1. Unfinished Father by Erik Kessels, published by RVB is a personal book about his father’s ‘hobby’. A beautiful theme, a graceful way of parting, by way of experiencing his meticulous proceedings, by feeling and smelling the environment, the tools and objects, and roaming the workshop. Erik’s father suffered a stroke and left his work in progress: restoring a Fiat 500, ‘a vero Topolino’, unfinished. The reflection on and dedication to the project and the olds mobile itself were meticulously exhibited in Reggio Emilia last summer.

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2. Find a Fallen Star by Regine Petersen, is published by KHERER Verlag. This is how the conversation with Regine starts:

I have never done a preparation for an interview in this way: I was leafing through your recently published ‘triptych’ Find a Fallen Star (2015), and enjoyed the ‘narrative’, or the lack of it, so much; I like your ‘style’. I made a random choice of pages, events, names from this poetic constellation, if I may call it so, your book project Find a Fallen Star, as the narrative unfolds and I discover links between pictures, documents, oral history and events.

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3. The Chinese Photobook From the 1900s to the Present curated by WassinkLundgren and Martin Parr, is published by Aperture. Ruben Ludgren is a gateway to China, he lives and works in Beijing. I feel so ignorant on the topic, that also counts for ‘the Japanese photobook from the 1900s to the present’ but this helps: a handbook which incorporates “an unprecedented amount of research and scholarship”.

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4. Alec Soth, The Song Book, published by MACK celebrated a second printing of the first edition in no time. There is always something innocent and childish about Alec’s work. His website reads and looks like a children’s book. “My name is Alec Soth (rhymes with ‘both’). I live in Minnesota. I like to take pictures and make books. I also have a business called Little Brown Mushroom.” The Song Book has that allure too. The manipulated documentary is about the artifice of social change, about ‘meeting’ and the absence of human interaction in the era of digital social networks.

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5. Thomas Sauvin’s SHUANGXI (Until Death Do Us Part)published by Jiazazhi Press in a first edition of 1000, contains found photographs compiled in a miniature booklet shaped in the form of a pack of cigarets showing Chinese marriage smoking ceremonies. This is about the most absurd book in my collection: in terms of photographic theme and in terms of book technical solutions. I received it wrapped in a spread from the Shanghai Business Daily from 2014.12.23. I saved it. All these photographs are selected from the Silvermine Archive. I bought a signed copy for 28.00 EUR and 3.90EUR shipping costs, through Kominek.

It reads:

Until Death Do us Part focuses on the unexpected role cigarettes play in Chinese weddings. As a token of appreciation, it is customary for the bride to light a cigarette for each and every man invited. The bride and the groom are then invited to play  some cigarette-smoking games of an unprecedented ingenuousness. This publication pays homage to a tradition in which love and death walk hand in hand.

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6. Bruce Gilden’s FACE, released by Dewi Lewis Publishing is meant as a counterpart of Facebook faces. And, Oh God, do they all look wicked and weird; too real to be true. The human face as an arid landscape.

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7. You Haven’t Seen Their Faces, by Daniel Mayrit, a Riot Book, is the photobook of the year, in fact of the past 7 years. THIS IS IT, in terms of content and book technical solutions. ‘They’ are ‘nailed’. Handwritten notes by Daniel, about wages, stock index, liaisons and scandals, are scattered on, what look like, CCTV portraits. The utmost provocative artist’s strategy towards found photography (blurry surveillance camera shots from Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) – in this shortlisted book for the Best Photobook of the Year 2015 – is manifested in You Haven’t Seen Their Faces. A smart appropriation of surveillance technology to instigate photography as evidence in the current financial and economic crisis, targeting the 100 most powerful people in the City of London as criminals, assuming their guilt. The title is a wink to a survey about the desperately poor working-class people in rural America, the southern states, by Margaret Bourke-White, published in 1937: You Have Seen Their Faces. And once again, that title is partly reminiscent of a short story by Whittaker Chambers: ‘You have seen the Heads’ (1931).

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8. There is a relationship between WEALTH management and the fake Swiss WTF bank created by Carlos Spottorno in a website and a book.

This is a view of the world of the ultra-rich and their agents: a supposedly better life, where money does not always bring happiness and where the greatest luxury of all is being invisible, inaccessible, and therefore invulnerable.

It shows euphemistic pictures from the websites of UBS, HSBC, and LLoyds Bank, or an appropriated Patek Philippe swiss watches advertising campaign.  Faces of people are computer-generated into the pixelated images, into non-overlapped blocks, because face detection today is a common mechanism in security and entertainment. This time he did not appropriate the imago and features of The Economist, but a prototype of a bank brochure on ‘how to’ build wealth.The slick looking website contains fierce slogans like: ‘I have money. I just need to hide it.’ 

The crucial question remains, however: if given chance to be part of that privileged layer of society, would any of us be willing to redistribute our wealth, or would we simply tap our nose and play the game?

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9. Anders Petersen. Valparaiso is published by FIFV Ediciones. it’s a strong photographic essay carried out in 13 days, in August 2014, on Anders first visit to Latin America, during an Artist in Residence for the International Festival of Photography in Valparaiso. The booklet is just a little smaller than the classic Valparaiso by Sergio Larrain, and it doesn’t contain a poem by Pablo Neruda. It is all there: the people, the suffering, the roughness of life, the signature of Anders Petersen.

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10. (in matters of) karl, is a book by Annette Behrens and issued by Fw: Books. It’s more than a photobook, well documented and supported by a meticulous lay-out and design by Hans Gremmen. Annette hesitated to do it, being remembered of her own German roots and the history that goes with it. The screen print on the front cover leaves some ‘blood traces on the French title page. Reproductions of Polaroids are showing the picturesque Solahutte, in the year 2007. Other self-made images show the whole setting of the ‘Hocker album’ at the research department of USHMM. The personal histories and reflection on research findings by Annette, all in Courier letter font, read like a diary note or a forensic report, or both.

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11. Philip Toledano made a very personal document, after his parents died: When I Was Six. They left him a box full of personal belongings from his sister, who died an early age. The book has a pitch black linen hardcover, in a swiss binding, stitched with a light green cord. Little white dots, likes stars in the cosmos, are scattered around a hand written title. A story is arising from black matt pages, with a cold green coating on the backside, containing memories of his sister: ‘Claudia was nine, I was six’. Short personal statements in white on a black void, are hitting you like a hammer, or making you contemplate on the vastness of being and life experience. We see the baby birth facts on a perforated carton hospital card with ‘notes or recommendations’, two pages after that the printed card sent on behalf of both parents after Claudia’s death expressing their ‘appreciation for kind messages of sympathy’ by friends and family. A lock of her hair in cylophane, and handwritten letters of her ability to show empathy at such early age, her school photo in a paper envelope, handwritten captions by a parent on the back of her portraits. The tombstone design is her father’s.The book is literarily unpacking ‘nine years. into a box’. It is heart breaking, it’s amazing grace, amazing strength, I went through the book twice, I cried twice. And there is the cosmos, the infinity, to capture her soul.

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12. Christopher Williams‘ Printed in Germany (green edition) is one of three volumes, catalogues slash artist’s books if you wish, accompanying the major MOMA exhibition The Product Line of Happiness. The ‘Yellow catalogue’ is the first publication in the trilogy The Production Line of Happinness. It’s mainly a text book, in line with the sobriety of academic syllabi. It contains essays, manifests, formal oration footnotes, an ‘index’ and ‘supplement’, as well as painstakingly described captions of re-photographed material that re-appears as a ‘stand-alone visual object’ in the second, Green edition. Some pictures are added, some are left out. In the Yellow edition it reads: SOURCE (1981), the first image in the supplement, is a quartet of photographs, that Williams presented as part of his MFA degree exhibition at California Institute of the Arts  (CalArts).

The work resulted from a process of filtering images sourced from the archives of the John F. Kennedy Library through a set of selection criteria and enacting several procedures to reprint and re-present them. During the 1980s Williams continued to work with existing archives and complex systems of selection. […] These prints are noticeably well made.

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Although this specific image is not re-appearing in the green edition, in the supplement caption to SOURCE his rigid criteria for selection and technical procedure are described in extreme detail, and this artist’s strategy Williams has maintained for a lifetime.

1. From SOURCE: The Photographic Archive, John F. Kennedy Library,  Columbia Point on Dorchester Bay, Boston, Massachusetts 02125. U.S.A; CONDITIONS FOR SELECTION: There are two conditions: the photograph or photographs must be dated May 10,1963, and the subject, John F. Kennedy, must have his back turned to the camera. All photographs on file fulfilling these requirements are used. TECHNICAL TREATMENT: The photographs are subjected to the following operations: rephotography (4 x 5 ” copy negative), enlargement (from 8 x 10″ to 11 x 14″ by use of the copy negative), and cropping (1/16″ is removed from all sides of the rephotographed, enlarged image) […].

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Williams appropriates front covers of Elle, winter holiday brochures from Switzerland, TAI Afrique campagnes, product photography of cameras manufactured in former German Democratic Republic. In case of the latter, his model is Christoph Boland. The re-photographing is mainly executed at Studio Thomas Borho in Düsseldorf. The green edition, is kind of a paper sample book: interleaved with plain green wood containing paper sections. On the front cover of each edition is a portrait of a black man: Mustafa Kinte (Gambia), each time slightly different – a moment after a moment. Mustafa is wearing a snow-white Van Laacken Shirt Kent 64. Printed in Germany is related to the preceding ‘orange edition’ and  exhibition catalogue dating from 2010: For Example: Dix-Huit Lecons Sur La Société Industrielle (Révision 11).

13. The WORST book of 2015, actually released in 2014, is The Bungalow by Anouk Kruithof, published by Onomatopee. It is number 106 in the publisher’s catalogue. Kruithof objectifies every single image; crops them, stacks them up, makes cut-outs. The subject is nullified, the content remains unspoken. The private collection of Brad Feuerhelm has earlier been delivering source material for a more thrilling artist’s book: Miss Titus Becomes a Regular Army Mac by Melinda Gibson. #Evidence is another Kruithof-twist of a collection of institutional photographs collected by Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel in the 1970s. Kruithof: ‘claims the imagery as her own and robs it of her promotional intent’, which the authors intent was all together. Indeed her merit is much ‘less concrete, less stable, and less transparent’, to use her own words. Cutting and pasting and sculpting and re-photographing, photoshopping and cropping, till the image is a dead as a doornail. There is no new meaning, no added value. It totally ‘lacks integrity’, indeed ‘to be viewed as ‘pure evidence’.

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14. The second WORST book of 2015 is Lockdown Archive by Mike Mandel & Chantal Zakari. The publication is a typical Blurb book production, missing the finesse and craftsmanship of contemporary photobook making. It is simply a transfer of found photography on the Internet (the police manhunt during the Watertown lockdown of April 19, 2013, a suburb in the greater Boston area) to a rigid digital book format. Images are selected, re-organized by the artists, according to location or other ordering principles. I would not dare to call the end result an ‘artistic encyclopedic overview’. Poor printing, poor lay-out, poor typography, poor cover.

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15. Will Steacy’s, Deadline is a state of the art newsprint edition from the heart, a ‘FINAL CITY EDITION’. Full of large type front page headlines like: ‘The Disappearing storyteller’; ‘A quarter century at The Inky’. And it’s all about the era ‘When newspapers were a Family Business’. And his was. The cream of the crop is ‘section D. That’s The Press, Baby’, showing the Plate Room, the Press Room, an Ink Stained Wall. Deadline by Will Steacy is the first of two newsprint publications, I understand, deriving from the family archives, and is in line with Down these mean streets (2012). This first monograph and artist’s book by Will Steacy brings back in mind both the sketchbook of Hannah Hoch: Album (1933, 2004) and Pornografie (1971) by Klaus Staeck. Staecy is also a collage artist par excellence. In Down these mean streets self-made photographs on ‘fear and abandonment in America’s inner cities’ are juxtaposed to classy, banal, and propagandistic US newspaper clippings. Full page double spreads with headlines, cut out fragments of newspaper articles and handwritten notes on ‘financial crisis’, ‘zero jobs’, ‘bailing out’, ‘benefits and bargaining’ in American politics in the first decade of the 21st century as well as the historical events that got the country that far: post-World War II industrial growth, The Reagan years and 911. In short the ‘betrayal of the American Dream’. Excellent printing. It all has to do with ‘The Ink in His Blood’: His grandfather (I assume) wrote a college essay about his summer job at the York Dispatch in 1938.

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front cover You Haven’t Seen Their Faces (2015)

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Mirelle Thijsen (MT):

I sent you some questions, regarding your recently published unorthodox photobook, and I wondered, because I wasn’t acquainted yet with your work, is this your first book?

Daniel Mayrit (DM):

Yes, it is.

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MT:

The title is not printed on the front cover, nor is there a French title inside the book. In terms of graphic design the text on the cover, in red bold capital letters, reads like a typical American public warning sign: These Are The Faces Of The 100 Most Powerful People in the City of London. Use These Images At Your Own Discretion. Why is that? Why did you choose this kind of opening?

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DM:

Indeed, it is a very unorthodox book. We were certainly aware of that in the process of making it. We did not want to go for a conventional cover either. First, if we were to put an image on the cover, that image would already be inside the book, because there are only 100 images, that have to be depicted, referring to a specific list numbered from 1 to 100. I was picking up on the idea of the public warning signs. One of the references is obviously the ‘WANTED’ sign, from the Wild West. So this type of lettering might recall such ‘WANTED’ posters. The sentence itself is doing what the rules of making photobooks tell you not to do. The first sentence is very descriptive: just describing what is inside, without showing it. Like in old horror movies, where they don’t show the monster untill the very end. By doing so a bit of expectation is created. And the second text fragment is the most important; we did not want to make a book that is only made to be looked at and stored on a shelf. Rather we wanted to invite the public, to suggest the possibility, that you could actually, physically, with you own hands, make use of this book. It all relates to the kind of binding, the printing and the map glued onto the back of the book. You can handle it, you can manipulate this book yourself. To make that clear, we actually had a reason to write it out in words on the front.

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MT:

That is very clear, thank you. The actual title is: You Haven’t Seen Their Faces. And right away the historical reference pops up: a seminal publication by the American woman photographer Margaret Bourke-White. I consider your approach the most provocative artist’s strategy towards found photography (blurry surveillance camera shots from Closed Circuit Television (CCTV), in the shortlisted books for the Photobook Award 2015. A smart appropriation of surveillance technology to instigate photography as evidence in the current financial and economic crisis, targeting the 100 most powerful people in the City of London as criminals, assuming their guilt. That is assumed to be the case. The title is a wink to a survey about the other side of society, the desperately poor working-class people in rural America, the southern states by Margaret Bourke-White, published in 1937: You Have Seen Their Faces. And then once again, I read in Wikipedia that the title is partly reminiscent of a short story by Whittaker Chambers -who looks like a criminal by the way – ‘You have seen the Heads’ (1931). Please elaborate further on these references.

DM:

I don’t know the story about Whittaker Chambers, I think he was a double agent or a Communist in the United States. The Margaret Bourke-White title was there from the very beginning, when I started working on the idea for the project.

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MT:

When exactly did Margaret Bourke-White come in?

DM:

At the very beginning … in 2012. When I started working on the images, two years before we made the book. There is something in documentary photography that I have always been concerned about. Documentary photographers tend to look at social context and whatever is wrong with the world, focusing on the symptoms. They rarely look at the causes. They stress the consequences, like Margaret Bourke-White, and Walker Evans and others were doing. That approach is not going to stop the problems from existing; you’re not aiming at the causes, at the core of the problem. It is a wink, but an analogy as well. Taking it in a way of what photography SHOULD do.

MT:

Yes, that is the title referencing. And there is some weight on surveillance technology to use photography as evidence.

DM:

I am making a statement. I am not making the statement that these people are all guilty. I am trying to play with the same techniques as the police do. This project was originally sparked by a leaflet, delivered by the Metropolitan Police of London in the letterboxes in our neighborhood.

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In this leaflet they are appealing for citizens’ help in recognizing a certain amount of people that initially were involved in the London Riots of 2011. Then again they were not saying they were guilty. But just because of the technique, these images invite you to assume that these people depicted are all guilty. The same counts for my approach: if you read the handwritten notes on the images in my book, in most cases, they probably would not be embarrassed about what I say, what I write, about them. It is more like how you read the pictures, than how we create the images. These sorts of codes: a high vantage point; very pixelated image; cropped to the face; low saturation, it seems like they already stand for guilt, whereas they are very arbitrary. It started at some point, making the first CCTV scan, that looked very ‘guilty-like’, and people decided it worked. So over time we all think, this technique – it is not more than technology – seems to convey that sense of guilt. Which is not necessarily conveyed in the picture itself but we are used to reading these images in that particular way.

MT:

So it is a matter of interpretation, of this specific kind of images, by the authorities, the public? It is not like a mug shot, is it?

DM:

Yes. No it is not like a mug shot, which is coded according to its own set of rules. The same counts for every genre of photography, be it documentary, studio portrait photography; every process of image making has its codes, in order for us to decipher what their meaning is. That meaning is not something that comes natural with the image; it is because we are used to read them in a particular way, for whatever reasons.

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MT:

It is a constructed reality.

DM:

Yes, that is what any kind of photography is about.

MT:

Before we talk about the genesis of the project, tell me: is it a book, or a manifest? Literally, pages are screwed together, in what I would describe as a block note. Oh, this is where the title is: on the spine! I didn’t notice it before!

DM:

As you said, you did not find it on the cover! You may call it the spine.

MT:

And so the 100 most powerful people are metaphorically ‘nailed’.

DM:

Yes, you got it right: we did not want to be very respectful to the images themselves. It is a way of saying: these are supposed to be very important people, but they are printed on brown disposable paper, in low quality images. You can barely see the faces of some of them; it is difficult to identify them. On top of that we are screwing into their images. It was gesture; it is a metaphor, as you said. This is as disrespectful as we can be. It picks up some other reference we were considering, at the time of making the book: the police clipboard. Where they takes notes, listen to a witness’ confession. They hold it from the top, rather than from the side, to open it. That’s where that sort of binding comes from. We actually tried out different clips, which didn’t work. That is when the screws came in.

MT:

I think it works!

Since we are now describing sober book technical features: Are the CCTV portraits printed on, what you just described as ‘disposable’ paper and what looks like brown packing paper, post office approved?

DM:

The paper is called craft paper, generally used for wrapping, for industrial sources.

MT:

That is the metaphor you are using too…

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DM:

Yes, we are printing your face on the cheapest disposable paper. Actually there was another coincidence that made us go for this kind of paper. Craft paper is laid: lines are going from side to side. That brings forth this surveillance look. When you print them on white paper, they still have this surveillance look, but if they are printed on the brown lined paper, it resembles the old deteriorated images on VHS tapes, or back in the days of the very first surveillance images; they were interlaced. We found that out by chance, by trying out different types of paper, by finding out this holds it together.

MT:

It is texture in the paper, delivering a conceptual dimension in the project.

Some more sober, simple technical features: A small sticker on the inside of the carton back cover (hand numbered and signed) contains – I call it very chic – a ‘colophon’. An inserted and folded map shows numbered Google Maps balloons. I haven’t taken it out, because I’m always uncertain about ruining something… And because I haven’t taken it out, I am going to ask you: Are the balloons corresponding with the numbered portraits? To indicate where these men and women live and work, are spotted?

DM:

The map is meant to be used! I’m going to show you then! One side of the map is the grid with the faces again.

MT:

Aha…like on your website!

DM:

This column here indicates the name of the company where they work for, the government, or institution. Followed by the address where the company is located, and the telephone number.

MT:

Ha-ha…

DM:

When you turn it around, you see the actual map, and the number of every of these balloons corresponds to the person on the list and shows you where to go if you want to find them.

MT:

Their professional work environment?

DM:

Yes, obviously not their private home addresses; because that would be illegal, but the companies they work for. That makes it possible to use the book in a literal sense: you can stick it in your pocket, as a travel guide, if you may, that was one of the gestures: to make it a functional book.

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MT:

Thank you, that is very clear.

So, how did this project come about; tell me please about the genesis of You Haven’t Seen Their Faces. It seems to have started with the way the London Metropolitan police dealt with the London Riots in 2011, by distributing blurry portraits of adolescents that were caught on surveillance cameras because they ‘presumably took part in the events.’ And this is what it is about: ‘Images of very low quality, almost amateur, were embedded with unquestioned authority due both to the device used for taking the photographs and to the institution distributing those images’. Is my feeling correct: that’s what it is all about?

DM:

We assume, just because they are on the list, they are guilty; it’s the way the images are constructed.

MT:

Please elaborate on your intend to appropriate ‘the characteristics of surveillance technology’ for this set of images.

DM:

The project started in Tottenham, the London district where the riots started in the summer of 2011 and the leaflets were distributed by the London police, depicting images of people that were allegedly involved in the riots. It fitted too well to the cliché of the young neighborhood criminals. Most of them were non-white, wearing hoodies, and fairly young, in their early twenties. The stereotypical gun criminals in the neighborhood, in the outskirts of cities, and town. We assumed they look like that….

MT:

Stereotyping people…

DM:

Yes, it is so typical. This was 2011, and pretty much every week there was a new scandal. Some important banker had some fortune in some tax haven….

MT:

Could you mention a few remarkable examples from those days?

