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the right background: new freedoms

September 11, 2007

When in February 2003 Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, appeared at the United Nations to proclaim the start of war against Iraq, UN officials literally closed the curtains behind him to hide Guernica, Pablo Picasso’s widely known artistic interpretation of war.

Picasso Guernica

Guernica represents the devastation of the town of Guernica, Spain, which was bombed by Nazi planes in April 1937, during the Spanish Civil War. A tapestry copy has been placed in the UN building, at the entrance of the Security Council room to remind the horrors of war.”Mr. Powell can’t very well seduce the world into bombing Iraq surrounded on camera by shrieking and mutilated women, men, children, bulls and horses” wrote Maureen Dowd in New York Times (NYT, 05 Feb 2003)

If for Picasso the painting was part of fighting the reaction against the people and against freedom, the ‘new freedom‘ is to choose the right background. It is well known that the background will dramatically impact the focus and attention of your audience, but moreover could affect the intended meanings. What could be elevated into an art of itself, choosing the right background blurs the roles between subject matter and background, emphasises the external power outside the frame and creates a new, well-arranged and compact reality.

Marco Jindrich - Varšava, 1947

photo by Marco Jindrich – Varšava, 1947

The need for the choice of the right background reveals the increasing anxiety felt by those representing reality. In one way it attempts to manipulate the reflexive capacity of the audience, eliminating what is undesirable and promoting what is functional for the purposes of the creators of reality. In another way it is fueled by and feeds back the vanity of the subject. Even if sometimes we all aspire to the idea of escape, when life has surrounded us with its unbearable harshness…

portraits of taliban soldiers_Dworzak essay

The last picture above comes from a group of photos, portraits of Taliban soldiers, which were collected by Magnum photographer Dworzak during his coverage of Taliban’s fall in 2002. He bought them from local photographic shops, which were happy to give them to him. It is thought that these Taliban members left behind their more ‘creative’ photographic portraits as they were forced to flee the country. What was chosen as background for these portraits, such as western expensive villas with big gardens and other idyllic places, serves as another unwitting glimpse to our inherent contradictions.

For viewing this very interesting collection of photographs, which contradicts many of our western assumptions, and from a place/time whereby photography was semi-illegal, click this link here.

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