Monday, 9 January 2012

Dora Fobert

Dora Fobert, 1942, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin © Foam

Recently I helped to create the 24-hour Flickr photo installation by Erik Kessels for our exhibition, The Future of the Photography Museum. I was one of the lucky ones spreading out all the thousands of images on the floor of the museum. So I had the time to really look at lots of them and realized again that photography can be divided into a handful of popular subject matters: babies, weddings, cars, kittens and naked (or scarcely dressed) women. But these were amateur photographers. How difficult and dangerous for well-known photographers to touch upon such a cliché as naked women without becoming cheesy, or a Terry Richardson clone.

The day I decided to go treasure hunting for photo books during Paris Photo, I spent a full day at Offprint, the independent photo book fair. Immersing myself in lots of new, experimental and sometimes avant-garde printed matter, one paper struck me immediately. The publication itself resembled a newspaper, but the grayish, solarised image of a naked woman on the front was so intense yet fragile that I couldn't let go of it.

Dora Fobert, 1942, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin © Foam
It turned out to be a publication by the photographers Broomberg & Chanarin. I could have known that something strikingly different would come from this rebellious duo when they touched on the subject of naked women.  So how did they avoid the clichés? Just turn all usual conventions 180 degrees and you get the following:

- Create an unknown photographer whose work has been rediscovered recently;
- Place the work in the context of World War 2;
- Don't use necessarily beautiful and/or young women only but do use only Jewish women;
- Use solarisation which forces the reader to fill in many of the details himself;
- Print the work, not on glossy paper, but on newsprint.

The works in the publication were made for Krakow Photomonth, 2011, where Broomberg & Chanarin were invited as curators. Titled Alias, their program featured artists and writers collaborating to produce a fictional third person whose work will be exhibited in the show. The website explains the following context:

"This particular project was created around photographer Dora Fobert (1925 - 1943), Warsaw Ghetto, 1940-42. She was the assistant of Jakub Boim, official ghetto photographer and she began her own series of portraits of women in the Warsaw Ghetto shortly before being deported to Treblinka, August 1942. These photographs were saved by Adela K, a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto. They were taken in a studio in the ghetto on Chlodna Street in June 1942. Because of the limited supply of photographic chemicals, they were never properly fixed and remain unstable under natural light."

An intriguing story, right? Does it change anything about the photographic work itself? The following quote on the first page of the publication does change the images and will leave a mark on my memory:

There is in the words, 'a beautiful Jewess', a very special sexual signification…. This phrase carries an aura of rape and massacre.
Jean-Paul Sartre, Anti-Semite and Jew (1946)

Colette Olof


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