DM:

There were scandals after scandals, even earlier than that. The Libor fixing, an index they base trades on, indicating how much you can sell or buy your stocks for. That procedure was all fixed by the banks. It was a huge scandal. For example, Barclays, one of the largest banks in the UK, was fined. The top managers were fired. Lehman Brothers, HSBC, and UBS have been involved in it too. They had to bail out Lloyds, they had to bail out RBS

The point is every single week there was a new scandal, a new fine, a new corruption case. I’m Spanish as well, and in Spain we know a lot about corruption in governments and banks…

So back to the leaflets, the police were delivering criminals at your front door, in your letterbox. And the persons I collected are responsible in some way or another for the economic crises, and we don’t even know what these people look like, apart from the one or two that are top managers and have been involved in some media scandal. The rest of them run the economy, in Europe, if not worldwide. When newsreels talk about the IMF, the World Bank and the Troika we can not even put a face on them. I wanted to do something about that. This lack of representation enables them to do what they do. They are not subject to public scrutiny; they are anonymous to most people. And if we can’t even portray them, how are we going to be able to start asking questions, to sue them, to bring them to trial? I had to tackle this lack of representation.

MT:

And how did you take the next step towards the visualisation of these people?

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DM:

I went into The City, and spent many days just walking around, going to places where bankers meet, visiting the headquarters of the top banks, going to restaurants where these people have their business lunch or dinner, trying to attend important events organized by the banks. And trying to make pictures of them. It was a very naïve approach; getting 100 images that fit the purpose, in real life, obviously was never going to work. Some of these people spent maybe one day a month in London; you can’t even know what they are up to: they might publish on their website that they are attending some public speech, or an opening of a new branch in town; this might account for the top ten, but most of them…let’s say number #087 or #093, how you’re going to find out you’re at the right time, on the right moment, in the right circumstances in order to take a picture?

MT:

I understand that the selection of 100 most powerful people is based on the annual report Square Mile Magazine 2013. What type of selection procedure is involved here? How did you select them?

DM:

I didn’t select them. I got them indeed from a list made by a Square Mile magazine, which is to be compared with the Financial Times, or Forbes. The magazine makes a list of the most powerful people in The City of London. They call it the ‘Power 100’ issue. Every year there is a new list. I think Forbes lists the 100 richest people in the world. I did not want to focus on wealth. In that list even football players and celebrities are included.

MT:

So, this list is your point of departure?

DM:

I did not want to make choices myself: why interfere? Why this person, and not the other…? This list was ‘given’ to me. Lets use today’s techniques to create these images. So I went online and started to search for the images, all 100 portraits. And after selecting the 100 applicable images for the book, I manipulated all of them, so they would look like surveillance images.

MT:

Aha!

DM:

So the pictures in the book are not actually surveillance images. I didn’t hijack any surveillance cameras…

MT:

It is a form of appropriated photography?

DM:

Yes, …yes! I made them look like surveillance images, but most of them are press images, that photojournalists took at a summit, or inside the Parliament. They come from different sources; most of them are photojournalistic images.

MT:

So you didn’t have to go anywhere?

DM:

No, but I did spend months in front of my computer screen!

MT:

I had a completely different idea about your way of working: I had the impression you were using scans from these CCTV cameras…on the spot in the City of London.

How did you make the transition from the found journalistic images of these specific 100 most powerful people, plucked from the Internet, to the idea to make them look like CCTV scans?

DM:

Mainly by using Photoshop… I am talking about the surveillance society that London lives in. London is the city of the world with the highest rate of surveillance cameras per habitant. Surveillance and London are very interconnected; they go together. I read in some statistics that an average citizen in London that goes to work and back home on a day, is registered by 300 surveillance cameras.

MT:

It is very present.

Let’s look at the people depicted: not only lots of CEO’s from the City of London, maintaining it’s role as the world’s top financial center for 7 years, until 2014 I read in the New York Times, but also the mayor of London (#017) is selected, as well as the prime minister, David Cameron (#004), and other government people. There is the Cabinet Secretary Government of the UK (#051); Paul Tucker (#23) ‘retired from public sector.’ He claims 5 million Pound Sterling pension at 54 years old, you wrote with a ballpoint pen on the CCTV print. You must have conducted some research, collected data…

Then you have the printout of the image and start to write on top of it? Is that how you worked?

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DM:

Yes, that is actually what I did. This set of images was made in particular for the book. The first set of images was printed for an exhibition without the written information on top. Something didn’t work quite well. When we initially started to work on the book with Riot Books publishers, who are also the designers of the book, we decided to give some information to the viewers to make them understand more about the issue. There is information on salary, on net worth, in the bottom left corner. It wasn’t enough.

MT:

Why wasn’t it enough?

DM:

Because it doesn’t quite explain what the project is about. If you read one person makes 8M a year, it makes you wonder. You may consider that a lot, or too much, but then again, maybe he’s worth it… But if I tell you he is involved in many scandals, and another person has been into jail, yet others have properties they haven’t accounted for, they have money in tax havens… Maybe that helps the viewer to understand a little bit better what this is about; it makes them more angry. What is going on here is borderline legal. Still, we considered that information was not enough, that’s how the map came about. Indicating to the viewer if you still want to do something about it yourself, you can.

First, there is the reference to the police clipboard, their notebook in which they start to take notes. We didn’t want to be respectful with these images: I care so little about the images themselves that I write all over them.

MT:

Yes. How did you find all this information?

DM:

All the information has been published, and is in public domain: in daily, mainly British, newspapers like the Guardian, the Telegraph, on the BBC, in Forbes, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, on news websites published by the established media. As I said, I spent a couple of months researching into each and every one of these people. Gathering information that was already available to me. I did not want to speculate and decided to leave out information on their private lives.

MT:

Some function descriptions make you wonder what these people do professionally. I am looking at the variety, the diversity of the population in The City: There is Lord Tim Clement-Jones (#051), top hedge fund managers (#057) and top lobbyists in the City (#091). Do you know what kind of work they actually do? Do you know what kind of work the job ‘financial conduct authority’ entails?

DM:

In fact the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) are ‘the good guys’; it is an institution meant to regulate and supervise banking in The City. It is not government related, it’s an independent body for self-government of the banks in The City. They have the authority to impose fines; they have the authority to ban banks for a particular trade, so they regulate in the widest sense of the word. Because it is not a governmental body, they have not been elected by anybody, people working for the FCA (It used to be called FSA) have been bankers, working for one of these banks they are regulating now. How objective can you be?

MT:

Only 10% are women (#011; #029; #044, #059; #067; #069; #074; #075; #076; #099).

DM:

It happens in The City, it happens anywhere: women are under-represented. Actually there is this initiative called the ‘30% club’ aimed to get at least 30% of women on the top jobs, on boards of the 100 biggest companies in The City. Right now in the United Kingdom, about 25% of women have top jobs. Five years ago it was only 12%. So the percentage more than doubled in the past five years. I think it is peculiar how they would settle for 30%… This initiative was carried by one of the women on this list. Her name is Helena Morrisey. I don’t remember her number in the list….

MT:

We will get back to her later in the interview. Please tell me about the women at the top in the City of London. What do you know about these women, about their positions, their professional jobs, their influence?

DM:

They are not very different from the men, in a way that they all come from different backgrounds and have different jobs within the economical and financial system. The most powerful woman comes in on number #011 in the list; she is a CEO manager Anna Botin, a top person at Santander bank. She is actually Spanish. She is a CEO, because she happens to be the daughter of the former CEO, who passed away. It used to be his bank, now it is her bank.

There are a few women that work for the FCA. There are some female top lawyers. One of them is hedge fund manager and has a campaign group for gay rights in The City.

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MT:

Now that you mention this, is there a hierarchy from 1 to a 100? The first person #001 is the most powerful, according the list in Square Mile magazine?

DM:

Yes.

MT:

But not in terms of money making?

DM:

No, money is not an issue here. Some of the people that work for the government don’t really make that much money. There are some top civil servants in the list, but they make about 100.000 Pounds Sterling on a yearly basis.

MT:

Apart from collecting these digital press images and relevant information about scandals, liaisons, swopping jobs, claiming expenses, hourly fees from e.g., Martin Sorrell (#035) earning 3700 times the minimum wage which is really a statement in itself, I understand you also called up the City of London Corporation (#042)?

DM:

The City of London Corporation, again, is an institution for governing the City of London itself. In a way they have their own rules, and their own mayorship. The mayor, Boris Johnson #016, is actually not the mayor of the City. He has no power as such; it’s like a city within the city. It’s a different municipality so to speak. The laws that apply to the rest of London not necessarily apply to the City of London. That mayorship is already a thousand years old; it was there before London town. It is a very old structure; they have their own rules, their own hierarchy within this body. They’ve got an annual mayorship for the City of London; it rotates.

MT:

What are they allowed to do?

DM:

Not much! It’s more like a body that defends the interests of the City of London: A spokesperson.

MT:

Okay, I understand. Because of all the research, I presume you know more then we see in the book… Who are the most WANTED persons from these 100 influential people? And what is the message that is not conveyed by the book?

DM:

I can’t tell you that; it would be in the field of speculation, rather than facts. The top ten banks in the United Kingdom have all been involved in either money laundering, Libor scandals with index fixing, illegal trades, anything you can possibly imagine. It all has been published by the main media. And all top banks have been fined by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), or the government. The problem is the record fine was over 600M Pounds Sterling, but that is only equal to 1% of their yearly profit.

And who are the most WANTED? There is a man; he has been jailed for 6 months for being involved in trading fraud. That scandal was made public; it was all over the newspapers. And still, he is back on the list already. And the queen honoured him. I think he is number #046…Yes! His name is Gerald Ronson.

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MT:

I don’t want to probe too much; but because you have gained this bird’s eye view on the topic, is there a conclusion?

DM:

When I was doing the research, the first thing I realized is that we know NOTHING about how this financial system works. Literary nothing…And I cannot emphasize that enough. We might think we know how economy works, a little bit at least …but NO, forget it! That was very striking to find out how little we actually know. And I am not an expert, but I have major interest in economy. I read the news, the economic news, books about finances; I am generally interested. And I still feel ignorant: I know maybe 1% of how this works. And second, everybody is involved in something. Like in detective movies, how they build up the plot: some guy that pops up in the very end relates back to one protagonist showing up in the beginning. It’s a bit like that, the feeling or sensation. But maybe there is nothing incriminate, or no one is to blame. The company involved in the trading fraud might have strong links with the person that went to jail, and these two were involved in money laundering; so every one is connected.

MT:

Does this interrelationship suggest a mentality?

DM:

Yes…It is how the system works. At some moment in the process we were deciding what information to bring out in the book: salary, net worth, scandals, financial properties, etc. There was one category: ‘connections’, links that a person has with all the people in the book. We had to scrap that completely, because otherwise the publication would be overloaded with arrows back and forth. Every one makes deals with each other; they are one. They all have close connections to at least another ten within the list.

MT:

Some accusations and facts need more clarification. Nigel Boardman (#039) – an appropriate surname for somebody in the corporate world – is ‘called for banking deregulation on FT’, which stands for Financial Times, I guess? What does that mean? What did he actually do?

DM:

That is a matter of opinion. I believe, regarding the economical crunch, it goes back to the seventies, when they started deregulating the financial system in the United States. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan started to deregulate everything. Then Bill Clinton went a bit further, and his follow-ups chose for deregulation, or laisser faire, after him. Boardman is a top lawyer. And he was claiming that the banking system is still going bad because of too much financial services regulation and government policy. Whereas history has proven that every single time further deregulation is approved, society is getting into deeper trouble for the majority of the people. So, basically, Boardman wrote some articles, claiming that further deregulation will be better for everyone’s economy, which is an opinion I deeply doubt.

MT:

On a yellow memo sticker you write ‘need better image’ of Peter Martyr (#041) – another interesting surname in the context of your book – Global Chief Executive at Norton Rose. But it is an amazing picture: like starring into a black void and his face is popping up. It’s an artwork in itself.

DM:

For the sake of keeping the reader engaged, we wanted to give an esthetical quality to the book, create a flow in the book. All the images per se are boring. So, I play slightly with the quality of the images. That is why that particular image is very dark. It could have been any of the other images instead. Regarding the yellow post with the note: It is a way of saying: this project is not finished. On another post it reads: we ‘need more info’.

MT:

In fact you manipulated the image and created a ‘bad image’. The information is kind of playfully misleading.

DM:

Yes. We wanted to make a gesture to the viewer; you can go on and proceed with the research yourself. We did not want to claim: we are the artists, this is it. This is an on-going project. If you proceed with the project another ten years, more news will be coming out, more scandals will come to the surface, and different people will be involved.

MT:

What kind of company is Norton Rose?

DM:

I think it is a legal practice firm.

MT:

Now we get to Helena Morrissey (#044). She is a mother of 9 children, lives in Nothing Hill, in a 2.4M house. She is a board member of the Royal Academy, and as you mentioned earlier, Founder of the 30% Club, and ‘net worth’ $3.8BN (billions). What does that mean ‘net worth’?

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DM:

Net worth is a person’s and entities overall fortune: the total amount of assets. The money he or she has got in the bank.

MT:

Including real estate?

DM:

I don’t think it includes real estate…It might count shares and holds. Real estate is probably not the main chunk of their fortunes.

MT:

There is another notion I would like to discuss: some people are based in a ‘tax haven’: (#055) Brunswick (Delaware) and (#056) Bluecrest (Guerwey). What do you know about the London-based tax havens?

DM:

Brunswick is the name of the company. I think it is a public relations company, working in advertising and communication strategies. The person, number #055, is good friends with the prime minister of the United Kingdom and deals with his public image. They make a lot of money. What do I know about tax havens? Well, it is a way of licencing your company in a different country, or part of a country, in order to pay taxes there. Instead of paying taxes in the country where you operate, or where you should be paying your taxes. It is absolutely legal, that is one of the problems. That said; we have to ask ourselves if that practise should be legal? The Netherlands is a tax haven, as is Luxembourg, Gibraltar, the Caiman islands, Jersey Island, and Switzerland of course. There are a good number of tax havens in the world.

MT:

In some cases salary information remains ‘undisclosed.’ Why is that?

DM:

After months of research, we weren’t able to find information in a reputable newspaper or news agency.

MT:

Who are ‘we’? In general you use the first person plural.

DM:

Yes, that is true! I mean myself, and my publisher/designer. All the research I conducted myself. The book is 50% their input, 50% mine.

MT:

Okay, I understand. Let’s discuss Andrea Orcel (#060), co-chief executive investment banking UBS and receives $13M salary on a yearly basis. Judging by the name I thought it was a woman. He obtained a bonus of 21.3M Pound Sterling in 2008, ‘Year of the Crook’ you wrote in the right corner on top of his portrait.

DM:

‘Year of the crunch’!

MT:

Aha, ‘crunch’! The word is spelled differently. Would you please explain that notion ‘year of the crunch’ in this context?

DM:

That year Lehman Brother collapsed, and the world’s economy went down. It is very ironic that Orcel gets paid a 21.3M bonus, the year that everyone else is going to the pit, and the government has to bailout banks.

MT:

The art world is also represented in your book. Christian Levett is an art collector and founder of MACM (Musée d’Art. Classique à Mougins), worth 75M Pounds Sterling. Sir Ronald Cohen (#089), Director of the British Museum has a 15M worth home in Nothing Hill. How guilty is the art world?

DM:

I don’t think the art world is guilty of anything. These people use the art as just another way of speculating with money, and generating more wealth. That is probably the ‘guilt’ that the art world has to deal with.

MT:

Still, they are in charge of important art institutions, museums.

DM:

Did I say director? Yes in that case, there is a conflict of interest. You’re putting your money in art and run an art institution: meanwhile, you may not be so objective as you are expected to be. I think these people invest in art the same way as they invest in real estate or any fiscal material.

MT:

Yes, these people are institutionalized. They have this other way of being morally responsible in the art world.

DM:

I wouldn’t be bothered too much with the art world, judging the information in the book!

MT:

Okay, that helps! I think only in one specific case ‘no image’ is available (#071): Jonathan Sorrell, Chief Financial Director of Man Group. Why is he selected?

DM:

Man Group is a hedge fund. Again, he is not selected, he happens to be number #071 on the list. He is the only person; I couldn’t find a single image of. After months of searching, finishing 99%, I sensed this missing image is going to wrap up the whole project. Since this person has the power to remove his image from the Internet, he must have a lot of control and influence. If somebody would ask me to remove myself from the Internet, what would I do? I close my Facebook account; Instagram; delete my pictures….And still your images will show up. In fact, this person is a very public figure, a powerful person in Europe. The fact that his portrait is not public, explains how this system works, in this anonymity.

MT:

How transparent is it… you wonder. It’s remarkable.

What does a woman like Ann Cairns (#075) do wrong. It is all about wrong doing in a way, in her position as ‘President of International Markets Mastercard Worldwide’?

DM:

This person is one of the few we needed more information about. In general there isn’t anything wrong with what these people do; in her case, she runs Mastercard, it’s a company like Visa, Maestro, or American Express. I have collected some information about her, but we considered it not appropriate. It was a deliberate choice. At some points in the book we decided to break up the flow. Nothing was particularly dodgy about her.

MT:

You mean a kind of pause? You had information, but did not use it for this specific person and page?

DM:

Yes, …yes.

MT:

Who earns the most? Louis Bacon (#081)…he earns 400M on a yearly basis? And related to that is your statement: People in the City get an 18% salary raise (#093) while there’s a salary freeze in the public sector.

DM:

(#093) Rupert Harrison is an adviser to the Chancellor, the economic affairs minister in the UK. That is number #002 on the list; he is second in command. Because of the crisis, and the austerity plan in the UK a public sector pay freeze was held, for doctors, policemen, and civil servants. And again, the top people put their salaries 18% up. It is legal, but not very fair.

MT:

Those are powerful statements, just one-liners, but they give us so much information. That is a particular strong feature of the book.

DM:

We tried to be synthetic: condensing relevant information.

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MT:

The last question has to do with the modern day techniques. There is a remarkable variety in digital scanning options regarding the appropriated photojournalistic images simulating CCTV scans. (#097) Jan Hall’s (the biggest head hunter in the City) portrait is like an abstract painting. Did you create that?

DM:

This is an aesthetic decision. Again, 100 images, looking all the same, the viewer would not stay engaged. We needed some variety, some subtle differences. And the images of surveillance cameras don’t look all the same; there are different tones, different textures, and different size of the pixels. We needed to reference that the pictures are coming from different sources.

MT:

Could you explain why they are so different? How do these surveillance camera’s work?

DM:

Many factors are involved: the resolution of the camera, the technology used: VGA, or more contemporary video recording system, the original size of the image, to mention a few.

MT:

So how has this particular image (#097) been processed? One looks like a newspaper image, another like a still from a television screen…

DM:

In Photoshop. Every image, one by one, has been processed. It is custom-made software, a mixture of different techniques. I applied a special filter. For some of the images I would use several filters, or different patterns. The work all together took about a year.

MT:

Did anybody from The City, or Square Mile Magazine come after you legally?

DM:

No, not yet, and I hope it stays that way.

MT:

What comes next?

DM:

We might consider a second edition. This first edition is a print run of 350. After it is sold out we will probably put the images on the Internet, so people can continue to access the information.

Right now project wise, I have a work in progress about the police in Spain. The current government just pasted a law that criminalizes different protests: from demonstrations to spreading a banner. The aim of the law is to make these public actions illegal. Among those features in the law there is one paragraph that says it is forbidden to take any pictures of the police. Journalists are not allowed to take pictures of the police anymore, nor publish them. And secondly, they apply these loosely designed paragraphs to every circumstance. Everything could fit. The result is a lack of presentation of the police. Spain has a history in police brutality, and the repression of protests. So the aim of this paragraph is you cannot make recordings of a demonstration and put them up on Youtube. People have no longer access to this kind of images.

MT:

This is censorship.

DM:

Yes, basically so. I am working around that issue, and how this new unspoken censorship works. How can we still make images that are relevant, and fill that gap? Yet, I don’t know yet what the outcome will be like.

Of the 35 photobooks and catalogues nominated for the Photobook Award Shortlist 2015 a third is fitting into a genre on the march, definitely since the launch of OHIO Photomagazine in the mid 1990s: ‘Photobooks of Found Photographs’, but actually starting way before, in the 1960s. Some comments and comparisons.

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Good 70s by Mike Mandell, has not been released yet. A good old Afga-Geveart carton box for analogue photographic paper contains a set of facsimiles, of seminal publications and originally unpublished work. One early original book project is Seven never before published portraits of Edward Weston from 1974.

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This might well be the very first ‘exercise’ by Mandel in compiling an artist’s book on found photography: three years before his collaborative with Larry Sultan: Evidence was released. The booklet contains typewriter and handwritten letters to Mike Mandel by e.g. E.Stanley Weston, E.W. Garland, and Emma Weston based on a biography-oriented questionnaire. It’s a satire, and a form of ‘mail-art’, turning into a revelation of   personal lives of American citizens called ‘Edward Weston’. 35 letters went out, 7 of them responded in handwritten letters and personal snapshots. In terms of working method, the approach is equal to the artist’s strategy practiced by Sophie Calle.

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Another facsimile is Bottom of the Lake by Christian Patterson, which reminds me of 180o Laurence Aëgerter. Reproduced, re-worked and altered content of the ‘dictionnaire encyclopédique pour tous’ Petit Larousse en couleurs, Paris 1973. Including contemporary snapshots, documentary photographs, urban landscapes integrated in the Larouse lay-out. The pictures are taken in a 180-degree turn from the actual described object. The publication contains contributions from different photographers. Reproduction starts at page 993.

Illustrated people (2014) by Thomas Maileander is widely nominated.

