CPS – ¿The Rest is History?

Research, planning tool and masterplan for Manifesta 8, Murcia and Cartagena, 2010

Stefanos Tsivopoulos

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Truth begins with an axiom of truth. It begins with a decision, a decision to say that the event
has taken place.

Alain Badiou, The Political As A Truth Procedure.

At the core of my work the following assumption exists: The way a story has documented or told is more important than the story itself. The origin of the story as a true or a not true event comes second to the story’s ability to create genuine emotions and overlook facts. For example, archives do not necessarily server as ‘representatives’ of the historical truth, but rather as another way to tell a story. However, speaking about history one speaks about memory and most significantly about the socalled collective memory. What is the role of image in this process? What is the contribution of image to our collective memory?
The indexical nature of the photographic image – and the physical imprint of the reality it conduces – has been for some time the motivation behind documenting reality by means of photography and film. Collective memory is filled with documentary media images of wars, triumphal processions, speeches, political events, all of which guide our ideas of the present and, in turn, of modern history. It was not only Roland Barthes who warned of the mere photographic trace, where meaning can be changed or even reversed through language and recontextualization. Thus the question becomes: how much content can we really obtain from an image? The familiarity of certain photographs, moving images or archives builds our sense of the present and immediate past. Photographs and moving images lay down routes of reference, and serve as totems of causes: sentiment is more likely to crystallize around a photograph than around a verbal slogan. So, which mechanisms play a role in constructing certain communicated events and their meanings? My contribution to Manifesta 8 would exactly question the image’s relationship to the formation of reality, how does it relate to ideas of truth, fact and history, and what are its possibilities for communication and representation?

CEHIFORM is a public photographic archive in Cartagena, which is the main historical and contemporary photo archive of the region of Murcia. CEHIFORM is a regional, public institution, currently hosted in a provisional location (a wing of a former hospital for children), and one of the most important photographic collections of this region the Casaú Collection. Casaú is a Cartagena photographer and the archive dates from 1915 to 1940. There are more than 7,000 negatives of different sizes, integrating content of historical and artistic value. There are also deposits of another two historical collections: Collection Fernando Navarro, a late 19th century photographer. His legacy, that leaves us with more than 2500 surviving crystals, is all an anthropological study of his time and his people. Moreover, there is the collection Martínez Blaya. This collection contains over 6,000 negatives, including images from the installation of the first oil refinery in Spain.

My project begins with the analysis and understanding of the mentioned archives. These documents will be forming a ‘script’ and used in my work as part of a new film. The production of the work utilizes a wide and diverse variety of film techniques: from challenging the documentary nature of images to reenactments based on the archives and the fusion of the historical narrative with found footage.

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The project is about a series of archive photographs from Cehiform and their relation to the economic, political, industrial past of the region of Murcia. This series of approximately 200 photographs that belong to the Casau archive, consist of images of domestic and public interiors. The photos were taken between 1910 and 1950. Interesting enough in these images there are no people, just spaces with well-arranged furniture and designed objects. These ghostly looking environments reflect a period of great wealth and culture in Cartagena. Most of the interiors are living rooms, dormitories, interior gardens, halls, offices, garages etc.  representing the life style of the bourgeoisie and the oligarchs of that times. In many cases the interiors were not used before a commissioned photographer was there to take a photo and before a priest would eulogize the place. There is an almost ritualistic approach to the way they used to capture these images. However, the sole purpose of these pictures was to reflect in full scale, the wealth and social status of the owner. They were commissioned on the premise of demonstrating the economic, political and social power to an inner circle and also to preserve the family’s values and identity. The booming of the mine industry in the late 19th and beginning of the 20th century was mainly the reason behind the exhilarating accumulation of wealth and the establishment of the bourgeoisie in the port city of Cartagena. The mine industry had produced a great amount of wealth for a limited amount of people. It also produced a history of human exploitation; it caused the exhaustion of natural resources and an environmental catastrophe that lasts to this day. What’s left of this industry is an archeology of mines.  Old construction works, small villages standing as reminders and remainders on a deserted landscape. There is a similarity with the images of the deserted interiors from the Casau archive. As if they both natural space and photographed space are reflecting the absence of people. There is a further sociopolitical, economic and even aesthetic, interrelation between the images and the natural landscape.  As if one reflects in the other a similar mechanism of exploitation put up by man. For example the exploitation of images as objects of power representation seems to be similar to the exploitation of the natural resources for the control of power. So what’s left to be seen in these ‘deserted spaces’? And are these leftovers what we call history?

If ‘the camera is the eye of History’ (Mathew Brady, photographer of the American Civil War) then the image is the object of History. So how crucial is to be aware about the nature of image to the process of acquiring the historical truth? The nature of the images from the Casau archive is not artistic, journalistic nor historical or documentary. These images are very useful as they remind us the fact that they were produced as commodities and only later preserved as historical documents. Their status as commodities is not more not less than the commodities represented within the same images. This images have been commissioned with a specific value. The image’s status as commodity transcends any other, and overtakes the image’s aura as a unique aesthetic, artistic and historic object.  Image and eventually History becomes part of commodity fetishism. (Marx, Capital 1.4) The ambiguity of these images is caught up in between the fact they were produced as commodities but at the same time they come to inform us about History and the historic truth. However, the fact that they served once, as commodities it seems to ‘corrupt’ the historical truth. Today, images like other common goods are part of the market system and have a surplus or a false value. So what is the nature of information we acquire from an image today and how do we value the objectivity or else the truth of this information? Yet the obvious question would be: is the truth that we acquire from an image relevant? Or the image has acquired such powers that can impose its own truth depending on the value that is attributed to it?

Written by cpsman8

April 7, 2010 at 11:52 am

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