious
photo books in renowned publishing companies e.g. Steidl Verlag. In February 2011 their new book
“People in trouble laughing pushed to the ground” was published by MACKbooks in London.
For further information or images please contact the gallery: firstname.lastname@example.org