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“Illustrated People” is the translation into book form of a performance by Thomas Mailaender. He applied to the skin of models 23 original negatives selected from the Archive of Modern Conflict’s collection before projecting a powerful UV lamp over them, thus revealing a fleeting image on the skin’s surface. Maileander then photographed each of his models before the sun made the image disappear. The book comprises the resulting shots combined with a series of photographic documents found in AMC’s collection.”

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Negatives by Xu Yong deals in yet another way with photographic negatives taken during the Tiananmen Square protests in Being China, in 1989. And (In Matters of) Karl by Dutch photographer Annette Behrens (one of two nominated book works published by Fw:Books) also deals with the progressive War of Terror during the twentieth century. Annette revealed in self-made and found photographs how collective memory and history creep into the seemingly bourgeois life of an SS officer Karl-Friedrich Höcker as depicted in his family album, which was anonymously donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C in 2007. Well documented.

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Greetings from Auschwitz is another way of dealing with the reminiscence of the Second World War. A collection of postcards sent by tourists to family, friends and beloved ones, after visiting the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. Handwritten warm greetings on the backside of a macabre backdrop; ethically inappropriate is what the message is. All postcards are selected and edited by Pawel Szypulski.

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Deadline by Will Steacy is the first of two newsprint publications, I understand, deriving from the family archives, and is in line with Down these mean streets (2012). This first monograph and artist’s book by Will Steacy brings back in mind both the sketchbook of Hannah Hoch: Album (1933, 2004) and Pornografie (1971) by Klaus Staeck. Staecy is also a collage artist par excellence. In Down these mean streets self-made photographs on ‘fear and abandonment in America’s inner cities’ are juxtaposed to classy, banal, and propagandistic US newspaper clippings. Full page double spreads with headlines, cut out fragments of newspaper articles and handwritten notes on ‘financial crisis’, ‘zero jobs’, ‘bailing out’, ‘benefits and bargaining’ in American politics in the first decade of the 21st century as well as the historical events that got the country that far: post-World War II industrial growth, The Reagan years and 911. In short the ‘betrayal of the American Dream’. Excellent printing. It all has to do with ‘The Ink in His Blood’: His grandfather (I assume) wrote a college essay about his summer job at the York Dispatch in 1938.

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The most provocative artist’s strategy towards found photography (blurry surveillance camera shots from Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) in this shortlist is manifested in You Haven’t Seen Their Faces by Daniel Mayrit. A smart appropriation of surveillance technology to instigate photography as evidence in the current financial and economic crisis, targeting the 100 most powerful people in the City of London as criminals, assuming their guilt. The title is a wink to a survey about the desperately poor working-class people in rural America, the southern states, by Margaret Bourke-White, published in 1937: You Have Seen Their Faces. And once again, that title is partly reminiscent of a short story by Whittaker Chambers: ‘You have seen the Heads’ (1931).

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Actually, all shortlisted Photography Catalogues of the Year deal with found photography in one way or another; photography as evidence is the main target in 2015. And of all 4 catalogues Beastly/Tierisch contains a motley crew of animal life pictures, cutouts from glossy magazines and such, AMC2 Journal issue 11 is black and blue in a different way: displaying the disguise and untruth of heroism in war photography against a backdrop of what…? Cozy, vintage self-adhesive shelf liner paper, maybe?

I vote for You Haven’t Seen Their Faces.

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Mirelle Thijsen (MT):

Taking off. Henry my neighbor, your recently published book – launched at Offprint in London (in Tate Modern‘s Turbine Hall) and at Amsterdam Art Fair with Johan Deumens Gallery – was published five years after Queen Ann. P.S. Belly cut off (2010) and seven years after Elisabeth – I want to Eat (2008). The three artist’s books, of the same size and format, together form an ‘open trilogy’. Trilogy is an interesting term, knowing it from the world of theater and literature, and in a way coming from your background in acting. A first question: to what extent are the publications thematically linked as a group of three ‘dramatic or literary’ works?

 

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Mariken Wessels (MW):

I designated it a ‘trilogy’ because my approach relates to theater insofar I work with characters like Elisabeth or Ann, or Henry and Martha for the new book, based on archival materials I received. Like a performer creates an environment, you build credibility by responding to questions as: who am I, where do I come from, why am I here, where do I go & what do I want? Being able to answer these one makes an analysis of how characters develop and mature.

In case information lacks I add to it, so to answer questions, like ‘where does he live and what is he like?’ Each time I write a script and gradually shape characters from notes, memos and sketches. Failing items are drawn from other sources, because I consider the material valuable for making up a partly fictional though credible character. This doesn’t apply to my other books. He was there (2012), for example, is a photobook for which I took pictures myself. At other times I collect pictures online. But Taking Off starts from the dramatic principle, that in creating a full-grown character everything has to match.

In terms of similarities: in all three stories, there are one or two protagonists. Elisabeth communicates with her aunt who tells her via postcards that she is crazy and has to face life. Eventually one wonders who the crazy one is. It’s an interaction between two people, like with Henry and Martha too. Martha took off her clothes before Henry’s camera. She chose to do it but could have said no. Queen Ann tells a different story: Ann is self-destructive and in conflict with the outside world, she decided to cut away her fat belly.

A common thread is that all protagonists wrestled with shame. You wonder how it’s possible that someone is interested in exhibiting their privacy like Ann did. Her story stands in stark contrast, for example, to today’s reality shows. All three narratives touch upon the edges of privacy.

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MT:

You mentioned writing a ‘scenario’ for Taking Off, does that apply to each part of the trilogy?

MW:

It’s not really a ‘scenario’, I describe characters and role profiles, based on the archive I got and the research I did. First I note down facts such as age, address, profession, movements and background. In theater this approach is known as the Stanislavsky Method. If you can’t distil these facts from existing documentation (in Chekhov’s Three Sisters it’s not all spelled out either) you need to find them out, but much is up for self-interpretation.

 

MT:

That explains the term: ‘open’ trilogy.

MW:

Indeed it does.

MT:

From a bird’s-eye view you played with a voyeuristic approach in He was there (2012) and made reconstructions of your deceased brother’s life in WHO (2012). Every artist’s book seems an effort to remember and assemble images displaying lives of anonymous people, characters if you wish, based on personal memories but infused by imagination. In general, an effort to ‘keepsake’ (a title of one of your projects) meaning ‘anything kept, or given to be kept, as a token of friendship or affection, remembrance.’ At the same time these personal stories are altered narratives. A trained actress you later entered the world of photography, dealing mainly with amateur photography. Correct me if I’m wrong: you make pictures of other peoples’ pictures; step into someone’s life so to create a fictional character, as performers do.

MW:

Yes, I appropriate materials from personal archives, creating characters, yet staying true to the source.

MT:

Focusing exclusively on amateur photography?

MW:

Not per se. I use self-made images, which I then often rephotograph. I try to find a fitting ‘translation’ for an absent image. Provenance doesn’t matter; whether I take the picture myself or take it from an archive, if it suits a character, anything goes. It’s often amateur photography because that genre, for all its unpretentiousness, speaks straight from the heart.

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MT:

How do you cast a role, create a person in writing? Do you describe the missing pictures?

MW:

I pull images from an obtained archive from which I start building a character. I collect as many facts as possible. At one point in Taking Off Martha spreads her arms, symbolizing liberation. I removed this image from its original context. By re-contextualizing, cropping and placing it elsewhere, it gains another kind of suspense. How I made that decision? I needed that image because I knew she did step out of her situation, hence I started sifting the archive.

MT:

So beforehand you visualize a mental image?

MW:

Yes, in terms of direction, with regards to existing material; to keep it authentic.

MT:

But the archive is a fragmentary entity, perhaps stored in a box?

MW:

It’s a starting point for creating a narrative. While investigating the archive the storyline gets nurtured by observations. I verify by reading documents, by talking to people involved, and for example after having found Henry’s annotations, I realized he was an amateur photographer. These elements form a plot thread.

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MT:

And the notion of ‘keepsake’, which is so vital to your work?

MW:

I’m fascinated and emotionally triggered by ephemeral lives. In trying to retain time, hold on to memories, one realizes that life is fleeting. While it’s a work about him, there are no pictures of my brother in my book WHO. I got no pictures of him after he passed away. Instead WHO was compiled from images I found online, where I looked for images that would bring his house back to memory. Of course I knew what it looked like: I just could have biked over there to have taken a look…but this would have been a huge move, too intimate. I then collected images so to reconstruct how I used to arrive at his place and what it did look like. Now while talking about this, I regain these images, seeing his guitar for example (he had many guitars, but not the one depicted in the book).

MT:

You create distance from what has happened in real life and drape your imagination over it, adding experiences to a personal life; we could perhaps say it’s a falsification of personal history?

MW:

Yes, and maybe because reality is too fierce. It’s a way to filter the intensity of life. Maybe ‘the third person’ helps in creating a storyline, in compiling a publication; because just the naked thruth that Henry had taken nude pictures of Martha for over two years raises an aversion. This is reality, it’s part of life and I feel I detest it. And this story reflects just a fraction of what happens in real life.

MT:

Let’s take a closer look at your book, starting with the title. What does Taking Off stand for? You discovered the archive of an extravagant amateur photographer named Henry, and who obsessively took and categorized nude photographs of his wife.

MW:

The title comes from one of Henry’s annotations. It could have also been ‘squeeze’, ‘kneeling’ or ‘xx good’ (some of his categories). But I thought the double meaning of ‘taking off’ was more fitting.

MT:

Exactly. Where did it originate; when did Henry start his amateur-nude-art-practice?

MW:

You’ll find the answer in the handmade diagram, which is part of the archive and reproduced here full-scale. From February 1981 till November 1983 Henry took 5,500 nude photographs. The categories correspond to annotations Henry made on the contact sheets. A husband who uses his wife as an object. Intimacy was absent is the impression one gets. It was Henry’s project, in which he was obsessed with lenses, film types, and judgment: ‘good’, ‘okayxx’ is what he noted down, a practice which is perhaps even more fascinating than the pictures themselves.

MT:

Let’s go back to the moment in which you found yourself in possession of a wealth of material. I understood from a short text in the book that while living close to New York City you met Edward F. Carroll and Dorothy Bartlett, ‘close friends’ of Henry and Martha. When did you live in the Long Island suburbs? When and where did you meet Edward and Dorothy? What did they tell about your former neighbors?

MW:

Facts aren’t important, otherwise I would have mentioned all of them. It’s an open approach, you might find the facts in the story itself. It was not my intention to make a straightforward documentary.

MT:

Would you want to lift a tip of the veil and explain how you met these people and where the material was stored?

MW:

No, not really. The project has been long in the making with long pauses in between… And this final result is what I wanted to publish. For example some collages were left out. Besides, some of your questions are answered in the epilogue.

MT:

Let’s put it differently: you were notified about the archive but left the material untouched for quite some time; it feels like an incubation period. How does it work?

MW:

It sat idle for quite some time indeed. Generally I leave material untouched for a while, in order to conceptualize and take distance from its source, making it easier to appropriate. When the moment is ripe and I’m able to keep the protagonist at arm’s length, I start to implement the material into my story.

MT:

Are you willing to reconstruct the first time you encountered Henry’s archive? In terms of personal experience?

MW:

I was enthralled right away and recognized the material’s potential.

MT:

What’s your fascination: How these people treated each other, how they communicated?

MW:

In fact, I already worked on another project related to ‘neighbors’, about stuff that happens behind closed curtains. What do we know and not know? After being allowed access to Henry’s archive, I knew I could use it and it also proved appropriate because luckily Martha isn’t particularly beautiful, for if she were I wouldn’t have used the photographs. The mediocrity appealed to me. As for the general theme: I’ve had a long-lasting fascination with people leading double lives.

 

MT:

How come?

MW:

I presume it relates to what we deal with in the world. You watch television and see a good looking man, you consider him a kind person, who actually happens to have been keeping children imprisoned in some basement.

Taco Hidde Bakker (THB):

It’s also about the friction between private and public domains, a person’s decorum: about how you present yourself to the outside world.

 

MT:

In that sense, the red thread is ‘acting’: decorum keeps up a mental attitude, a personage. Each of us is distorted by conditioning, personal traumas, indoctrination, etc. This specific behavior as exposed by Henry seemingly had to do with his past, his maternal bond.

MW:

All three publications deal with these social and behavioral aspects; with distortions of behavior.

THB:

And how the camera heightens tensions between private and public domain….

MT:

The camera is an important vehicle; in particular with regards to amateur photography: its own record must be irreproachable within the private domain. My next question probably will be too much focused on the facts as well: Where did you find the material and what did it originally look like?

MW:

I presume the book offers the reader details about the different domains I was given access to.

MT:

We will discuss the different ‘acts’ shortly. It relates to what you describe as ‘editing and rearranging’ Henry’s archive. How did you channel the extraordinary amount of pictures: 5,500 black-and-white photographs and 40 collages? What went through your head while processing the material?

MW:

I depart from materials at my disposal. I started with arranging and sorting out Henry’s work chronologically, following from his annotations.

MT:

During this process you were already aware of the personal histories of the protagonists?

MW:

Information I obtain gets sorted out and rearranged into a new structure. I construct the narrative based on my analysis of everything available. Upon reading the annotations I concluded that Henry must have been an amateur photographer knowledgeable about film and lenses and such. I collect, categorize and puzzle for a while, so to compile a narrative.

THB:

But things that you received are not by definition chronologically sorted…. In fact you translate ‘archive’ into ‘narrative’.

MW:

Yes, that’s the kind of process.

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MT:

I’m not sure to what extent my next question will be answered: Looking at the photo of Henry the adolescent, in his polo shirt, he seems so innocent but also not quite at ease, perhaps even a little vain. And I realized this is the boy that became Henry. It’s fascinating: a single youth portrait gets a different dimension. What type of person was he? Do you have information about his life, youth, and his profession?

MW:

He worked as an electrician. In the foldout pages of his room you’ll find the same portrait again. You’ll find more there, for example a book titled I’m OK, You’re OK. And he was obsessed about survival strategies, he owned books about how to control life; how to stand firm. Also, looking at the youth portrait: I see someone despondent, neither pleasant nor reliable.

MT:

Upon opening the book you realize right away that ‘Henry’s wife’ is the protagonist. The book is dedicated to her. What was her life like? You wrote that she was ‘under his spell’. You already indicated that Martha was submitted to stand model for her husbands’ compulsive behavior for a period of at least two and a half years. How did she abide with her husband’s behavior? And about ‘In dedication to Martha. For her courage’, the book’s opening lines: What makes her courageous?

MW:

It’s my opinion about her. She has traits of a submissive personality. Her face in the pictures expresses apprehension. But she found the courage to break the negative spiral. In one image we see her going upstairs to the room, close to opening up what was kept from sight. After having discovered the room, she became aware of what she partook in and broke out. Who knows about what happened before all this? Perhaps part of the archive was discarded; that’s why I don’t just cling to facts. Then there are feelings of shame, inasmuch as making a victim of rape into an accomplice, a partner in crime. Victims of sexual abuse often only seek publicity many years after the fact. It’s part of overcoming feelings of guilt and shame, as if having been accomplice to the crime. Likewise Martha overcame feelings of shame, and to throw the pictures out of the house was her way of dealing with it.

MT:

The first picture, a large color photograph inside the front cover, shows Martha in an opened bright red duster, with a pale skin, freckles and large breasts. She looks away from the camera. Why have this image begin the puzzling narrative?

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MW:

This was the last session, the last time she has been posing. She is introduced and simultaneously it reveals the moment she decided: It’s Enough! It’s the only time she wore red, a color I associate with bull fighting and with breaking out. She looks at the camera asking: “how do I get out of here?!”

MT:

What follows is the first act, which is quite disturbing: large-format full spreads showing grainy and uncanny black-and-white images, starting with a baby in a bathtub. And what happens next? Could you comment on the first 10 spreads, followed by two coal-black pages, and a Japanese-bound foldout, cleaving a foreshortened portrait of Martha, her youth portrait hidden inside. It feels like something bad is about to happen… gloom and doom… In short: a dark youth.

MW:

The black pages represent the story’s intensity. After the double portrait comes a picture of Martha covering her head and face with a scarf. Resistance maybe started here.

MT:

Followed by pictures showing frustration about undressing and being put in awkward positions. It’s a struggle, she’s not at ease. A strong statement. I presume these were the moments just before posing?

MW:

That’s correct, although you may find the same pictures in the contact sheets. In terms of chronology things are different, but I re-contextualized them with that in mind. It’s a preview of things to happen. The picture of Martha going upstairs is crucial, she is literally going to enter the room, but will also be confronted with what has been surpressed for years.

MT:

The first act is about traumatized youth, the second act about Martha pulling faces and taking off her clothes. The third act is made up by an avalanche of images: grids of similar nudes reproduced on glossy paper; categorized and labeled with stickers stating ‘sitting’, ‘bust’, ‘going flat’, ‘night gown’, ‘good bra’ etc. An overwhelming amount of pictures, like repeating a dry exercise: stand up; lie down; press up breasts; sit on hands and knees; always before the same backdrop: a bed, dark curtains, copper flower pots, a shaded lamp. The images are far from being erotic or pornographic, it rather looks like domestic photography with a high Hans-Peter Feldmann level (in All the Clothes of a Woman (1970) Feldmann piece by piece photographed all the clothes of a lady friend, like product photography, objectifying but also representing a personality).

MW:

There is a Feldmann association in the sense of summing up, choosing shoes or clothing. I considered it necessary to print the entire series, to show the couple’s obsessive behavior. Henry’s practice also reminds of Muybridge’s ‘Animal Locomotion’: sequences investigating subsequent phases of animal and human movement. I find the study and cataloging of human body positions fascinating.

MT:

At some point we see a white curly poodle on the bed. Their pet, isn’t it?

MW:

Yes. The dog appears multiple times. He’s a witness.

MT:

After the grids, on a double spread there is a handmade diagram, indicating dates, body positions and photographic techniques used. Henry mirrored different labels in order to read them on both sides of the chart. Is that correct? Where did you find this document?

MW:

He used carbon paper with a blue-pigment coating; the listing in blue was printed through carbon. I found the original document. It is one scheme whereby sections of the offprint were pasted onto the original typewriting.

MT:

Then follows the next act. We see a picture of someone in a raincoat, seen from the back, opening the door to Henry’s ‘workroom’, echoing the picture of Martha going upstairs. A foldout shows the room with nude pictures all over the place, like wallpaper. I also discovered some book titles, making me curious to what Henry read: The Amazing Laws of Cosmic Mind Power and Your Erroneous Zones. The latter meaning ‘If you’re plagued by guilt or worry and find yourself unwittingly falling into the same old self-destructive patterns, then you have “erroneous zones”’. The photograph of his workroom contains a wealth of information.

MW:

Like the other books, such as: I’m OK, You’re OK, they’re guides on how to gain control over life and how to foster optimism.The picture shows what has happened on Henry-territory, where besides having printed contact sheets he made annotations on a typewriter. His obsession, expressed through thousands of prints, is most tangible in his study.

MT:

What is depicted on the double page where the letters ‘taking off’, printed on a plastic strip, are blindfolding a picture of Martha?

MW:

That’s a section of the study with the strip glued to the wall. Henry made annotations and put them on the wall. These images are close to being collages already; photos pasted atop each other.

MT:

Then the window opens and pictures are thrown out onto the street. Some neighbors might have witnessed the scene.

MW:

Yet another pivotal image: Martha throwing it all out, beyond shame… neighbors made witness to these disturbing facts. Her liberation entails more than Henry’s: no more hiding, no matter what people think. She comes to stand above all this.

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MT:

We get to see a ‘liberated’ or ‘crucified’ Martha next, pale and tired, followed by a picture of a white peacock, seven blank pages and finally a picture of a roll of white paper towel. We move from black to white. What does ‘white’ symbolize?

image7

image8

MW:

It represents a new phase: eruption. There’s a crack where the light gets in. The outside world is invited; a shift occurs. As for the paper towel: washing your hands clean refers to what I consider the most intriguing part of Macbeth: after Macbeth had killed King Duncan on Lady Macbeth’s behalf, she compulsively kept on washing her hands, in a ritual of purification.

MT:

Like Pilatus washing his hands in innocence…

MW:

Yes.

And here you’ll find the inserted loose-leafed letter, where it belongs.

MT

Why?

MW:

Because Henry wasn’t feeling well, unable to share his emotions. His room was chaos; he started cutting and pasting the tattered images. Everything shifted, but to the outside world he acted as if nothing happened. The letter expresses his attempt in keeping everything under control.

MT:

That explains why the typewritten letter is inserted here with the semi-demolished room.

MW:

‘Everything is fine, it’s all under control’ is what the letter seems to tell: ‘I’m OK, You’re OK’.

THB:

He wrote about himself in the third person; creating distance.

MT:

What about the provenance of all the material? In this trilogy it got detached from its source. You rely on making associations. To what extent, then, does the story qualify as ‘a real picture story’? (as quoted from your website.) In other words: what’s true or untrue?

MW:

What’s truth? Everything considered true might not be true after all. Maybe Martha did ask her husband to photograph her extensively… I also could have inverted the plot, with Henry being the slave. And what’s a real life story in the newspapers? Each of us filters news differently. This book is presented as a documentary and at the same time raising the question: what is documentary? In fact it’s part of a larger story and a way of editing, half-truth filtered through the eyes of one person. Moreover, what you remember has relatively minor value too. To what extent is what you remember true, distorted or manipulated?

 MT:

It always ends up being interpretation, whether by historians, journalists or photographers.

THB:

It’s a contradictio in terminis: ‘a real picture story’. Pictures are always ambiguous.

MT:

Those are your words: ‘a real picture story’.

