Broomberg and Chanarin – Afterlife

29th June 2020

Afterlife offers a re-reading of a controversial photograph taken in Iran on 6 August 1979. This remarkable image, taken just months after the revolution, records the execution of 11 blindfolded Kurdish prisoners by firing squad. The photograph captures the decisive moment the guns were fired, and was immediately reproduced in newspapers and magazines across the world. The following year it was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and for the next 30 years it’s author was simply known as “Anonymous.” Only recently has the photographer’s identity been revealed as Jahangir Razmi, a commercial studio photographer working in the suburbs of Tehran. He was located and interviewed by Joshua Prager of the Wall Street Journal.

Broomberg & Chanarin sought out Razmi, and based on their discussions and along with an examination of the neglected images on the roll of film Razmi produced that day, they present a series of collages – an iconoclastic breakdown or dissection of the original image – that interrupts our relationship as spectators to images of distant suffering.

Broomberg and Chanarin broombergchanarin.com

I have just began to research the work ‘Afterlife’ by Broomberg and Chanarin and I am already engrossed in that which I am learning, particularly because I am also reading Sonia Sontag’s ‘Regarding the Pain of Others’ at the same time.

In 1980 the winner of the photography Pulitzer Prize was Jahangir Razmi, although at the time and for thirty years after this date his identity was anonymous. The winning photograph was one image in a small series that showed 11 blindfolded Kurdish prisoners being executed by a firing squad. Razmi took multiple images of this execution from different angles and it is these images that Broomberg and Chanarin created their series of photographic collages titled ‘Afterlife’ from.

Jahangir Razmi’s prize-winning photo of a firing squad in Iran in 1979 image from The Pulitzer Prizes pulitzer.org

Few images are as stark as one of an execution. On August 27, 1979, 11 men who had been convicted of being “counterrevolutionary” by the regime of Iranian ruler Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini were lined up on a dirt field at Sanandaj Airport and gunned down side by side. No international journalists witnessed the killings. They had been banned from Iran by Khomeini, which meant it was up to the domestic press to chronicle the bloody conflict between the theocracy and the local Kurds, who had been denied representation in Khomeini’s government. The Iranian photographer Jahangir Razmi had been tipped off to the trial, and he shot two rolls of film at the executions. One image, with bodies crumpled on the ground and another man moments from joining them, was published anonymously on the front page of the Iranian daily Ettela’at. Within hours, members of the Islamic Revolutionary Council appeared at the paper’s office and demanded the photographer’s name. The editor refused. Days later, the picture was picked up by the news service UPI and trumpeted in papers around the world as evidence of the murderous nature of Khomeini’s brand of religious government. The following year, Firing Squad in Iran was awarded the Pulitzer Prize—the only anonymous winner in history. It was not until 2006 that Razmi was revealed as the photographer.

Both the artist interviewed Razmi and were able to view twenty-six other images from the 6 August 1979’s execution and from this research they produced their collage images by cutting out the figures. If you visit their website Broomberg and Chanarin and view their ‘AFTERLIFE’ series you will see their images, C-type gloss prints composed on glass and surrounded by lead as the frame.

If you look how they have reproduced them for their website, flat images, white on white but then view them from their exhibition perspective they are quite different.

If we compare the images below we are able to see that when exhibited they are lent away from the walls so that the light falling on and through the glass produces shadows on the wall behind the images. This gives the works a three-dimensional feel as though the figures are in deed solid.

Flat web images:

Three dimension shadow images ‘floating’:

From the series ‘Afterlife’ image from David Designs Stuff

If we look at the images that have the shadow and their three dimensional effect they also give a feeling of floating space, as if though their spirits are leaving their bodies.

The series ‘Afterlife’ is controversial in that Broomberg and Chanarin have re-visualised a specific moment in time that intruded on the execution, ‘the gunning down’ of 11 men. The way that they have reconstructed the images give a haunting feeling, time has stood steal for these men, they cannot escape the fate that will befall them. Then there are the silent bodies, quiet in their death, images that will forever tell their story and will forever keep the moment of their death ‘alive’ in the mind of those living.

It is not their re-working of the images and the context that they have extended but their presentation that I am particularly interested in. The use of singular objects, in this case human forms presented on glass with the use of light as an aid has really grabbed my attention. Again another presentation technique that I am eager to explore.

One last thing to make a comment on. I have been looking into their other works and I am specifically interested in their book War Primer 2.

Originally released in 2011 as a limited edition hardback, this paperback edition is a facsimile of the book which earned Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin the 2013 Deutsche Borse Photography Prize. War Primer 2 appropriates the first English-language version of Bertolt Brecht’s remarkable 1955 Kriegsfibel in which Brecht combined press photographs from the World Wars with four-line poems. Compiled intermittently over three decades, Brecht’s book was a visual and lyrical attack on war and its propagandists under modern capitalism. Shifting the critique to contemporary narratives perpetuated by the so-called ‘War on Terror’, Broomberg and Chanarin strategically overlay the pages of Brecht’s War Primer with images culled from the internet and generated by the actors, propagators and reporters of the contemporary conflict.

Underlying this junction of two visual histories is a profound skepticism of mass media images. War Primer notably drew attention to the didactic role of photojournalism that served war callous profiteers. The title deliberately recalled textbooks used to teach primary school children how to read, and the book, which used razor-sharp words to dismantle visual messages, effectively served as a manual, demonstrating how to read or translate press photographs images that Brecht referred to as hieroglyphics in need of decoding.

In War Primer 2, Brecht’s pithy poems and choice of 20th-century images bombed-out cities and battlefronts, Hitler and his henchmen, and wounded soldiers and refugees, among them take on new implications when shrewdly juxtaposed with digital images and video screenshots of the Twin Towers attacks, torture in the Abu Ghraib jail, the execution of Saddam Hussain, and George W. Bush proudly offering up a Thanksgiving Day Turkey. When the artists’ book was first published it raised pertinent questions concerning the historical, political and social currency of mass-media images generated by conflict. Now, in an age of fake news, War Primer 2 probes the power of images not only to narrate but also to create history.

Text taken from the bay seller phototitles description of book
uploaded by unobtainium photobooks, February 2015

This paperback edition is a facsimile of the book which earned Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin the 2013 Deutsche Borse Photography Prize.War Primer 2 appropriates the first English-language version of Bertolt Brecht’s remarkable 1955 Kriegsfibelin which Brecht combined press photographs from the World Wars with four-line poems. Compiled intermittently over three decades, Brechts book was a visual and lyrical attack on war and its propagandists under modern capitalism. Shifting the critique to contemporary narratives perpetuated by the so-called ‘War on Terror’, Broomberg and Chanarin strategically overlay the pages of BrechtsWar Primerwith images culled from the internet and generated by the actors, propagators and reporters of the contemporary conflict. Underlying this junction of two visual histories is a profound skepticism of mass media images.War Primernotably drew attention to the didactic role of photojournalism that served wars callous profiteers. The title deliberately recalled textbooks used to teach primary school children how to read, and the book, which used razor-sharp words to dismantle visual messages, effectively served as a manual, demonstrating how to read or translate press photographs images that Brecht referred to as hieroglyphics in need of decoding.

Text to accompany the above Youtube video by unobtainium photobooks

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