What Did You Just See? by Joanna Zielinska, 2011

The “innocent” act of taking photographs leads the protagonist in Antonioni’s film to discover a crime.  A random photograph of a couple kissing in a local park reveals a dead body in the bushes.  The protagonist crops and enlarges the photograph and then returns to the crime scene to see if the image accidentally recorded by his camera was true.

Blowup is a story about the perception of reality, about the significance of the visual image and about collective notions of the process of photographing.  For Antonioni, the act of taking a picture is connected with chance, lust, peeping, violence (the camera gives power) and even a peculiar sort of “blindness” – as the camera in Blowup becomes more than merely a tool in the hands of a photographer. How limited is our perception?  How far do our fantasies as to what we see go?  We build our own subjective stories around images. Does it ever happen that memories – loaned and transformed, grow to be part of collective experience?

For Déborah Farnault, photography is a semiotic “landscape” that can be changed by artistic intervention or by complex relations happening within the image.  The photographs come from very different sources.  Some of them show real-life situations snapped by the artist, others have been found in the family archive or on the Internet.  Some are thoroughly edited.  The artist deletes fragments of images, like in the piece What Bothers Me (2010), or crops and blows it up several times, attempting, like Antonioni’s protagonist, to reach the deeper layers of the image.  The pictures undergo various processes and disintegrate into pixels becoming new abstract structures in their own right, like in the works When We Talk About Love (2011), or Daddy Loves Me (2011).  The way and distance of watching a photograph may be crucial to its meaning.  The artist tests the limits of perception.  She juxtaposes private stories with anonymous memories and collective experience.  She highlights the relations present in public space and its aesthetic value, for instance, in the cycle Polling Station, Fl 10.08 #2 (2009), Nasa Space Center, Fl 10.08 #1 (2009), or “This is not a Time for Dreaming“ (2010).

Things have changed since 1966 when Antonioni made Blowup. It is only in the darkroom that his protagonist sees the dead body in the photographic film…  Offering unlimited possibilities of recording images in any circumstances, contemporary technologies have, in a sense, “degraded” the importance of the image. Everyone can be a photographer nowadays. The moment of taking a photo is more mechanical than ever, and the photographer’s decision utterly spontaneous. The photograph appears on the screen as soon as it is taken. The “alchemical” nature of photography is gone. Images become part of collective memory too easily these days. Deborah Farnault draws upon her individual experience on the one hand and, on the other, she is concerned with the image as the sign and the recording of collective experience. The artist poses the question about how we see photography in the days of excess and uncontrolled flow of images. Is it still right to talk about collective memory? After all, visual icons of the 20th century have turned to empty signs of mass culture.

Published in conjunction with a solo exhibition at Littlefield Gallery in New York

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