MW:

Yes and I consider them to be plausible; real-images-in-a-book; a real storybook.

THB:

It doesn’t say it’s a picture story on reality.

MT:

The medium of photography is pre-eminently considered suitable for recording reality.

MW:

That statement is disputable too. What truth hides in a family album for example?

MT:

Exactly, it’s decorum. “All the world’s a stage; 
And all the men and women merely players.” (from Shakespeare’s As You Like it, 1599).

Now I better understand the notion of ‘truth’ in this context. Then what follows are the collages: cubist-alike, mirrored images of Martha’s body, in most cases ‘decapitated’. Some rather grotesque: ‘stacks of busts’ for example. And because in his annotations he uses words as ‘bound Bra good’. What could the qualification ‘good’ have meant to Henry?

image9

MW:

It meant a figure, a grade; he succeeded in making successful pictures. He also used marks like ‘xxx’, or ‘ok’, both in the diagram and the captions to the collages.

MT:

If I understand it well, he meant ‘good’ in terms of technically successful?

MW:

Henry sorted things out, labeled everything, made classifications, gave grades. Although each picture speaks for itself, he was preoccupied with categorization and classification.

MT:

I asked so because ‘good’ is a sesitive term in this context. One could easily discover a logical connection between the ‘clay figurines’ from the late 1980s (reminding me also of André Kertész’s ‘Distortions’) and the ‘cut-outs’ from the mid-1980s. From the epilogue I understand that Dorothy and Edward discovered the collages in the deserted home after Henry moved to New Jersey. Did he make the cut-outs before the divorce and the figurines while living a hermit’s life in the forest?

MW:

Martha left right away and Henry was left alone, while his workroom was a mess. That’s the moment he started making collages. Later on in the woods he used clay. It’s important to know that Henry stopped taking photographs after Martha had left. With the leftovers of the nudes he made cut-outs. Then he started making clay figurines with the collages as models.

MT:

That is very clear. And who wrote the captions to the figurines? An index describes the numbered figures at the end of the story.

MW:

Technical data were written by the Hackettstown Center for Arts & Crafts in New Jersey. Underneath are notes on the figurines, written from my point of view.

MT:

Why did you add these?

MW:

I felt encouraged because I was allowed unrestricted access to the material, and the existing captions only give technical information.

image10

MT:

You did that exclusively for the clay figurines and not for the cut-outs and the grids?

MW:

Because this material represents a different chapter, away from photography. Besides, these objects where later incorporated into a collection, which creates a distance, in particular because of the impersonal captions.

MT:

It reads like a personal interpretation, let me quote the description for Fig. 11: “Rather than a body, sculpture reminds of an object. Looking balanced and elegant; no aggressive shapes.”

MW:

Yes, these are my words….

MT:

Back to chronology. Henry disappeared from the stage and made clay figurines (unbaked, in his ‘second-to-last known home’), which eventually got donated to the aforementioned Center for Arts & Crafts.

MW:

That’s close to where the figurines were found.

MT:

This is the so-called ‘second-to-last known home’, right? Figurines were on display here before being donated to the arts & crafts center. Then there’s an intermezzo with several white pages, bringing us to the art-catalog-like ‘act’. The story’s apotheosis is also sombre; what are we looking at? We see a cabin’s interior; wildlife traps made of clay; a rat’s tail; ‘Fig. 9. The ‘Henry poison station’ […].’ And in the epilogue we read that Henry finally moved to a self-built ‘last home’ in the forests of Highpoint State Area in New Jersey.

MW:

Henry started with survival techniques at an earlier stage already, he cut pages out from manuals and pasted them to the walls of his rental. Later on he led a secluded life, trapping animals in the woods. He didn’t take pictures anymore, but became a predator in another way.

MT:

Thanks very much. Finally, Taco, I’d like to ask you to comment on this ‘matter’ and on the artist’s strategy of Mariken in general. What was your contribution? When did you ‘step’ in?

THB:

We met two years ago, when the final phase of Taking Off started. We decided to cooperate so to enhance the project and work towards publishing a book in one or two year’s time. Together we worked on grant applications and production-wise I was involved in the editing and translating of texts, as well as making liaisons with partners.

I knew Mariken’s work already; I’d bought Queen Ann four years ago and was intrigued. Taking Off is a more ambitious project: three times more pages than each of the other books of the ‘trilogy’ She takes time to build up both an elaborate and suspenseful picture story. You can pick up her books after months, and they still have the same suspense. Finally, I don’t think the term ‘strategy’ applies to Mariken’s way of working, it’s more intuitive than strategic.

Translated by Mirelle Thijsen, edited by Taco Hidde Bakker and Mirelle Thijsen

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04

Mirelle Thijsen (MT):

I have never done a preparation for an interview in this way: I was leafing through your recently published ‘triptych’ Find a Fallen Star (2015), and enjoyed the ‘narrative’, or the lack of it, so much; I like your ‘style’. I made a random choice of pages, events, names from this poetic constellation, if I may call it so, your book project Find a Fallen Star, as the narrative unfolds and I discover links between pictures, documents, oral history and events. Three cited online sources accurately explain the facts about the three extraordinary events in 1954 in Alabama; in 1958 in Ramsdorf (Germany) and in 2006 in Kanwarpura (India): printed on the inserted text document, preliminary to the essay by Natasha Christia, which addresses personal memory, myth, language, cross-temporal conversations, the fragmented world and melodrama, rather than facts. Three plain hard covers in a carton sleeve cover the uncanny stories, respectively entitled: Stars fell on Alabama (Volume I), Fragments (Volume II) and The Indian Iron (Volume III). In the back of each book, a photo-index delivers captions in keywords. First, you published a text-oriented book, A Brief History of Meteorite Falls (2014), containing a collection of 100 eyewitness accounts and little stories on meteorite falls in different countries from different time periods.

To begin, please give us a short introduction to the book you started with, about a year ago: A Brief History of Meteorite Falls.

 

Regine Petersen (RP):

A Brief History is a collection of texts I gathered throughout the last years of my research. I started compiling it while still working on Find a Fallen Star, because the production of the photobook itself took so long, and I wanted to do something that produces quicker results. I knew I had a wealth of material and I didn’t want to leave it in the drawer. I went through all my notes and narrowed them down to 100 stories.

 

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MT:

Why did the other book take so long?

 

RP:

The photobook? It’s my first photobook and there were so many decisions to be made. But that was mostly enjoyable; the hard part was finding a publisher.

 

MT:

A Brief History is self-published, am I right?

 

RP:

I worked with a small publishing house in Hamburg, Textem Verlag.

 

MT:

At the time, I presume, you already had collected and compiled all the material for the photobook publication, but had not yet found a way to make it public?

 

RP:

Yes.

 

03

Three Stories, Three Themes, Three Locations

 

MT:

Let’s now get back to the subject matter. Why these three stories? Why three themes, three different locations, three cosmic events. How did you get to them?

 

RP:

It started when I read about the story of Ann Hodges (1920-1972) of Alabama, who was hit by a meteorite in the 1950s. When I saw the image of Ann standing under the hole in the ceiling, surrounded by the mayor and the police chief holding the stone, it somehow struck a chord with me. Anything that followed in some way deals with similar encounters of ancient rocks from space and the fragile life on earth. Meteorites were formed at the time the solar system came to be, 4.5 billion years ago, and they offer us a very different idea of time when compared to our human time scale. The Hodges story was the one that illustrated this in the most direct and obvious way, as this is the first, and some say, only documented case of a human being hit by a meteorite. I was curious what had become of her, what kind of life she lived, and how the situation in Alabama was at the time.

 

MT:

Where did you see that image? Where did you encounter it, in what context?

 

RP:

That was on the Internet, where I did my initial research. There is another, more ‘official’ image of the same situation: in that one Ann Hodges is holding the stone herself and is looking at it. It was used more widely. I think I stumbled upon that press photo first. Then I found the other picture, in which she seemed to be more in a world of her own, confused by everything that happened. She had a big bruise on her hip and her hand got hurt. It must have been a dramatic experience for her. I think that this aspect is more visible in the image in the book.

 

MT:

What is the provenance of both images?

 

Police chief with meteorite, photographed by Harmon Mims, 1954

Police chief with meteorite, photographed by Harmon Mims, 1954

RP:

A police photographer called Harmon Mims took the pictures. He is no longer alive.

 

MT:

For now, would you please give a general sketch of the three stories? We will come back to each of them separately in the course of this conversation. Did you then already know you were going to touch upon the other two stories? And when were you confronted with the Alabama photograph?

 

RP:

That was in 2009 or 2010. I started to do more research and a whole new world opened up. There were so many stories about falling meteorites out there, so many witness reports, and the fact that it happens all over the world provided a colourful picture of these incidents. There were a lot of differences in the way people reacted. There were a lot of similarities as well.

 

I also felt a growing fascination for the meteorites themselves. At the beginning I didn’t even know that people were buying and selling them, even on eBay. I didn’t know that there is a community of people trading and collecting meteorites. Instead I contacted NASA. [Ha-Ha.] They said No to my query! So I found out that there are easier ways to get access to meteorites. I got to know a lot of people, became part of the ‘scene’… and in the end I even worked with NASA scientists.

 

MT:

How long did you stay with your fascination?

 

RP:

How long I stayed with it? Well, I am still at it! It’s the meteorite bug: once you have it, you can’t get rid of it. [Ha-Ha.]

 

MT:

It didn’t stop with completing the book project?

 

RP:

No, No. I am working on something else now, but I will always be interested in meteorites. I used to avoid Facebook, but I have a profile now for the different meteorite newsgroups. I try to go to the fairs and I’m in contact with people. It really is of interest to me.

 

MT:

Let’s make the step to the second volume: Fragments. When did you decide to take the German story as a major theme? What did you find?

 

RP:

I’m not sure anymore where I first read about it… but I heard that five children found the meteorite, they broke it into pieces and shared it among them, secretly. Someone got me in touch with the main eyewitness, Luise, the daughter of the village doctor.

 

MT:

Karl Meisohle…

 

RP:

Yeah, and I called her. She told me about some recent tensions between the people that initially witnessed the fall in the 1950’s. Back then Luise’s father took the meteorite fragments from the kids, for which he gave them 10 DM each; you can see the contract he set up is reproduced in the book. And I think, in hindsight, some of the children weren’t happy with the deal. I call them children, but now they are of course grown-up people! Some of them regret giving their piece of meteorite away. And it turned out that one of them actually kept a piece…

 

After I spoke to Luise I wanted to talk to the other witnesses as well. And I found them, one by one, and their testimonies were strikingly different. Each and every one of them told me a different version of what happened. Also, there were more and more people in town who claimed that they had been part of the story. It is interesting to look at the way things are remembered, and how stories and histories are being constructed, not just by these people but by all of us. There are always many perspectives on one and the same thing.

 

MT:

Exactly. To get a taste of it all, let’s move on to the third story The Indian Iron: When and where did you find it? Why did you choose it, in general?

 

RP:

I went to India several times. First I did some work at Lonar crater in Maharashtra and I included some of those images in the chapter. It’s a beautiful place, a unique ecosystem created by a meteorite impact tens of thousands of years ago. The crater is now a circular lake with a little jungle around it. There are also a lot of temple ruins around this lake. But I also did research on smaller witnessed falls in India, and found that there were many of them because the country is so densely populated. All three stories in the book have religious aspects, and in India it is so obviously different than in the other chapters.

 

Temple ruins at Lonar, R. Gill 1865

Temple ruins at Lonar, R. Gill 1865

MT:

You mean Buddhism, in India?

 

RP:

No, Hinduism…mainly. At some point I came across a newspaper article about the Kanwarpura meteorite fall of 2006 in The Hindu newspaper. It said that two shepherds had seen a meteorite fall, beat the meteorite with sticks and immersed it in water. I immediately thought there was some kind of superstitious motive behind it. When I got there the story was in fact totally different. The witnesses had been pushing the meteorite with sticks simply because they thought it was hot, and dumped it in the water to cool it down.

 

MT:

Interesting, this whole project is about truth.

 

RP:

Yes.

 

Stars Fell on Alabama

 

MT:

Let us first look at volume I, which you just now called a ‘chapter’. Is that how you deal with the stories? Do you rather see them as ‘chapters’ than ‘volumes’? I considered them different books.

 

RP:

I say ‘chapter’, but it is something in between. My first dummy had all the chapters in one book. It didn’t work. I wanted to keep the stories separate but also somehow connected, so eventually I decided to put three books in a slipcase. You may call it ‘volume’ or ‘chapter’. I don’t care.

 

MT:

Let us now look at volume one, or chapter one. Stars Fell on Alabama (the title refers to a jazz song composed by Frank Perish…

 

RP:

It’s the wrong name. It’s a mistake in the book.

 

MT:

Pardon?

 

RP:

He is called Frank Perkins. And the lyrics are by Mitchell Parish

 

MT:

I did find it on Spotify anyway! I considered it a nice footnote, in terms of the information.

And the origin of that song is an earlier cosmic enigma in Alabama, called: the Great Leonid Meteor Shower, that took place as early as November 1833 and was only visible in the south-eastern part of the United States, I read in a endnote of the essay by Natasha Christia. There are two versions of the song: by Doris Day, and Billie Holiday. You refer to that cosmic event in a text fragment from the personal journal, or logbook, by Prophet Joseph Smith. I think this makes it all so interesting: all these names that pop up, they are like actors! Volume I opens with that statement. My question is: Who is that Prophet? He talks about ‘fireworks of eternity’ to ‘entertain the Saints’ and ‘awe the sinners’.

 

Martyrdom of Joseph and Hiram Smith in Cartage jail June 27th 1844, C.G. Crehen 1851

Martyrdom of Joseph and Hiram Smith in Cartage jail June 27th 1844, C.G. Crehen 1851

RP:

I think he is a self-declared prophet! And he is actually the founder of Mormonism in America. He founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Joseph Smith talks about ‘sinners’ in that text fragment. Ten years later, in 1844, he was killed by a mob. You’re right about the names, they have a kind of poetic sound to them; I really like to work with the way a name or a text looks and sounds, how it works on the surface, how it becomes an image. 

 

MT:

As a component of the narrative, I understand, it’s very clear. I looked at specific pages in the book, and consider it helpful for the reader that we number them in our conversation, so they can easily be found.

 

Not only at the beginning of the book, but also in the very back of the publication, (I, 49) you included a religious component, if I may call it that, an oral account by Amanda Young regarding The Great Leonid Meteor Shower of 1833. It is about belief, racism, and fear of death, truth and Judgment Day. Where did you find this document? And who is Amanda?

 

RP:

Amanda Young was a slave. It is an account I found on an African-American history website. It’s a vivid memory of someone who was 7 or 8 years old at the time and listened to his great-great-grandmother. She was not a prophet or a historical figure.

 

MT:

How has that oral personal account been ‘preserved’?

 

The Meteor Shower of 1833, Woodcut from F.A. Grondal's Music of the Spheres

The Meteor Shower of 1833, Woodcut from F.A. Grondal’s Music of the Spheres

RP:

The memory was passed down in the family, as an oral account. This is a contrast to the written ‘historical document’ from the beginning of the chapter. Perhaps things got lost in the process of re-telling the story, but the Leonid meteor shower of 1833 must have been a truly impressive event, probably the most amazing spectacle that modern man has seen in the night sky. People had difficulties expressing what they actually saw, because it was so beautiful, terrifying and sublime.

 

 0102

MT:

Juxtaposed to that account is a scattered colour photograph showing members of the McKinneys family? And on the recto (I, 47) is a black and white group portrait of the McKinneys from the1900s, showing in the front row: Otha, William, Mary, Claude, Josephine, and Julius. In the back row: Thomas, William, Mary, Mattie and somebody unknown. How does the colour photograph relate to the black and white group portrait? And who are the McKinneys? 

 

RP:

Julius McKinney was a black farmer who found a second piece of the meteorite the day after Ann Hodges was struck. He was out with his mule to get firewood and found the rock on a dirt road. This is the same place where I photographed the bottle on page 39. As you can see, the road is still a dirt road. I got to know some of Julius’ grandchildren and they gave me some documents. Among them was a photograph of Julius’ father. I was surprised that he looked kind of white, and I asked the family about it and did myself some genealogical research. I learned that during plantation years, there had been complex relationships in the McKinney family between slaves and (married) slave owners. Several children came out of that relationship. Julius’ mother was dark but his father was, to put it that way, three-quarters white and one-quarter black. Yet he was still considered a black person. We know this from Barack Obama, who will always be considered black, even though he is half white. We have these categories for people; and I actually became more aware of my own whiteness, which is something that, most of the time, is invisible to me. I kept thinking about these things a lot. So I included the family photo with Julius’ more or less white father, and Julius himself is in it as a boy, standing on the far right.

 

MT:

He is the finder….

 

RP:

Julius is the one in the image of the newspaper clip and in “The Negative” on page 43, holding the meteorite. He was able to sell the rock, so his story had a happy ending, other than that of Ann Hodges. He was able to buy himself a used car and new property. That’s where I found the other image you mentioned: the decomposed photograph on page 48. On the land, there was a burned down trailer from one of Julius’ daughters, which had been abandoned for years. I found several photographs in there, which had been damaged by fire, by water, by mud. I scanned these images, enlarged them to see the fissures and grass and dirt, there was even a little insect under the top layer of the photograph, which had peeled off. It is all surface and the information of the image is lost. I like the materiality of it.

 

MT:

Definitely.

 

McKinney Trailer Find #6

McKinney Trailer Find #6

RP:

For me, there is a complexity here. I cannot access the whole story. These people had their private lives, something I know nothing about. I look at it from a certain perspective, from my point of view. At the same time, I want to visualize this gap, to show that there is another history below and beyond the surface of the image.

 

MT:

Thank you, that’s very clear. What kind of ‘unclassified document are we looking at here (I, 6)? I would call this a ‘forensic’ document, in a way. The text is also interesting in terms of grammar. Details are numbered and described, I quote the first ‘DETAIL’: “1. This investigation was requested by Commander, Maxwell AFB, Alabama, predicated upon unconfirmed reports of aerial explosions, alleged aircraft crashes and unidentified flying objects, one of which is alleged to have fallen through the roof of house, injuring civilian female occupant, on 30 November 1954.” My question is: And how does this declaration relate to the following four images in Volume I. I mention these titles explicitly because they are short, accurate, like in a police report, and sometimes funny. And representing nothing more than necessary:  (I, 7) Parent Body; (I, 8) ‘Hodges House; (I, 9) Dog (Impact Site #1); (I, 11) Sylacauga Marble City.

 

0304

RP:

The provenance of this document is ‘Project Blue Book’, which used to be a program of the U.S Government to investigate UFO reports. These were classified documents at the time, now de-classified.

 

MT:

Why did the document change status?

 

RP:

Because the incident was proven to be a meteorite fall. At the time the United States Air Force didn’t know what it was and confiscated the rock. It could have been a Russian bomb or a flying saucer.

 

Some choices I make are formal choices. I like the juxtaposition of the document and “Parent Body” (I, 7-8), because they almost look like reversed versions of one another, the crossed-out black text seems to be echoed in the white lines of the moving stars. The document attempts to describe everything in a formal and objective manner, and then there is this mysterious object in the night sky we know nothing about, or a mere representation of it. It’s just a pixel in the dark! It’s an image of the supposed ‘Parent Body’ of the meteorite. It is an asteroid named 1685 Toro. Scientists calculated the orbit of the meteorite, and they assume it came from there. But they’re not certain.

 

MT:

Really, this is its location in space? That little thing?

 

RP:

It’s one of the two images of the asteroid in existence. They were taken by David Richards, an amateur astronomer from Aberdeenshire, who allowed me to use the image. One has to believe in this thing being out there in its orbit; otherwise the image doesn’t provide any information.

 

MT:

We always need some visual proof!

 

RP:

The name ‘Parent Body’ obviously has a ring to it, which allows different interpretations. I’m interested in the idea of distance and closeness: These images somehow come together in that way. The image is followed by a picture of the house of the Hodges. The photograph of the dog was taken where the house used to be. It burned down; many houses in Alabama do because they are made of wood. It has been replaced with two trailers.

 

MT:

Is the little puppy dog alive or dead?

 

RP:

It’s alive! Many people ask me that. It’s just sleeping.

 05

MT:

And finally, please comment on the picture (I, 11) Sylacauga Marble City, the landscape?

 

RP:

Sylacauga is also called ‘The Marble City’. There are many marble quarries, some of them no longer in use, like the one on the image. Marble from Sylacauga has been used to build several monuments in Washington, for example. There is a relationship to the unclassified document we talked about earlier. But this is a connection I just made right now, talking about it. Many of my decisions are intuitive; I make certain associations while I’m taking photographs, others during the editing process, and some connections appear to me much later. So when you talk about certain aspects of my work, I might learn something new as well. It’s a nice experience.

 

MT:

It is very interesting: a moon landscape in itself, like an undiscovered planet. You visited a second Impact Site #2 (I, 39) of the meteorite, and photographed a bottle. You yourself classify pictures and documents, in a way, and numbered them, too. Also some of these echo in the book: McKinney Trailer Find #4 (I, 48); and Lawsuit #3 (I, 19). Why? And what do the numbers refer to? Maybe it’s an open door, but still I would like to know….

 

06

RP:

Yes, it is an open door to the fact there is more than one; I made several finds in the trailer, and I may use other images than the one in the book, in exhibitions for example. Same with the ‘Lawsuit’, Ann Hodges’ husband, Eugene, was a little ‘ill-tempered’, as Natasha Christia put it in her essay of the book. He wanted to make profit from the rock that fell on his wife, and of course claimed it as his own. But the mayor allowed the Air Force to take away the meteorite. So Eugene sued the mayor. Then there was Birdie Guy, the landlady of the property and the mother of Ed, whose picture is on page 13. She claimed the meteorite for herself, because it fell on her house. So there came another lawsuit. There had also been discussions with the lawyer of the Hodges to sue LIFE magazine because they had published an unauthorized photograph of Ann lying in hospital. People in town ridiculed her because of that image, because it showed the bruise and quite a bit of bare skin. But Ann herself was taken by surprise in that moment; the doctor had just lifted up the bed sheet for the journalist who quickly snapped the photo.

 

MT:

You’re revealing a much deeper story. So if I understand it well, you don’t always show the whole series of documents in the book? It’s not meant to be undivided.

 

RP:

Indeed.

 

MT:

What does ‘The Negative’ refer to (I, 42-43), which is also in itself a beautiful title? I understand it shows the McKinneys around 1900….

 

RP:

No, that’s actually the one on page 47. ‘The Negative’ is from the 1950s.

 

MT:

Oh, yes, the newspaper clipping, I mean the image on page 41.

 

RP:

It is the McKinneys, I agree on that!

 

MT:

It is such an interesting scene, everyone is looking down, and there is something humble in there. Also reflected in the position of the boy with his right hand on top of his father’s shoulder. It feels like something tragic…. Here we see a poor black family looking DOWN, really, at an odd object in the left hand of father McKinney sitting in a chair. I read ‘mighty proud’ and ‘black pearl’ and ‘found by a 60-year old Negro farmer’ on (I, 41) a newspaper clip echoing ‘The Negative’, of the same picture, printed on the next spread, and all related to: ‘a fragment of the same shooting star that struck Mrs. Hewlett Hodges (the first human being ever hit by such a missile from outer space).” And then that part of the meteor was sold to Stuart H. Perry, publisher of the Adrian Michigan Telegram.

 

RP:

You spotted that so well. The words that were used at the time are remarkable. You can read a lot into them and between them, they tell so much about the contemporary situation. It was a time before the Civil Rights Movement, and Julius McKinney was afraid that the meteorite would be taken away from him. At first he kept his find secret. The only person he told about it was the postman who arranged for a geologist to look at the rock. In the end he was able to sell it and make some money from it.

 

MT:

How much?

 

McKinney meteorite

McKinney meteorite

RP:

I don’t know. It wasn’t documented.

 

MT:

Sold to Stuart H. Perry?

 

RP:

Yes. The document says the ‘purchase price was not disclosed’, but it certainly was a lot of money for the McKinneys. When you look at page 41 you can see part of the only bigger newspaper article that was published about the McKinney meteorite. The image is cropped; I later saw the original negative, Julius’ granddaughter showed it to me, and it is printed in the book on the following double pages (I, 42-43). It shows that the background had been painted over. In those days negatives were retouched in this way, and you can see they did not paint the negative all the way. On the right hand side you can still see the original background, and the poor conditions in which the McKinneys lived.  We don’t really know why it has been painted over: Was it at the McKinneys’ request? Was the background simply too distractive? Was it censorship? I would say it has been ‘blackened out’, but it is quite the opposite: it is ‘whitened’ over. They were also a humble family, and sceptical towards white people coming by and asking questions.

 

0708

MT:

It brings us to the quote, and related to that is the striking picture of the vulnerable mule (I, 36): “the mule found it and showed it to me”, said McKinney. It reads like a phrase in a poem; it’s about the essence of life and being humble again: ‘I didn’t find it; it was given to me’. It has a spiritual connotation. And this cute animal: where did you find it?

 

RP:

It was standing on a pasture. There are many mules and donkeys in the area. Even at the junkyard, where I photographed the boy in the car wreck (I, 23).

 

MT:

I wonder if you already had read about the mule beforehand; did somebody tell you about the quote? Was there a link already with this particular historical document, before taking the picture?

 

RP:

In that case, yes.

 

MT:

And ‘Eugene’s Grave’ (I, 33), you’ve just introduced him: he is the husband of Ann Hodges. But I don’t understand the picture with the caption. Is it his grave?

 

09

RP:

Yes. Eugene died two weeks before I came to the U.S. at the age of 89. When I was in Alabama I decided to go and find his grave. I went to this small churchyard. There was nobody there, and I saw a fresh grave. Exactly at that time two workers came up in their car and started to assemble the gravestone. They started with the base, and this is what I photographed. Then they put some glue on top of it and mounted the tombstone. So this is the moment just before that. It was a weird situation. No family members were present. Eugene only had one son, but not with Ann Hodges. I don’t know whether it was disrespectful to take a photograph at that moment. There was, in any event, something sad about the situation.

 

MT:

The picture says it all. That yellow object in the picture looks like a bar of soap!

 

RP:

That’s a sponge.

 

MT:

And we have eyewitnesses of the cosmic event. Where did you encounter the ‘Eyewitness’ (I, 35)? Apparently more than one: A waitress; a Maxwell Air Force pilot – flying at high altitude; two men fishing in Paint Creek; a Sylacauga farmer. Please tell me more about these witnesses.

 

RP:

I haven’t met them. These testimonies are assembled from various sources. A report from a geologist, people’s personal files, other sources: many reports, found partly online, but mostly on paper. There is an archive at the Alabama Museum of National History, I got several documents from there, the postcard that was sent to Ann Hodges for example, papers from Ann’s lawyer. I also got a lot of material from a researcher, John C. Hall from Tuscaloosa. He is the most knowledgeable person about the Sylacauga meteorite, and he helped me a great deal.

 

MT:

It’s an impressive archive. And did you make a selection yourself from the existing documents and from the eyewitnesses’ accounts?

 

RP:

Yes.

 

MT:

And who is the person portrayed on the left page (I, 34)?

 

11

RP:

I tried to find Ann Hodges’ second house, the one she moved to after she divorced her husband. I couldn’t locate it, but I roughly knew the area. So I knocked at someone’s door. People were always very welcoming and the lady invited me in. She told me that she once shared a room with Ann in the hospital.

 

MT:

A more informal testimony… and not mentioned in the personal accounts written out on page 35.

 

RP:

No. To me her gaze is interesting. She seems very adamant. I found her portrait nicely contrasted with all the different descriptions and perspectives on the opposite page.

 

13

MT:

Now let’s look at the postcard you just mentioned. I read a hand-written note on the back of a postcard (I, 28). A reverend asked Mrs. Hodges “to donate the meteor to be used in sermons. “We will pay postage on it”, he suggested. A strange request, quite extraordinary, is it not?

 

RP:

I have another document for you, which I didn’t use in the book:

 

Letter to Ann Hodges, 1. Dec 1954

Letter to Ann Hodges, 1. Dec 1954

 

 

MT:

Incredible, lets illustrate this post with some of these unpublished documents. So where did you actually find the postcard? And what do you think of the reverend’s request? He wants to use the rock for his sermons and is willing to pay for the shipping!

 

RP:

He is being generous! It gives a feeling for the many absurd reactions towards these phenomena and the religious connotations that come with it, all over the world. Ann Hodges received many religious letters. People thought it was a sign from God, and before things took a bad turn for her, Ann Hodges said herself: “God sent it to me”. Julius McKinney said a very similar thing.

 

MT:

So there are these connections again, also within the storytelling, such as the religious component.

 

RP:

Yes.

 

MT:

I would like you to comment on a young boy photographed at Merkel’s junkyard (I, 23) while sitting in a rusty car wreck. This is close to one of the impact sites? Is that correct?

 

14

RP:

Most of the images are quite close; it’s a small community. But I take my own liberty to photograph anywhere I want. I went up North of Alabama as well to visit the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and Ann Hodges’ grave near Huntsville, and I took photographs on the way. But the boy was living close to the fall site. His last name is Merkel. I came across many German names in the region. Many of the inhabitants are descendants from Germans settlers. There were roads with my name as well: ‘Petersen Lane’ for example. And this boy happened to have the same name as the German Chancellor. His uncle was the mayor of the town, and his father owned the junkyard. There is a reference to the German chapter, but mainly I was just interested in this junkyard. It was such a pleasure to take photographs there.

 

Fragments

 

MT:

It’s a great picture. I am going to now close this book, and pick up Fragments, and continue with what you call Chapter two and I call Volume II. Let me now ask you a series of questions related to Fragments. In terms of timeframe, this is just four years later: a meteorite fell on Ramsdorf in Germany and caused ‘einige Probleme’ as reported in a special edition of Die Sterne (Zeitschrift für alle Gebiete der Himmelskunde) in 1959. The name of that magazine in itself is amazing, in this context! What problems is Die Sterne referring to?

 

Die Sterne, Jahrgang 1959

Die Sterne, Jahrgang 1959

RP:

It refers to scientific problems referring to observations during the fall of the meteorite. It seemed unusual that none of the witnesses heard an explosion. I made a couple of notes here… let me check those: There was no thunder. So now the assumption was that it must have come down at low speed, or at a shallow angle. The text also states that no light was observed. But I actually did speak to a witness who said she saw a red tail in the sky. Perhaps nobody spoke to her at the time. Those are the ‘problems’ Die Sterne is referring to, but for me, the problems in the story are of a personal kind: the apparent contradictions and tensions when looking at the testimonies of the witnesses.

 

MT:

Yes, especially in this case. We will get to these witnesses later in this conversation. Let’s first look at the very first picture in this book. It’s quite intriguing. I see a white tablecloth, a left-hand fist of a married woman, a beige coloured, could be leather, small casket, opened up and showing inside, probably, a fragment of the meteorite. It all makes it look very valuable in this way. What are we looking at on the frontispiece?

 

RP:

If you look at testimony on page 46, or read the translation…I don’t know, do you speak German?

 

MT:

Yes, I read German.

 

15

RP:

On page 46 you can read what Oswald has to say. He mentions that somebody in Ramsdorf still has a piece of the meteorite, but he is not allowed to tell who that person is. That was not a very satisfying answer for me, of course, and I quickly found out who that person was. I photographed the fragment, but kept the owner anonymous. It is a man. You see a man’s hand. It’s interesting though that you see it as a woman’s hand; it makes it more mysterious.

 

MT:

All right, this is the very opening of the book: HERE is the extra piece: nobody knows about it. Wow!

 

RP:

Yes.

 

MT:

As we move on, we read an accurate description of the fall and recovery of the meteorite, typewritten in Natur & Volk (I, 8/9). Where did you find this document? And what kind of publication is this?

 

RP:

Natur & Volk is also a natural science publication such as Die Sterne. The writer of the article, Dr. Mosebach, established a good working relationship with Dr. Meisohle, the village doctor who made the meteorite fragments available to scientific institutions. Meisohle got the draft of Mosebach’s article before it got published. Some words got crossed out, and corrections were made. I got the documents from his daughter Luise.

 

MT:

Do these materials originate from his personal archive?

 

RP:

Yes. His correspondence and other files…

 

MT:

Ok, thank you. Who was this group of young people and children that suddenly heard a noise? I think it is very interesting the way people express what they have witnessed, or explain in words the sounds, in all three cases. I kind of looked for that as well. In Ramsdorf: “like an incoming small propeller plane” on the evening of a sunny day. So we have a picture of what that is like. And this one is most incredible: “Zschhht, bumm, gone”.

 

Münsterländer Zeitung, 29. July 1958

Münsterländer Zeitung, 29. July 1958

RP:

Very different from the description in the Indian chapter.

 

MT:

This one reads like a text balloon in a cartoon like Lucky Luke! So, who was this group of people? Please give us an initial impression. We will speak in detail about several protagonists later on.

 

RP:

It is not clear based on the scientific text. They don’t mention anyone by name, except Luise, the daughter of the doctor. It is not confirmed who these five witnesses actually were. I know that Horst was one of them, I know Franz was one of them, but there are also people who say Horst wasn’t there when it happened. But I am pretty sure he was. Probably most of the witnesses were somewhere in the vicinity of the fall site. Some say that no girls were present, only boys. Some mention many witnesses, others only one or two. Some seem to be excluded because they were not part of a gang.

 

MT:

We go into the story now. This group of kids did not tell a soul about their discovery, and went back the next morning to the site and broke the thing in 5 pieces (one for each of the children). How they did that is explained as well: ‘with one blow from the back of an axe’. A nine-year-old girl, Luise, went home to tell her father, medical doctor Karl Meisohle, which led to the recovery of the ‘scientifically valuable find.’  The father assembled the other four pieces to its ‘original shape’. And then it is described as a sharp edged rock, which is smooth and the edges are blunted. And I wondered right away: Have you seen it?

 

RP:

I have seen the meteorite in photographs as an assemblage of pieces. On page 41 you can see a picture. Nowadays the pieces are separated and in museum collections. I photographed two of the fragments at the collection of the Arizona State University in Phoenix; the image is on page 15. I also photographed a tiny crumb at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. I initially wanted to photograph as many pieces as I could, but it was an impossible task and way too expensive. I have seen some pieces in a private collection, and of course the secret fragment we talked about. The initial mass of the meteorite is completely in fragments.

 

16

MT:

How did that happen? After the rock was collected by Dr. Karl Meisohle?

 

RP:

The children had already broken the meteorite apart. And scientific institutions don’t need an entire rock for research purposes. There was one museum that wanted to display the whole piece, but Meisohle preferred to give it to different institutions, so it would be analyzed. He broke it further apart in small pieces, and gave them away without charge. Later on he traded them for other meteorites and started his own little collection.

 

MT:

You just mentioned how to identify this group of young people. We have several portraits in Fragments, of Franz; Ferdinand (an eyewitness paving the road on the day it all happened); the five boys: Helmut, Willi, Horst, Reinhard and Ludger; a boy holding a homemade ‘Sputnik’, I guess; Oswald; Luise and Karl (Meisohle). What is the relationship between these people?

 

RP:

That is difficult to summarize. All of these children lived in the same neighbourhood. Some belonged to a group of friends or siblings, others were more separate. The youngest was 9, the eldest 17 years old. There is a complicated web of inclusion and exclusion. Some of the witnesses became estranged from one another; some were annoyed about Luise’s father, because he took the pieces away from them. Others think it was okay: he made them available to science. And the question is now: what to make of the testimonies? They all say different things. Memory is complicated and so are historical accounts. Everything depends on perspective.

 

MT:

The people mentioned in the book, are they all eyewitnesses?

 

RP:

They claim to be. Except for Oswald; he said: “I wasn’t there.” He also said: “I know exactly what happened.”

 

MT:

I thought this was interesting: first I saw the image, and then I saw the quote. And I thought, yes, this is how things are related as well.

 

RP:

Which image do you mean?

 

MT:

Page 13: ‘Smoke’. I did not get it first: Why do you need ‘smoke’ in this story, I wondered. What does the ‘Smoke’ (II, 13) refer to? Then, I read in a testimony: ‘Smoke rising from a hole in the potato field’… It is a wonderful phrase, again, like a poem. And I realized, this is a phrase you ‘drag’ along, in your mind, in your research, during the time you read and search. Just now I realize ‘smoke’ might relate also to the moment the rock of outer space is coming down, and penetrating the earth: creating a lot of smoke and dust. What is your reaction to these multiple meanings?

 

17

RP:

It is also a child’s memory in a way; things seem to be bigger than they are and get even bigger over time: the memory of steam or smoke rising from a hole. It is a strange observation, because usually meteorites don’t give off smoke when they impact the ground. That happens much higher in the atmosphere. But some of the witnesses speak of smoke; maybe it was dust from the soil. I don’t want to claim there was no smoke, but it couldn’t have been a large amount.

 

MT:

Regarding the photograph itself, the one you made of a huge cloud of smoke: Did you encounter a farmer burning a pile of wood, or so?

 

RP:

Yes, people in the area were burning stuff in their backyard. And there must have been something toxic, or chemical in there… it made the smoke very dense and smelly.  

 

MT:

There are different interpretations of the event; oral history doesn’t always ‘match’. That is a wonderful component, and one of the multi-layered aspects, of your research project, Regine. So to make it a little more explicit I selected four non-matching observations. A) Ferdinand, living close to the Meisohle family, reports that Karl Meisohle ‘dug out the rock’ himself. B) Luise mentions another girl, Gisela, and the boys went to church before they shattered the rock. C) Franz ‘saw it happen’, and ‘smashed it with a hammer’. Another ‘object’ is mentioned and another person claiming to be an eyewitness, but he is not in the portrait of the 5 boys. D) Willi says they skipped church on Sunday morning. I guess, my central question regarding the whole project Find a Fallen Star is the following: What is ‘truth’ according to you in this context? It‘s like this is the main issue.

 

RP:

Yes, what is the truth? When I was speaking to the witnesses, I believed every single one of them; except for Oswald maybe… he wasn’t present on the site. On the other hand he was the one who told me about a secret fragment, and it existed. Every time I spoke to a witness I thought: this must be the proper version of the story. They definitely believed in it. Maybe they are selective in the way they see things. For example, Luise mentions that the boys went ahead and the girls had to stay behind. Do men write history because they get there first? Or did Luise take centre stage because her father was an important man in town? The boys might have completely forgotten about the girls because they were in a group, doing the hard work digging out the meteorite from the ground.

 

MT:

In the very moment.

 

RP:

Yes. So, it’s an image that they carry with them, in their mind. And even those get falsified over time. That is what happens with history as well, what we call ‘history’. To me ‘history’ is a word, too big of an idea.

 

MT:

It’s an ‘interpretation’ of events; a collective interpretation. And more than that, you might also call it ‘propaganda’.

 

RP:

Yeah!

 

MT:

And who is Gisela?

 

RP:

She really vividly remembers this event. Then again there must be some exaggeration because she explained the meteorite fell right next to her. And I think, this cannot be true. On the other hand I don’t want to be disrespectful, because I think it is just a very human thing to exaggerate. It was difficult for me to walk a line between making the representation of history an issue and not discredit the personal memories. People remember different things and those memories have value and should be allowed to coexist. I don’t want to pretend to have found the one true story.

 

MT:

We come to the different explanations, be it an axe, or a hammer, for example.

For now would you please comment on this quote by Luise: ‘those were the days of the first unmanned rockets, when the Russians were sending these dogs into space”. We all have a picture of that timeframe. And what did it mean for you, this quote?

 

RP:

It made me realize: of course, people hadn’t yet been on the moon. The way people saw the world must have been very different. Those were the days of the Sputniks, and chimps and dogs got sent into space instead of humans. I grew up with an image of the earth seen from the surface of the moon. These images gave us a different perspective on the world and on our society. Find a Fallen Star is about changes of perspective. Just as a meteorite can be looked at from different angles, depending on whether you are a religious person, or a scientist, a geologist or cosmologist or if you desire this meteorite to be in your collection, or…

 

Men with Meteorites #4 (Hoba)

Men with Meteorites #4 (Hoba)

MT:

A citizen!

 

RP:

Yes! So I really felt how different life must have been in the 1950s, the Second World War had been over for just a couple of years, and people hadn’t set foot on the moon yet. There are quite a few chimps and monkeys in these books, and there is also a little space capsule in chapter two on page 25, in which a chimp got sent into space. I photographed it in Alabama, in fact.

 

MT:

Did you take that photograph in a Museum of Natural History, or in a more scientific context?

 

RP:

It’s taken at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. That’s where I also took the picture of the Wernher von Braun portrait (I, 21), the ex-Nazi technician who went to Alabama to start a second career. The Space Chamber ended up in the second, not the first chapter, because it has a special relationship to the events.

 

MT:

What is the special relationship you are referring to?

 

RP:

Luise talks about the dogs that were sent into space, one of the newspaper articles provides information on some researchers from CERN who wanted to visit Ramsdorf, and we have the picture of the little boy with his handmade Sputnik built from a milk can.

 

18

MT:

I understand, that’s very clear. If I may, I would like to ask you to give a compact answer regarding a few pictures. You made a photograph of a smudged white egg lying in the mud (II, 20). Once again the black-and-white theme, we are dealing with here! Is this to be considered a metaphor for the meteorite?

 

RP:

I was thinking of what Hildegard remembers, she saw ‘a sparkling piece of rock’ in the hole. But the image is also about the beginnings of life, and about the story of the children. What really happened that day the star fell? There was also a point when I turned more and more to nature in my photographs. There were so many voices in this chapter and it was sometimes stressful for me to listen to all these different versions of the story. I needed some peace and quiet, and the resulting images became an important part of the work.

 

MT:

That is interesting to know. After all, it is really all about nature, and the elements!

 

RP:

Yes, thank you.

 

MT:

The International Institute for Nuclear Research in Geneva called Ramsdorf and asked for a sample – one of those examples in your book of sharing, claiming and keeping the valuable find. Dr. Meisohle saved the newspaper clipping and glued it with a strip of Scotch to his letterhead. That in itself is nice, that you show that: his way of archiving and collecting things. Did they get it?

 

RP:

Yes, they got a fragment.

 

1920

MT:

You don’t get that impression from the newspaper article; there is a kind of enigma there…

 

RP:

Yes, true.

 

MT:

Maybe the following images have to do with the answer you just gave regarding nature and such. The titles are quite striking. Why do we get to look at a ‘Lunar Eclipse’ (II, 27)?

 

RP:

‘Lunar Eclipse’ is a picture from an amateur astronomer’s club called ‘Sternenfreunde’ in Borken, the district where Ramsdorf is located. They have a very small observatory. One of the members, Günther Strauch, took this picture. I really wanted to include it.

 

MT:

We look at ‘Hills’ (II, 29) and ‘Weeds’ (II, 30) and ‘Dew’ (II, 43), and the incredible picture of the ‘Frog’ (II, 45)? A frog is walking in white mud, again, the darkness versus the light. To get a sense of it all, are these fragments of nature to be considered similar natural mystical phenomena?

 

21

RP:

Yes, you could interpret them like that. Thinking about something as extraordinary as a meteorite made me wonder even more about all the other strange things around me that we take for granted. It made me look at many things in a new way, perhaps from the perspective of a meteorite or an alien.

 

MT:

In this same context, I like to mention, what we already implicitly discussed, that images and events resonate, in all three volumes: stuffed monkeys (III, 20) and the Chimpanzee Space Chamber (II, 25). The Ant Hill (I, 14) and the Mole Hills (II, 37), more frogs (II, 45; III, 14). And the religious aspect, such as the Christian message coming to earth like a meteor (II, p. 40). In different ways the Christian message is there, such as the postcard from the reverend (I, 27/28). Would you please elaborate on this observation?

 

RP:

It’s again about the similarities and the differences. You can find a frog in India, and you can find a frog in Ramsdorf. It’s very basic. Maybe, just maybe, while looking at similarities and differences one might be able to get a bigger picture of things. Indians, Germans and Americans become people. People, animals and trees become living beings. I found these similarities and loved to bring them together, but none of it was preconceived. I liked the idea that there are two tiny creatures like the frogs so far apart from one another, and bringing them together by the means of photography, and also giving them significance.

 

22

MT:

And why these little anthills and molehills? To me they look like very sculptural shapes you selected for the book.

 

RP:

Very ‘earthy’… I took the pictures in the vicinity of the impact sites. Sometimes, I don’t feel like explaining too much.

 

MT:

The meteorite, the egg, the anthill, also have this round sculptural, ‘global’ shape.

 

RP:

The anthill is a world in itself: a colony, a society of animals and to me it looks a little bit like a planet. You can look at it in many different ways.

 

MT:

Would you tell me more about ‘The contract’ from August 8, 1958? 10 DM for each of the finders: ‘Einverstanden’. Or maybe this is it. That’s possible too!

 

RP:

That’s about all there is to it. I just find it absurd that the doctor makes children sign a contract. The handwriting on the contract is very… you realize they are children, and they don’t know what’s going on. They just signed because the village doctor, who is an authority, asked them to sign. And then their parents signed it as well. Some of their handwriting is very old-fashioned compared to the children’s. It’s interesting how different they all are, and what you can read from it.

 

The Indian Iron

 

MT:

That’s a strong statement. We close this volume and move on. And finally, get to The Indian Iron, volume III. To me, this chapter is even more enigmatic than the other two. For several reasons, I will come back to that aspect, in the course of the questions. We make a leap forward, from the 1950s up to 2006, the present-day. It’s a lighter story; less densely documented, compared to the five or more eyewitnesses in the German story, which feels more complex; less images occur: thirteen colour photographs and three black and white or sepia-tinted pictures. In The Indian Iron everything falls apart, it seems. That’s how I experienced it. Starting with the interview: just fragments really. Please don’t take this as a critique. Questions remain unanswered. And most of the text is in Hindi, I presume?

 

23

RP:

I don’t take your comments as a critique. ‘In The Indian Iron everything falls apart, it seems’, I actually think this is an amazing sentence. And a part of me would like to leave it uncommented. The interview printed in the book is mainly in Hadoti, a Rajasthani dialect. It is not even understood by people who speak Hindi. Printing it in its original is reconstructing my experience being there and trying to find out what happened. But also, the construct of history itself seemed to ‘fall apart’, because in India things are not documented in the same way as in Europe or the US. During the interview with the villagers, my translator started to get so interested in the topic himself that I got left out of the conversation more and more. Their answers were short and seemed misplaced. It was frustrating at first but while still doing the interview I realized how much potential there is in this ‘conversation’, because this is how we perceive the world, and other cultures, most of the time. It’s impossible to get into other complex histories and I became aware of how much I see things from a Western perspective. The pages are now full of symbols. I now know what has been said because it was translated for me afterwards, but I decided not to show it. If you speak the language you get a lot of information. In fact you get so much information, that my questions in turn seem out of place.

 

MT:

We encounter another document. What exactly is a [meteorite list]? I assume it refers to an online newsgroup? Please correct me if I am wrong.

 

RP:

No, that’s right.

 

MT:

Okay. The e-mail exchange between Jeff, Ruben and Mike (III, 22) is very much expressing doubt regarding the authenticity of, what’s called, the ‘new Indian iron’. It could as well be, and I quote: ‘a big chunk of slag from the nearby atomic power plant.’ To be compared with the quote by Luise about Russia, I guess.

 

RP:

This is one of the news groups for meteorite collectors. And they’re actually wrong; the iron is not ‘a big chunk of slag’, but a proper meteorite. It has been analysed and classified. We talked about a Western perspective on things. An American meteorite fall is usually very well documented. An Indian fall might not be documented that well, or the documentation isn’t available outside of India, so there is a lot of doubt. And in this case the meteorite itself is of a rare type and highly unusual. It also looks strange: very shiny. Some people from the village might have scrubbed some of the surface off. There was not a lot of information available about the meteorite beforehand. It also wasn’t clear where in India it was kept. I had to travel quite a bit to find it.

 

MT:

Where did you find it?

 

Records of the Geological Survey of India

Records of the Geological Survey of India

RP:

It was at the Geological Survey of India (GSI), but not in Calcutta at the main depository, where it was supposed to be. That’s where I went first. The meteorite turned out to be in Jaipur, 1.500 km away at another GSI branch.

 

MT:

Resonating in volume II and I are the way you photograph A) impact sites. Here in volume III we look at a ‘Tooth’ (III, 19). You have other objects from the here and now that are on this historical ground, like the bottle. B) The oral testimonies by eyewitnesses. In The Indian Iron there is just one person: Gisalal…

 

24

RP:

There is Mahender as well. He is the one describing the sound.

 

MT:

Now you refer to: C) the way people search for words and sounds to describe the impossible: ‘Dooooong. Like an aeroplane.’ Which also resonates in the other two volumes. D) And, as mentioned earlier, similar animals, and tools used to break the meteorites, like a ‘hammer’ (III, 15). Please elaborate on some of the similarities.

 

RP:

There is nothing to add to it really! I chose to photograph the tooth because it was in the vicinity of the impact site. It’s the insignificance of a tooth; at the same time it is the specificity of a tooth. I thought about teeth quite a bit. There is a song by Baby Dee: ‘Teeth are the only bones that show’. They’re an anatomical oddity: they come out of our face, and we take them for granted.

 

MT:

That is remarkable. Thank you.

 

RP:

I want to add that the eyewitnesses who initially handled the iron were nomads, and they were never seen again. I only spoke to people who saw the fireball, who spoke to the nomads after the meteorite had fallen. There is distance and opacity everywhere; false memory, people who seem to live outside of history, barriers of language. The work is about that frustration. But it’s also about its potential: allowing space for the other.

 

MT:

Very beautiful, the way you put it, really.

We go to the most remarkable information, in terms of historical context. This is one of these historical interpretations, which is echoing in the book: ‘They thought that Pakistan had fired a bomb (III, 16).’ The thought the Pakistanis wanted to hit the Atomic Power Plant nearby. Would you please comment on this hypothesis?

 

RP:

Somebody said that in the interview, they thought it was an attack. And again, I realized a situation: Rajasthan is next to the Pakistan border. There had been the Kashmir conflict in the north, a Pakistani terrorist attack on the Parliament and other incidents. So, there was a lot of tension. They used to practice ‘blackout’ situations: people had to turn off all lights to prevent Pakistani aircraft to see them. I’m not surprised people thought of a bomb in the first place.

 

MT:

Yes. The population must have been faced with immense fear.

 

RP:

Yes, especially because they live close to a power plant.

 

25

MT:

On September 6, 2006 The Hindu (III, 18) reports – which I can’t read of course, as part of the hidden storytelling- ‘the meteorite which fell at Kanvarpura village’. We don’t know anymore: no measurements, no scientific findings. And how does this ‘stripped’ information relate to the newspaper clip (III, 7), carrying the caption: ‘A Researcher from Germany.’ I don’t get it.

 

RP:

The local newspaper article is actually written about myself. They somehow found out I was there, investigating the fall. It was apparently something special.

 

MT:

[A-ha], You’re the ‘Researcher from Germany’!

 

RP:

Somewhere among these symbols there is my name! And I don’t know how they knew I was there. A friend found it in the local newspaper and translated it for me. There is a reference to the fall of 2006. It mentions the meteorite and bemoans the fact that it is locked away and not accessible to Indian researchers.

 

MT:

Yes. Kind of funny, and you are part of history now, related to the local event!

Hanuman(III, 13) is the name of an art book publisher, founded by Francesco Clemente in the 1980s, I recall. It is also the title of a photograph you took. What do we see? Oddly looking painted stones on a wall?

 

26

RP:

Hanuman is a Hindu god, represented as a monkey. He is known for his courage and power. The type of monkeys photographed in ‘Hanuman Langurs’ (III, 23) are considered his incarnations. So there are various manifestations of monkeys: as creatures that have been sent into space, as deities, as badly stuffed ones in the museum (III, 20). The orange blob you refer to was located in a shrine inside an impact crater in Rajasthan, called Ramgarh. It is probably the weirdest representation of Hanuman that I have seen.

 

Hanuman fetches the herb-bearing Sanjivini mountain, Ravi Varma Press 1910

Hanuman fetches the herb-bearing Sanjivini mountain, Ravi Varma Press 1910

28

MT:

I would like to conclude our conversation with a final question. Which is really a kind of interpretation, or guessing from my part!

 

RP:

Oh, I like that observation so much! It is so, so nice…

 

MT:

Let’s look at it closer then! Why the photograph of a ‘Chameleon’ (III, 8)? Let me guess… for me it refers to the metaphor the animal itself is representing.  The animal ‘can change the color of its skin to look like the colors that are surrounding the lizard’. But the notion is also referring to ‘a person who often changes his or her beliefs or behavior in order to please others or to succeed.’ In a way, I see it all related to the colorful testimonies, I think.

 

29

RP:

I haven’t thought about it like that before, which is nice. It also refers to myself; I often wished to be in India without people recognizing me as a foreigner. I didn’t like to be the center of attention at all but I stuck out like a green chameleon that couldn’t change color. There were hardly any private moments. It also looks a little bit like an alien. But first and foremost, I was just really touched by it. When a chameleon walks, it has this kind of hesitant step. It walked on the concrete road; this was close to Lonar crater. It was a bit of a dangerous situation. After I made the photograph I took the chameleon to the side. I is a very emotional image for me, maybe similar to the one I took of Ed (I, 13), the elderly man from Alabama. I cannot explain that too well.

30

all images © Regine Petersen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mirelle Thijsen (MT)

Because it is such a historical subject, the introductions to my questions are more substantial than usual. In that manner I – and the readers – may get to know Mozambique. This all based on your recently self-published book: Looking for M. Looking for M. is a beautiful small book, in an illustrated sleeve, a detachable outer cover that catches the eye. We see a pitch-black silhouette of a black young woman, a schoolgirl from Mozambique, freestanding against a white background. That silhouette is also printed on the cover of the cardboard packaging in which the photobook is shipped. All these aspects are small design matters, which are very pleasing. The moment you pull out the booklet her personal identity shows up on the front cover. That in itself is a striking motion and revelation. On the back cover is printed, what looks like, an emblem of the combative ‘Republica de Moçambique’. What is the relationship between both images on front and back cover?

AANTEKENINGENBOEKJE003 DSCF2042

Ben Krewinkel (BK)

My initial idea was to use the picture of the schoolgirl for the front cover, but the photograph turned out technically imperfect, blurry. Only later the same picture came out to be quite usable. I adored the picture. While I was shooting pictures, this girl was distracted by a number of other college girls she was gathering with. She seems very quiet, but also a bit tense. That is indicative of how I’ve made these pictures in Mozambique in a relatively short period of time. In the previous book I’ve issued, A Possible Life (2012), I had ample time to pay attention to someone I encountered, while during my last trip I met people for ten minutes at the most.

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MT:

How long did you stay in Mozambique, in 2013?

 

BK:

Three-and-a-half weeks. In a relatively short period of time we have traversed the entire country, we were pretty naive: the distances were misjudged…

 

MT:

WHO are ‘we’?

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BK:

I travelled together with an old college friend of mine from South Africa, his name is Jan Bezuidenhout. He has accompanied me and spoke Portuguese. To get back to the cover photograph: when I found out that the picture was actually appropriate for the front cover, it symbolizes, although in a somewhat clichéd expression, the new Mozambique. And subsequently the relationship with the symbol on the back cover is created: the emblem of the State of Mozambique. The logo, which was a variation on the original flag of Mozambique, (including the red star) has subtly changed regularly over the past few years. In 1983 the Marxist flag became more prominent. The gun is a symbol of the struggle and the defence of the country; the heel stands for agriculture and the book for education. The star on the back of the book and in the logo stands for Marxism. Voting took place whether the illustration of a rifle, an AK-47, had to be removed from the flag. A variant of this logo is included in the national flag. The opposition claims that this emblem as well as the flag has direct links with FRELIMO, (for discussion of FRELIMO, see text later in the interview) and therefore this flag is not representative for all residents of Mozambique.

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This is a country where civil war has raged for a long time, so a lot of reconstruction works take place. At the same time, I think it’s a very striking emblem, and using it on the back cover is an ode to a book I bought some time ago, which is included in The Photobook: A History (Volume III) by Gerry Badger and Martin Parr: a propaganda book of the MPLA from Angola Resistencia Popular Generalizada [1977]. The book is also fitting into a sleeve, and on the back cover the logo of Angola is printed, which is similar to this one. That Marxist symbolism is echoing in all sorts of shapes and sizes. In the propaganda machine of FRELIMO, use is often made of silhouettes; even on murals you recognize abstracted human shapes. I considered it interesting to draw together these two notions. Because the photobook is about photographs made in 1974-1975, at the start of a new phase of independency and reflecting the country’s political future. There was hope. And forty years later, in 2013, I returned and made photographs. That era is bridged, and merged.

 

That girl is a schoolgirl. In the logo on the verso an illustration of a book is included: a symbol of education, at the time national education reform finally became accessible for Mozambicans. As in many other colonies the population had little right to education; restrictions were imposed and people had to assimilate, as e.g. in the Belgian Congo. The girl is wearing a school uniform and partly under her arm, just barely visible, is a schoolbook. If I create a silhouette, I pondered, it tends to go along with the FRELIMO imagery.

 

I visited Mozambique three times. The first time was in 1997, when I was graduate student History in South Africa, in Pretoria. I went on a trip with the same fellow student: Jan Bezuidenhout. He then was gaining work experience as an intern at the South African Embassy. From Pretoria I went by train to Mozambique and visited him there.

 

MT:

How far away is that?

 

BK:

A one day trip by train: 12 hours…16 hours, maybe. It depends how frequently you are stopped for questioning and inspection at the border. That first trip was an introduction to Mozambique. I discovered a very different country than South Africa. South Africa stands for a pleasant gateway to idyllic ‘Africa’. What a lot of people expect from the continent. South Africa was already very modern, comparable to Europe or the United States.

 

MT:

And why the title: Looking for M.?

BK:

That ‘M.’ stands for the return to the Mozambique that I encountered in 1997 and hasn’t been recorded at the time. In the meantime I learned a lot about the country Mozambique. That ‘M.’ is perhaps partly mirroring the ‘memories’ that I have of my visit to the country. Even more so, the capital letter ‘M’ represents a search for Mondlane, the founder of FRELIMO, … his successor Machel perhaps …For that ‘M.’…, you can fill in a lot of things.

 

Practically without any structure and orchestration I went to Mozambique. The visit was also a search for what I considered attractive about that country and a quest for the history and how it relates to the present.

 

MT:

I was all the while assuming that the title was linked to the silhouette of this girl, but it is now very clear that the ‘M.’ is representing the country Mozambique and the revolutionary fighters in that period.

 

BK:

 

Indeed, I encountered her, and a group of school girls, at the end of the trip, on Ilha de Mozambique – an island, the former capital in fact, in the North of the country. At that time I was alone and because of the language barrier I could not converse with them. This in itself was fascinating.

 

MT:

At first glance you make the connection between the title and images on the cover, but eventually there is an option of going deeper into certain layers, another kind of affiliation.

 

Let’s take a look at the back cover. The publisher is mentioned in a tiny letter font:

f 0.23. publishing. Is this a form of self-publishing? And how does this book compare to earlier editions such as Il m’a sauvé (2014) and A Possible Life?

 

BK:

‘f zero. Twenty three’ it is! It’s the name of a publishing house that I have been setting up myself and needed in order to barcode a book; to reserve ISBNs for the production of self-published photobooks. ‘010 Publishers’ inspired me to pick the name ‘0.23’. ‘023’ is the area code for Haarlem! I linked the phone area code to the f-stop scale on the camera body. I had to quickly come up with a name, in reference to a grant application. During the production of A Possible Life I picked the name for my publishing business. Likewise, I would love to publish other people’s books. It is, though, always a question of money.

 

MT:

How does this booklet relate to the publications Il m’a sauvé – a beautiful title by the way – and A Possible Life? I am not acquainted with either of these publications.

 

BK:

A Possible Life was nominated for the DutchDoc Award. The book is about a friend of mine from Niger. He has lived in the Netherlands for a period of ten years as an illegal immigrant. I have taken pictures of him, and combined them with family photographs and personal documents, as well as with letters from his children to him. It was a violent subject; the book is about illegality. And what it means to be separated from your wife and children.

 

I choose a nimble approach to Looking for M. Although I’ve been engaged for a long time in Mozambique, and it is a serious matter, I wanted to make this book project feel effortless: to travel around and see what happens. To approach Africa differently: to shed new light on the Dark Continent.

 

Il m’a sauvé is a sequel to A Possible Life. With the designer of the book, Annette Kouwenhoven, I went to Niger. By then Jean Gualbert had returned to Niger. He currently lives in the Netherlands, where he has been granted a temporary residence permit. In Niger, we have spoken with his family; therefore Il m’a sauvé is complementary to A Possible Life. We have interviewed his children and other family members: What is the impact of father absence on the family? It is usually about money, small lies are being told, and you name it. The sequel to Il m’a sauvé will discuss informal economy; how people are staying illegally in the Netherlands to maintain their families. We want to explore all these dimensions of the project. Looking for M. is between A Possible Life and Il m’a sauvé.

MT:

Then a pamphlet has been enclosed; I consider it is an elusive document: a rich text document. The front page of the attached brochure on grey paper is a reproduction of, what looks like, a letter of recommendation intended for your stay in Mozambique, in August 2013. What was the purpose of the document?

 

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BK:

The document is intended for photojournalists to be able to work straight-forwards without any restrictions in Mozambique. In principle it is possible to photograph in public without accreditation, which is issued by the Ministry of Information, but in fact there are a number of restrictions. Sometimes corrupt soldiers stop you and ask what you are doing. And in case you do not master the language…the letter of accreditation would help. You need to make a request for accreditation in Maputo. The procedure is slow.

 

Initially we thought: we don’t do it. The document was an obligatory requirement for photographing the ex-combatants of FRELIMO. Officially these people are still affiliated with FRELIMO and have been assigned a living accommodation. And I definitely wanted to photograph the Veterans. In order to do so an authorisation is granted from FRELIMO, the party that is still in power. For a day we have been awaiting the accreditation, which usually costs 30 euros. Finally a senior official showed up and signed the document for which we didn’t have to pay after all. Then I could get to work.

 

MT:

Yes, a beautiful start of the publication: this document will provide impetus to get to the subject matter. And then we come to that funny name: ‘Eisenloeffel’. Should there be an umlaut on the ‘o’? Doesn’t the surname mean ‘spoon’ in German?

 

BK:

No, Frits’ widow, Immeke Sixma, told me this; the association with the Germans is still a rather sensitive one!

 

 

MT:

And who is Frits Eisenloeffel (Frits E.), whom for the first time travelled to Mozambique in 1974? You immediately can take that information from the ‘timeline’, as I call it. In the pamphlet is an article reprinted that Frits E. wrote in Het Parool of 28 July 1975, the year that Mozambique was declared independent.

 

BK:

Frits studied political science at the University of Amsterdam. He graduated in international relations. In those days he became interested in the struggle for independence in African countries. During his studies he ran into radicalized Portuguese deserters in Paris. He became interested in and wrote journalistic pieces about Portugal, then still a fascist state. At the time the Carnation Revolution took place (25 April 1974) in Portugal – a rebellion of low officers who had had enough of the price that they paid for the colonial wars – a regime change occurred. That resulted in the dismantling of the fascist state. Together with professional photographer Han Singels, Frits E. made different trips to Portugal. During the Carnation Revolution he joined a military transport to Mozambique (in May 1974), Guinea-Bissau and the Cape Verde Islands (in August 1974). It is here that he started writing stories about these countries in transition. Frits E. worked at the time as a freelance journalist for e.g. Groene Amsterdammer, Het Parool and Avenue.

 

MT:

This specific interest stemmed from…?

 

BK:

In 1965, after taking part in a study tour to Egypt, during the Nasser regime, Frits E. grew increasingly interested in resistance movements in Latin America and in the struggle for independence in Africa. Apparently, while he was a graduate student, he also had contacts with Portuguese conscientious objectors who dealt with the colonial wars. 

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MT:

Okay, this is a perfect backdrop to the following issue. ‘A brief history’ is a timeline in the pamphlet, based on the BBC website and FRELIMO Terceiro Congresso, published in 1978. What kind of sources are these?

 

BK:

Look, I brought the publication with me: this is a propaganda book published on the occasion of the third congress of the liberation movement. Here’s where you may find an extensive timeline. The political party FRELIMO has held several congresses. In 1977 the Marxist-Lenist doctrine was officially adopted. And as for the BBC, I have consulted a time line from a BBC website; the data records I copied integrally. Actually that is a form of plagiarism, of misconduct. I am well aware that I have invited criticism, but I start the timeline in 1891, the year in which the current border of Mozambique was drawn up.

 

MT:

Why?

 

 

 BK:

Because of the ‘resistance’ that existed even before that time; the history of Mozambique reaches much further back anyway.

 

MT:

Yes, 734 Anno Domino!

 

BK:

Yes, those are the very first historical sources, from oral tradition.

 

MT:

That is clear. Good to realize that scans from these rare documentary photobooks and magazines are available to visually enhance this post. Is your time line interwoven through it? And why did you make your first trip to Mozambique in 1997? In 2000, three years later, you made a second visit to that country; and in 2013, much later, you go back once again.

 

BK:

I’ll be very concrete: I needed the time line to provide me with a historical perspective on events that have taken place; not many people know the country’s history. The personal data of Frits E. are interwoven into the timeline, so it becomes clear that all situations, ideas and events are related to each other. In 1997 I studied in South Africa, as I explained earlier. I made my first visit to Mozambique, and was overwhelmed by the kindness of people throughout the country. The trip took place relatively shortly after the civil war had ended. At the time Mozambique was a more pleasant country than South Africa. Apartheid was just abolished, but still it was a fundamental part of daily life in college: I was visiting the history department of a real Afrikaans University. You had to watch your words. Europeans who came to tell the Africans about their own history were of no benefit to the population. This was, and still is, a sensitive issue. In 2000 I graduated from the VU University Amsterdam; my Master’s thesis was about the role of women in the struggle for independence in Mozambique. In the meantime I went to South Africa several times, and made a photographic series on HIV (my final project for the Royal Art Academie in the Hague (KABK) and another series on poor whites, as a continuation of my thesis for the Master’s degree program in Photographic Studies at KABK.

 

MT:

Why did you go to South Africa in the first place?

 

BK:

The trip was part of a first exchange between the VU University Amsterdam and the University of Pretoria. Despite the cultural boycott, the VU retained the existing ties. This helped me to enrol, and being the first student of the Faculty of History of the VU in the exchange program. After my study in 2000 I wanted to make a trip from Johannesburg to Nairobi, by land. I had written a thesis about Mozambique and now I wanted to see it all with my own eyes: to travel across the country.

 

When I got there, major and disastrous floods had just occurred, I had not realized how serious the situation was. The Internet wasn’t that big a deal yet… I wanted to hitchhike to Nairobi and joined a group of backpackers. I was forced to travel to the Northern part of the country, but reached no further than a spot where the road was washed away by the water. We spent a night between refugees, sleeping on the street, and then were sent back by state soldiers because of the danger of the natural disasters taking place. I did not know how to assess the circumstances at all; I was pretty naive. Subsequently I travelled back to the North of Mozambique, crossing Zimbabwe. I would like to have stayed longer, but due to the floods my stay was confined to Maputo and Tete, a city in the North.

 

After 2000 I started a photojournalistic project in South Africa, completed the Master Photographic Studies at Leiden University, determined and disclosed the provenance for the oeuvre of Eisenloeffel, and wanted to go back to Mozambique to photograph what I missed at that time. The memories, which I was not able to capture then, I wanted to capture now.

 

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MT:

Meaning you focussed mainly on your own photographic work, and the present?

 

BK:

My father died during my graduation year. He introduced me to medium of photography. My dad had, like a number of people during the 1970s and 1980s, a darkroom. As a child, I was already intrigued by analogue photography. Sahel (1982) by Willem Diepraam was the very first photobook that we had at home. We received the photobook from the development campaigning organization Novib, as well as a calendar every year. Maybe through those publications in my subconscious the connection was made with young black (school) children who stare at you, radiant with joy! It was a turbulent time, I had to get out there, get away from the straight jacket of university life. I wanted freedom.

 

The trip we took to Mozambique in 2013 was quite different: I went together with a friend, in a car. I was older, I had kids … more responsibility: a different experience altogether. When I investigated the archive of Frits E. and looked at his photographs of Mozambique again, I thought that I had to pick it up, this ‘story’, to close the loop. It was then, in search of the Mozambique that I had encountered myself, the Mozambique that Frits has seen with his own eyes, and that I had never documented.

 

MT:

Let’s get back to the historical context: Frits E. describes the establishment of the transitional government of FRELIMO. Could you explain what that name of this liberation movement means, what it represents? It sounds like a brand name of a soft drink!

 

BK:

FRELIMO is an abbreviation for Frente de Libertação de Moçambique: the liberation front of Mozambique, resulting from the merger of three political parties. And the movement is still in power.

 

MT:

Yes, that’s incredible…FRELIMO then worked illegally to facilitate the transition from intra-state of war to democratic peace, to solve material problems, and diaspora – maybe the concept did not exist yet, but that’s what it was all about – and famine. And what are the so-called ‘Dynamisation groups’? Frits E. talks about ‘autonomous units’, similar to committees within FRELIMO. (Frits describes it nicely: “the most decentralized expression of popular power”).

 

BK:

The rise of FRELIMO is complex. FRELIMO initially operated from the North of Tanzania, which was liberated area. The circumstances were less spectacular than one reads in the propaganda fliers and books of FRELIMO. They exerted influence on the population. FRELIMO wanted to create a socialist society, down from Tanzania. And the so-called ‘dynamisation’ groups are organizations that were set up in areas that were not yet released by FRELIMO. This has everything to do with the stage of transition. As for the dynamisation groups, members had the right to choose their own leaders. They were represented in factories, agricultural collectives, and villages. The population appoints its leaders.

 

MT:

A type of trade union?

 

BK:

Yes, similar to trade unions. And the dynamisation groups have long been tightly controlling parts of the country. The leaders usually had membership of the FRELIMO party. Officially they operated independently of the social doctrine of FRELIMO and they strived to create a new society. They operated mainly from areas where no battle was waged between Portugal and FRELIMO.

 

MT:

Sounds a bit like missionary work…

 

BK:

Yes …These change groups were a type of buffers; people were prepped for the socialist ideology. One of the priorities of FRELIMO was the moral crusade against prostitution. When the liberation movement came to power prostitution was banned. In theatre plays opposition against prostitution, capitalism, etc. was propagated. To make sure that Portuguese citizens would not radicalize or start exhibiting reactionary behaviour. Furthermore, many Mozambicans did not want to be involved with FRELIMO whatsoever because they were not genuine socialists. in 1969, the head of FRELIMO, Mondlane was murdered, probably by dissidents within the movement, in collaboration with the secret service of Portugal (PIDE). Various forms of power play were conducted in the open; In short, this transitional period was quite turbulent. In 1977 the doctrine has been officially implemented in government policy. The ‘dynamisation’ groups were also deployed to run factories at the time the Portuguese had fled the country. The question is whether the dynamisation groups were in a position to take on such tasks. In fact, the groups were directed to prepare the country, also economically, for what is to come.

 

MT:

Some things one doesn’t really know… During the mid-1970s, some 200.000 whites lived and worked in the Portuguese colony. Since then, about half of the population has left, is what Frits wrote. We talk about people that were highly educated: European doctors, engineers, teachers, real estate agents, officials and public servants. This development was highly criticized. I read a revealing comment in the pamphlet: “An average departing Portuguese family has as many cubic metres or baggage as the total living space of an average (much larger) African family living in a slum”. (This is a statement from a young FRELIMO supporter Frits E. had encountered in the harbour area of the capital). Would you like to comment on that statement?

 

BK

The Portuguese were of course better off than the native people, just as was the case in other colonies. The power was unequally distributed. At the time the transition took place they were requested to leave; it was a politics of hate and envy. The statement refers to fleeing Portuguese citizens who were afraid of a ‘day of reckoning’. During the transitional period, there has been a lot of fear among the Portuguese population, which led to a mass exodus. The Portuguese had not been expelled, unlike media coverage announced. Especially many young Portuguese left; whole families had been torn apart, because children who were born in Mozambique remained.

 

We talked to a woman who as a girl fled from Mozambique, in 1975, and recently came back to open a hotel. In the hotel a kind of museum display on Samora Machel had been set up, but she suffers from all kinds of restrictions. In any case, because of the crisis in southern Europe (PIGS) many Portuguese returned to the former colony. That’s where there is more equality of opportunity for them. However, the government immigration policy is quite reluctant regarding Europeans. People are being stopped for questioning at the border. The most poignant photographs are those of fleeing Portuguese people. At the same time I sympathize with the statement by the African FRELIMO supporter He was incensed by it all. The Portuguese had better houses, more facilities, and much better opportunities than the Mozambicans.

 

When I was in Mozambique the former Minister of Home Affairs in the government Machel, Armando Guebuza, had presidential power. Guebuza had a decree pronounced: ‘24/20’. Every citizen was allowed to carry luggage weighing up to 20kg and had to be out of the country within 24 hours. That happened to be categorically incorrect: Portuguese citizens were welcome to stay, apart from reactionaries, landowners and capitalists; those groups of people were forced to leave. A lot of myths were circulating. Things like this: The Portuguese were supposed to have poured concrete in the elevator shafts of a large hotel in order to disable the escalator system.

 

The exodus had become catalytic by the fall of the fascist regime and the failed coupe attempt of September 1974 (a coupe by Portuguese reactionary military units). Eisenloeffel has written about this period, too.

 

MT:

Yes, you sense that this often led to friction. Samora Machel was the new president, who shortly after the declaration of independence travelled throughout the country and personally discussed the future of Mozambique with his citizens. Frits E. describes this media event as an “impressive circus”. What does he mean by that?

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BK:

Eduardo Mondlane was succeeded by Machel. He was the military leader of FRELIMO and president of the first Republic. Machel made a triumphal march throughout the country in the run-up to independence. That march was a kind of media circus; he delivered speeches and attended a place where a massacre had taken place. In addition, he visited the strategic Cahora Bassadam, a power plant that FRELIMO tried to destroy as it delivered power output demand for the Portuguese population. The triumph was of huge symbolic significance. Machel was a media-genic: a handsome man who was able to fire people’s imagination. During his regime the military struggle expanded enormously. As late as today he is still honoured. Eisenloeffel traveled along with the media circus, as a member of a film crew.

 

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MT:

Interesting, to realize how these things correlate. Let’s hold on to that image: Machel and his media circus. The small pamphlet – that is compact and offers much information – includes a numbered photo-index. What is striking is that Looking for M. opens with a newspaper photograph and copyright stamp of Frits Eisenloeffel, and as such demonstrating an act of modesty. Why?

 

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BK:

It is an excerpt from the weekly De Groene Amsterdammer. The copyright stamp is of Frits, the caption ‘photographs must be returned’, relates to a portrait, a press picture of Machel, showing him side by side with Mondlane. And that image: the double-portrait appears again in one of my photographs. From a historical and legal point of view, the procedure is not correct, but it corresponds with the people’s wish: not back to the photographer, but to the country. Curiously enough, a military soldier stopped us and started to rant, raving about the fact that photographers simply came taking pictures from the people in Mozambique and gave nothing in return.

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Only later I came up with the idea to combine photographs by both Frits and me. And at the same time the book project is a tribute to his work; a way to make his work more publicly known. He went to Mozambique in the first place, hence the story begins chronologically with photographs by Frits and it ends with a small document of mine: the entrance ticket to the Museum of the Revolution. Frits was engaged in African history and culture for a period of ten years. At the time his journalistic work has been frequently published in magazines and newspapers like Avenue, Het Parool and De Groene Amsterdammer. Thus, that part of his legacy fitted into a new context. My book concerns his earliest work.

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MT:

I would like to pose one more question about the text you wrote for this publication. You continue describing in the pamphlet contemporary Mozambique 40 years later. And you start by mentioning a paradox between, on the one hand, showy capitalism in the streets, and on the other hand, the signs of the armed revolution at the time and of the now abandoned Marxist-Lenist ideology, visualized in statues and murals. Can you please explain further this paradox?

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BK:

The murals: outdoor paintings directly applied onto a wall, are very much part of public life in Mozambique and of the history of the country. This is well explained by Paul Fauvet who I met in Maputo. In all major cities and towns you may find those big propagandistic murals. In a wonderful way these paintings agitated against the bourgeoisie and told the story of the revolution. As in a comic book, that history is elucidated. Maybe the visual stories are meant for illiterate people. Many of these wall paintings turn out to be based on journalistic photographs, allpictures that were circulating in the press. It’s really beautiful.

 

The previous leaders are still in power. That’s fascinating. Under president Chissano FRELIMO rid itself of the Marxism-Lenist doctrine, but many of the old gentlemen are still in power. Further, Samora Machel – he is still considered the father of the Nation – still captures the people’s imagination. He is charming, has sex appeal; He’s definitely the symbol of the country. This form of personality cult was not in vogue in the time Mondlane led the movement.

 

Now you see a huge influx of capital. The people of Mozambique are nowadays not necessarily interested in the history of the revolutionary struggle. Especially young people are interested in a career, earning money and in having a mobile phone. That is quite visible in the streets. People are walking along the wall paintings, without taking notice. For Frits E. these paintings meant the future, for me they rather represent the past. That is why I have deliberately selected the mural of R. Kelly for this book. That painting touches the Heart of Youth. I included an advertisement and billboards, also in the shape of murals.

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Around a statue of Machel in the city Beira, huge replicas of Coca Cola bottles are situated. This bizarre monument is not included in my book. And by now you may find more murals of the mobile phone providers mCel and Vodacom than of Samora Machel. These providers are more present than the revolutionaries. Thus, history seems to fade somewhat; you need to look for it. And where previously Mondlane came to the fore, it seems as if today you notice mainly new statues of Machel.

 

MT:

Would you please elaborate some more on the founder of FRELIMO, the prototype of the modern opposition leader, Eduardo Mondlane? He is now considered just a shadow, a vague historical figure, is what you write.

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BK:

Eduardo Mondlane was an intellectual; he achieved a doctorate degree in anthropology, he spoke fluent English. He was educated in South Africa, worked for the UN in the United States and married an American woman. Afterwards, he returned to Mozambique, in order to lead the liberation front from Tanzania. When FRELIMO originated in 1962 from the merger of three other political parties, Mondlane was nominated as future leader by president Julius Nyerere of Tanzania. Mondlane is the founder of the party, but at the time FRELIMO operated mainly out of Tanzania.

 

He was different from Machel, who was trained as a nurse. I was curious how the Portuguese Mozambicans experienced the difference in leadership between Mondlane and Machel. According to a Mozambican bartender, Mondlane was the academic who had to build a theoretical framework indicating how to make the first steps towards independence, and was the commander of the armed forces; Machel, the person who actually conducted the war.

 

When Mondlane was in power, constant internal power struggles were taking place. Mondlane is murdered in 1969 by a parcel bomb in Dar es Salaam – probably sent by the secret service of Portugal, and by FRELIMO dissidents. After his death a power struggle between Uria Simango, the Vice-President, and Samora Machel developed. The latter won. Simango was accused of betrayal and executed after a show trial. The unconventional event is somewhat reminiscent of the story of Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky.

 

Mondlane turned out not to be a devotee of some politicians who came to power after him, and in his book The Struggle for Mozambique he stands side by side with Simango. In a later visual narrative, a cartoon version, Simango is out of sight. Yet, Simango belonged to another camp than Mondlane and Machel, who made attempts to reform the country towards a socialist state; however, Simango wanted to swap the white elite for a black elite.

 

I’ve always felt that Mondlane is a somewhat more moderate figure than Machel and I am wondering how he would have led the country after achieving independence, which direction FRELIMO would then have followed subsequently.

 

MT:

You mean…because of his sudden death?

 

 BK:

Yes …And as for the process of Mondlane fading gradually as a historical figure … Not only Machel has a statue, there is also a statue of Mondlane, donated by North Korea. In 2010 in all province capitals exact replicas of the original donated statue of Machel by North Korea were installed, and in Maputo itself, about a hundred metres from the original, a huge new copy has been erected. Machel has become an export product, a kind of Che Guevara. Mondlane does not have that status. He used to be the historical figure depicted on the Mozambique banknotes, but now that is Machel. Only occasionally, he emerges on a mural, or in a school building a portrait of Mondlane is hanging on the wall.

 

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MT:

When we started our conversation, you explained why you, at the time being a student in history, decided in 1997 to travel to Mozambique. Yet, I would like to refer back to that document that you inserted into the back of the book. It represents, it seems to me, a special moment for you. You were at that time the only visitor to the Museum of the Revolution in Maputo. The building was dilapidated, a former revolutionary fighter, dressed in rags, gave you a tour of the ‘history of the struggle for independence’.

 

BK:

I have visited the museum twice. In 2013 it was closed. In 1997, I studied, as I said before, in Pretoria and had by then completed the degree program. A study friend lived in Maputo and I was invited to visit. During the day he worked at the Embassy. With the travel guide Lonely Planet in hand I visited all kinds of places, including the run down Museum of the Revolution and the Museum of Natural History. The museum is such a typical artefact from the revolutionary war. I like museums that are not particularly attractive to most tourists. In El Salvador, I encountered those too. That’s where you find awkward signboards, strange objects (such as weapons, ID’s, photographs, flags, but also a jump rope and the running shorts that belonged to Machel). Some room texts were copied word-for-word from Mondlane’s publication. Only when I started to deal with Mozambique at the VU University Amsterdam, everything fell into place.

 

The fact that the person at the museum, a veteran dressed in what looks like part of a uniform, went ahead to turn on the lights of the exhibition rooms, triggered certain feelings. Like going back in time, like an archaeologist making unique discoveries. The museum was founded in the 1970s. The museum collection includes cannons, and Korean paintings. Fascinating to see nothing had changed since its opening. It’s all past glory. I returned to Mozambique in 2000, after achieving more historical knowledge, so as to better appreciate everything on display. The museum was closed in 2013, because of a renovation. And as for the entrance ticket: inflation caused an increase of the admission fee; the prior fee is deleted on the entrance ticket.

 

MT:

Could you please elaborate a bit more on the publication that the veteran, I call him the ‘guard’, out of convenience, pointed out to you: The Struggle for Mozambique, that was written by Eduardo Mondlane himself. And please explain to what extent the publication is the foundation for your MA-thesis in History, in which you examine the role of women in the struggle for independence.

 

BK:

The Struggle for Mozambique is often referred to as an autobiography, but in fact it contains a clear statement about the history of the liberation struggle in Mozambique. To a large extent the Museum of the Revolution in Maputo is based on this publication. Entire sections are retrieved from the book and are on display in the museum. This is how I became interested in The Struggle for Mozambique. I was specializing in modern African History, in relation to the ANC in South Africa, but as a result of the museum visit and getting acquainted with the publication by Mondlane, I realized I wanted to publish on this topic.

 

Mondlane was in favour of improving empowerment and status of women. This is the subject and scope of my thesis. Contemporary propaganda magazines like Mozambique Revolution gave rise to concern with the women’s movement. I examined this more in depth. Initially in the liberated areas, women gained more rights. Also, women were included in the so-called ‘Destacamento Feminino’ led by Machel’s first wife: Josina Machel. In Looking for M. a portrait is included of a woman who has been a member of such a brigade.

 

MT:

This took place in 1999. Six years later, you discovered the archives of the Dutch journalist Frits Eisenhoeffel (1944-2001). It is not clear to me what his profession was. Was he a photojournalist or a journalist writing for newspapers and magazines?

 

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BK:

Frits Eisenhoeffel was a journalist, a reporter writing articles, and needed pictures to illustrate his pieces…

 

MT:

I ask you this, because you put Frits E. as a photojournalist in the foreground.

 

BK:

That’s right. Yes, I studied his photographic archive.

 

 

MT:

In the early 1960s Frits E. was interested in Portugal, then a fascist state and losing its grip on the colonies. Whence the particular interest of Frits E. in this country, and in these political issues?

 

BK:

As I explained earlier, Frits E. met some Portuguese soldiers, deserters. His oeuvre can be divided into two parts: Southern Africa on the one hand, and on the other hand, in the 1980s the wars in Africa, particularly the liberation of Eritrea. For ten years he documented the Anti-Apartheid Movement.

 

MT:

How did you get in touch with his legacy?

 

BK:

On the recommendation of Flip Bool (former chief curator collections/archives Netherlands Fotomuseum NFM, Rotterdam). I had an internship at the Netherlands Fotomuseum. I conducted research on Dutch photographers in Africa from the 1840s to the present. Flip Bool had already been in contact with Frits’ widow, Immeke Sixma, because of her request by the institute to purchase her husband’s photographic archive. At the time Flip Bool did not consider it suitable for acquisition, but recommended the estate to me in terms of thematic content. Subsequently, Sixma commissioned me to investigate the content of the archive, describing and making it available to the public. To that end, a foundation was created to highlight the photographic work of Frits E., which he made in Africa, and to bring the provenance to a wider audience.

 

From a total of 300.000 photographs a selection of 3.000 copies was made that have been scanned. Later I have described the selected photographs in a database, by means of book publications, magazines, newspapers and journals. ‘Mozambique’ constitutes a significant section of about 200 photographs. Part of this section is made available by the International Institute for Social History (IISH) in Amsterdam, in the framework of a digital exhibition. The IISH has acquired the integral collection of Frits Eisselloeffel.

 

MT:

You have prepared a database?

 

BK:

Yes! I made use of FotoStation, a software program that is actually used by photo agency Hollandse Hoogte.

 

MT:

How long did it take you to prepare the database?

 

BK:

One day a week, for about one-and-a-half years.

 

 

MT:

Later in this conversation, we will focus more on single images by Frits E., also in comparison to your work. Frits introduces yet another notion. What is meant by the term ‘Carnation Revolution’ that took place in April 1974? I understand it was a military coup d’état without bloodshed, organized by left wing parties.

 

BK:

Carnation Revolution is the aforementioned non-violent Carnation Revolution of April 25, 1974. This revolution brought years of fascist rule to a conclusion. Lower ranking Portuguese officers revolted in Portugal out of frustration over the high price that was paid, especially by them, during the colonial wars. Frits E. had interest in the liberation struggle and he was in contact with its members. He decided to travel with a military transport to write a post-event report. First to West-African Guinea Bissau and then to Mozambique. Later he visited other Southern African countries.

 

MT:

Frits E. travels to Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau to report on the political upheavals for Het Parool and De Groene Amsterdammer. And where is Guinea-Bissau?

 

BK:

On the West coast, close to Ghana.

MT:

Photography was used for party political propaganda. You mentioned that in relation to the magazine Mozambique Revolution. How was photographic material put forth?

th

BK:

FRELIMO also needed assistance from abroad. Many foreign anti-imperialist action groups (such as the Eduardo Mondlane Foundation – later merging into the NIZA) distributed magazines (Mozambique Revolution is widely circulated), and posters. Mozambican photographers frequently published their journalistic pictures in this kind of propagandistic publications. Kok Nam, Ricardo Rangel and others represent a strong photo-journalistic tradition in Mozambique.

 

The question is to what extent their photographs were reproduced in the propagandistic magazines of FRELIMO, which were sent to Anti-Apartheid organisations around the world. And in there, photography played an important role in showing the misdeeds of Portuguese colonial era and the way FRELIMO operated in liberated areas. Nevertheless, many international photographers took pictures in the area as well. To mention a few: the Swede Anders Johansson, the well-known Africanist Basil Davidson, the forgotten Japanese photographer Tadahiro Ogawa, as well as Koen Wessing and Frits Eisenloeffel. Some photographs by Frits appeared back then, if I recall well, on a political poster. However, the work by Frits, was not distributed or used by FRELIMO, nor by the MPLA.  

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MT:

Tell me about the nephew of Frits E., the professional photographer Koen Wessing. In 1974, De Bezige Bij in Amsterdam published his seminal photobook Chili September 1973. And, as I read in Wessing’s biography, he left the same year for Guinea-Bissau, Here this brings you both together and your perceptions of both periods of Mozambique, there is indeed forty years in between. You describe its value, in rather heavy terms. The approach is ‘personal’, ‘anachronistic’ and ‘substantial’ and ‘aesthetic’, commissioned by the Angola Committee. Who joined him?

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BK:

Actually, Frits E. and Koen Wessing were not present in Guinea-Bissau at the same time. Initially, Frits has arrived there with a crew to make a film, commissioned by the VPRO. Koen Wessing is a first cousin of Frits Eisenloeffel. Han Singel, Joost Guntenaar and Koen Wessing taught Frits how to take pictures. Following his distinctive publication about Chile, Wessing compiled Djarama PIAGC, commissioned by the Angola Committee, on the occasion of the one-year existence of the Republic.

 

The publication, in appearance very similar to a cahier, has the same size as Chili, September 1973, but the book design is of less quality. I consider the zeal present in Chili, September 1973, lacking in Djarama PIAGC. I read somewhere that at the time Wessing took these pictures, Angola was, like Mozambique, already a de facto state. Finally, Portugal recognized Mozambique’s independence in September 1974. At the launch of Djarama PIAGC Guinea-Bissau celebrated the declaration of independence of the republic, which officially took place in 1973.

 

MT:

I wondered to what extent a publication like Chile, September 1973 might affect someone like Frits E.?

 

BK:

I think they shared the same political and social commitment, although Frits never made photobooks. Frits had written a story about Guinea-Bissau in De Groene Amsterdammer on May 15, 1974, which has been illustrated with press images by Koen Wessing. All this took place before Djarama PIAGC was published.

 

MT:

They cross-pollinated so to speak!

Why was cataloguing the photo-journalistic work of Fritz E. a catalyst to return to Mozambique in 2013?

BK:

Archiving his work recalled all kinds of memories. While leafing through stacks of pictures I felt the need to go back again. The affiliation with the images, the memories that Frits’ images, texts or diaries stimulated, as well as reflecting on my MA thesis, enticed me to visit the country again and to capture what I had encountered during my previous trips, but had not been able to document at the time. In that sense, the ‘M.’ in the title of the book definitely refers to ‘Memories’ … but also to ‘Mondlane’, ‘Machel’, and ‘Mozambique’. Investigating and cataloguing Frits’ archive offered a variety of opportunities for me to close this chapter.

 

MT:

The following quote is appropriate at this point in the conversation. Could you please explain it further?

The concept of Looking for M. is a conscious departure from the traditional journalistic method, being rather a personal and almost anachronistic approach in which both substantive and aesthetic synergy arises between the artistry and perception of two Dutch photographers working in different areas.

In this quote you bring the two of you together, and you try to juxtapose both yours and Frits’ perception of Mozambique, despite an age gap of 40 years. You value it, in terms heavy with meaning. You access both yours and Frits’ approach as being: ‘personal’, ‘anachronistic’, ‘substantial’ and ‘aesthetic’.

 

BK:

I juxtapose journalistic images taken in the 1970s with my documentary photographs. Sometimes the pictures reinforce each other, such as in the case of pictures of people entering or leaving the ports of Maputo. Then again, there is similarity in terms of formal elements. So here on the left you see a portrait of a veteran, and it’s very plausible he has been fighting against this soldier, depicted on the right page.

 

In my first dummy I had not yet included pictures by Frits.

For subsequent dummies, I have made selections based on aesthetics (to be compared with the way Stephen Gill compiled Let’s sit down before we go by Bertien van Manen). There were some striking similarities between the scenes in the pictures of both Frits and mine; I absolutely had not thought of this beforehand.

 

MT:

Let’s discuss this further while looking at the spreads. How do you re-contextualize the work of Fritz E., in Looking for M.? And tell me, what is your work about; What are we looking at? To come naturally to speak about the portrait of the school girl, wearing a yellow button on her dress. Let’s look at a number of double page layouts. Unfortunately, the numbering of the pictures, related to the captions in the photo-index, is missing on the illustrated pages, which makes comparing both a bit troublesome.

 

BK:

Fritz worked as a journalist and his photographs were originally intended to inform people about the political situation in situ in those days. In this book context, in Looking for M., his pictures gain a different meaning, because his journalistic images are linked to my documentary photographs. The cultural historical context is changing and with it, perhaps, the interpretation of images in the documentary mode.

 

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Double page spread 002-003

The caption ‘return to sender’ is stamped on the back of a frequently used press photo made by an anonymous photographer, which I’ve bought at some point. The stamp refers to returning the photograph to the ‘source’, either the photographer or the archive. Frits himself very much wanted his pictures to be returned to the people who actually were the main actors in the pictures.

The press photo showing a double portrait of Eduardo Mondlane and Samora Machel, is made in Tanzania. And look, this is what I mean regarding the wall paintings: this shows again that Machel is indeed the logical successor of Mondlane. There are not so many pictures circulating in which they show up together.

 

 

 MT:

A master-apprentice relationship, so to speak. Ah, the mural is actually based on this picture!

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BK:

Yes. Many people, those who know the history of Mozambique, will recognize this picture. The South African specialist Albie Sachs has even released a publication about the Mozambican murals: Images de Mocambique (1983). Magnum photographer Susan Meiselas made the pictures in this book. In the colophon her surname is spelled incorrectly as: ‘Maiselas’.

 

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MT:

Nice that you mention this detail!

 

Double page spread 006-007

And… What number? I should have continued numbering the photo pages! I suspect this is a so-called ‘dynamizing group’. Construction workers are working on a road. Frits did not always write photo captions, short descriptions accompanying the illustrations. So it’s just the picture that speaks for itself. And this picture, I consider a beautiful landscape photograph. Crossing Mozambique, you’ll encounter road construction works everywhere, supervised by Chinese inspectors. Frits E. shot almost exclusively in black and white, as many of his contemporaries did. However, this particular image is in colour; and therefore, many people assume that I took that picture!

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Double page spread 010-011

Here you see society in stark contrast. This is a pool on the roof of an expensive hotel in Maputo. We look at a migrant maintaining the pool. And this picture was taken at the Grand Hotel in Beira, a Portuguese megalomaniac project from the 1950s. It’s a huge hotel that has never been successful and, therefore, immediately declared bankrupt. And later squatters moved into the building. The story is similar to Ponte City in South Africa! This is the first Olympic swimming pool in Mozambique. Today, people wash their dirty clothing here. During the transition period, FRELIMO resided here. Both pictures are mine.

 

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MT:

So the modus operandi is not always showing the difference between ‘then’ and ‘now’ on a double page?

 

BK:

No, not always.

 

Double photo spread 014-015

I suspect this is a performance related to these ‘dynamising groups’. Which were established to explain to people, for example, what was wrong with capitalism. It could just as well be a festive gathering. And here you see children playing in the streets in Beira.

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MT:

The playfulness, the liveliness is what both images have in common….

 

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Double photo spread 016 and 018-019

This is an old FRELIMO veteran, who is still considered the ‘boss’ and people stand in awe of him. He is still the commander in chief, and did the talking. He lives in a veteran’s village. And the woman depicted opposite the page with the schoolgirl is a former fighter, a veteran, from the women’s detachment. Yesterday I looked again at the Sahel book by Diepraam, and the backside shows a portrait from a blind woman. This picture reminds me of that image. Maybe a cliché reference which slipped in unconsciously.

 

MT:

This is one of the few examples showing a small black and white picture on the top half of the white page. The man on the right, in uniform, is a Che Chevara type.

 

 

BK:

It’s a panoramic image; you don’t need to make a quarter turn with the book in order to ‘read the image’. And the military men both look sad and act in a similar way.

 

MT:

They both use body language in a same way.

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Double page spread 028-029

Yes. This silhouette of the woman carrying a baby fades away against such a monumental background. I just stood there for a while with my camera. People pass along the mural without noticing it. On the opposite page you see a black and white photograph of Portuguese soldiers listening to a speech by Machel.

 

MT:

It is Machel depicted in the mural?

 

BK:

Yes, in that sense, the pictures match. And these men are criminals, right?

 

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Double page spread 032-033

Those guys are standing on top of a rubbish dump and are looking for processed materials to make toys. This picture was made on a tourist spot in the North, called Pemba. Mozambique has a beautiful coastline. And these kids, portrayed by Frits E., are posing the same way.

 

MT:

That doesn’t change over time….

 

BK:

No…

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Double page spread 034-035

On the left you see a photo store run by a Chinese. A portrait of the new president is hanging in in the window display, but not visible in the image frame. Here’s a portrait of Mondlane. I intended to buy it, but the shopkeeper asked 100 EUR for the picture. The influence of the People’s Republic of China in Mozambique is growing. The EU is Mozambique’s fourth economic partner in this regard after South Africa, China and India.

 

Double page spread 038-039

A cut-out from De Groene Amsterdammer. Anyway, I considered it relevant to print in the heart of the book an image similar to the very first picture, to demonstrate the layout of photographs by Frits E. on double-page spreads in newspapers. And from these two people, an older couple now, I’ve made individual portraits in Looking for M.

 

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Double page spread 041-042

These documents imply job employment … This kind of portraits of African people are often linked to genocide. So pictures like these initially have a negative connotation, but these are ID’s from workers in a bakery, which is run by a Moroccan from Fes.

 

 

MT:

Yes, I think it’s a wonderful double-page spread.

But why are these portraits of bakery employees exposed in this way? We’re looking at IDs you said?

 

BK:

Yes, similar to IDs, kind of health certificates from the employees hanging in the store. The picture on the opposite page was taken from a moving car and is therefore somewhat blurred. Mozambicans are burning coal. And the young woman in the picture is a coal saleswoman. A kind of market economy, a street trade, you could say. And the colours in both pictures coincide.

 

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Double page spread 055-056

These people are the shoemaker and his wife, who are depicted – when you open the book to the middle of the signature – on page 038-039) in the press photo by Frits E., that I just described.

 

MT:

parents mourning’ is the caption of that picture.

 

BK:

Machel referred in his speech to the anniversary of the massacres in which their only two sons were killed. And the juxtaposed image is an anachronistic advertising picture of R. Kelly, a contemporary R&B singer, meant, as opposed to the more propagandistic murals.

 

MT:

So this wall painting is much more contemporary than political in nature. And then finally the schoolgirl … It starts and ends with her!

 

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Photo page 059

She is one of the schoolgirls I photographed on Ilha de Mozambique, at the end of my trip. I don’t know her name. I wrote it down somewhere, but I lost that piece of paper. I’m pretty sure the yellow button she is wearing has a clip to hook on a cell phone. Everyone has cell phones in Mozambique. Everywhere you look you see mobile phone commercials, even the houses are painted in the colours of cell phone providers.

 

 *See for links the Dutch language version of this conversation on theloggingroad

 

 

 

BEN KREWINKEL:

In die zin slaat de ‘M.’ in de titel zeker ook op ‘Memories’…Maar ook op ‘Mondlane’, ‘Machel’, en ‘Mozambique’.  

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Mirelle Thijsen (MT):

Omdat het zo’n historisch onderwerp is zijn de inleidingen op mijn vragen wat langer dan gebruikelijk. En ik zelf heb op die manier Mozambique leren kennen – via deze weg, aan de hand van jouw recent verschenen genummerde boek uitgegeven in eigen beheer: Looking for M.

 

Looking for M. is een mooi klein boekje, gevat in een geïllustreerde hoes die in het oog springt. We zien een zwart silhouetje van een zwarte jonge vrouw, een schoolmeisje uit Mozambique, vrijstaand gemaakt tegen een witte achtergrond. Dat silhouet staat ook al op het omslag van de kartonnen verpakking waarin het boek naar je toegestuurd wordt. Kleine vormgevingsaspecten, waar ik voor val. Pas als je het boekje uitschuift wordt haar identiteit zichtbaar op het voorplat. Dat is een mooie beweging en openbaring tegelijk. Op de achterkant van de hoes staat, denk ik, een embleem van de strijdvaardige ‘Republica de Moçambique’. Wat is de relatie tussen beide afbeeldingen op de hoes, voor en achter?

 

Ben Krewinkel (BK):

Het idee was het fotootje van het meisje te gebruiken, maar achteraf bleek die opname technisch slecht. Pas later bleek het portret bruikbaar. Ik vond het beeld zo mooi. Toen ik aan het fotograferen was, werd zij afgeleid door een aantal andere schoolmeisjes, waarmee zij samen was. Ze lijkt er heel rustig te staan, maar ook een beetje gespannen en dat is tekenend voor hoe ik deze foto’s heb gemaakt in Mozambique, in een relatief korte tijd. In het vorige boek dat ik heb gemaakt, A Possible Life (2012), had ik veel tijd om iemand te volgen en nu heb ik mensen soms maar tien minuten gezien.

 

MT:

Hoe lang verbleef je daar in 2013?

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BK:

Drie-en-een-halve week. In een relatief korte tijd hebben we het hele land doorkruist, vrij naïef ingestapt: de afstanden verkeerd ingeschat…

MT:

Wie zijn ‘we’?

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BK:

Ik heb samen gereisd met een oude studievriend van mij uit Zuid-Afrika, Jan Bezuidenhout. Hij heeft mij begeleid en sprak ook Portugees. Ik kom terug op die omslagfoto: toen ik ontdekte dat de foto wel bruikbaar was voor de omslag, stond deze opname symbool voor, misschien ietwat cliché, het nieuwe Mozambique. En dan wordt de relatie gelegd met dat symbool op de achterzijde; met het embleem van de staat Mozambique. Het logo, waarvan een variant op de oorspronkelijke vlag van Mozambique stond, (inclusief rode ster) is de afgelopen jaren regelmatig subtiel veranderd. In 1983 werd de marxistische vlag prominenter. Het geweer staat symbool voor de strijd en de verdediging van het land, de hak voor landbouw en het boek voor educatie. De ster op de rug van het boek en in het embleem staan voor het marxisme. Er is gestemd over het feit of dit geweer, een AK-47, uit de vlag moest. Een variant van dit embleem is in de nationale vlag opgenomen. De oppositie beweert dat dit embleem en de vlag een directe verbinding hebben met FRELIMO. En daarmee is dit niet een vlag voor alle inwoners van Mozambique.

In het land heeft lange tijd een burgeroorlog gewoed, dus er is veel over te doen. Tegelijkertijd vind ik het een heel mooi symbool, en is het gebruik ervan op de achterzijde een ode aan een boek dat ik een tijd geleden het gekocht, en dat is opgenomen in The Photobook: A History (Volume III) van Gerry Badger en Martin Parr: een propagandaboek van de MPLA uit Angola Resistencia Popular Generalizada [1977]. Dat boek zit ook in een hoes, en op de achterkant ervan staat het logo van Angola, dat lijkt hier op. Die Marxistische symboliek zie je in allerlei vormen terugkomen. In de propagandamiddelen van FRELIMO wordt vaak gebruik gemaakt van silhouetten, ook op muurschilderingen zie je geabstraheerde vormen van mensen. Ik vond het interessant om die twee aspecten samen te brengen. Want het boekje gaat over foto’s die gemaakt zijn in 1974-1975, toen het land aan het begin stond van een nieuwe periode van onafhankelijkheid. Er was veel hoop. En veertig jaar later, in 2013 maakte ik er foto’s. Dat tijdsgewricht wordt overbrugd, en samengevoegd.

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Dat meisje is een schoolmeisje en in het embleem staat overigens een boek, een symbool voor educatie, dat eindelijk toegankelijk werd voor Mozambikanen. Net als in veel andere koloniën mocht de bevolking niet zomaar naar school, er golden specifieke regels: je moest eerst assimileren, zoals in Belgisch Congo. Dat meisje draagt het schooluniform deels onder haar arm, nog net geen schoolboek. Als ik hier een silhouet van maak, dacht ik, valt dat samen met de FRELIMO beeldspraak.

Ik ben drie keer in Mozambique geweest. De eerste keer was in 1997, toen ik student geschiedenis was in Zuid-Afrika, in Pretoria. Ik ging op reis met diezelfde studiegenoot: Jan Bezuidenhout. Hij liep toen stage bij de Zuid-Afrikaanse ambassade. Vanuit Pretoria ben ik met de trein naar Mozambique gegaan en heb hem daar bezocht.

 

MT:

Hoe ver is dat?

 

BK:

Een dag reizen met de trein. 12 uur…16 uur, zoiets? Het hangt er vanaf hoelang je op de grens tegengehouden wordt…Die eerste reis was een kennismaking met Mozambique. Ik trof een heel ander land aan dan Zuid-Afrika. Zuid-Afrika staat voor mij voor een prettig soort toegangspoort naar idyllisch “AFRIKA”. Wat veel mensen van het continent Afrika verwachten. Zuid-Afrika was toen al heel erg modern, vergelijkbaar met Europa of de Verenigde Staten.

 

MT:

En vanwaar deze titel: Looking for M.?

BK:

Die ‘M.’ staat voor het feit dat ik terugkeer naar het Mozambique dat ik eerder in 1997 aantrof en toen niet heb vastgelegd. In die tussentijd heb ik veel geleerd over Mozambique. Die ‘M.’ staat misschien wel gedeeltelijk voor herinneringen die ik aan dat land had. Meer nog voor een zoektocht naar Mondlane, de oprichter van FRELIMO, …zijn opvolger Machel wellicht…Die ‘M.’…, daar kun je een hoop dingen voor invullen.

 

Vrijwel zonder structuur en vooropgesteld plan ben ik naar Mozambique gegaan. Het is tevens een zoektocht naar wat ik zelf in dat land aantrekkelijk vond, en naar de geschiedenis en hoe die zich verhoudt tot het heden.

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MT:

Ik was al die tijd in de veronderstelling dat de titel aan het silhouet van dit meisje gekoppeld was….maar de ‘M.’ staat heel duidelijk voor het land en de revolutionaire strijders in die periode.

 

BK:

Inderdaad. Ik kwam haar, en een groepje andere schoolmeisjes, op het eind van de reis tegen, op Ilha de Mozambique – een eiland, de voormalige hoofdstad in feite, in het Noorden van het land. Op dat moment was ik alleen en vanwege de taalbarrière kon ik niet met ze praten. Dat op zich al was fascinerend.

 

MT:

Op het eerste gezicht leg je die verbinding tussen titel en afbeeldingen op het omslag, maar interessant is dat er een diepere laag is, een andere associatie.

 

We kijken nog even naar de achterkant van het omslag. De uitgever staat in een piepklein lettercorps vermeld: f0.23.publishing. Is dit een vorm van uitgeven in eigen beheer? 

BK:

f ‘nul’ ‘drieentwintig’ is het! Een uitgeverij die ik zelf heb opgezet en nodig had om ISBN nummers aan te vragen, voor boeken in eigen beheer. ‘0.23’ is gestolen van Uitgeverij 010. ‘023’ is het netnummer van Haarlem! En vervolgens koppel ik het netnummer aan een diafragma waarde. Ik moest het snel bedenken, in het kader van een subsidieaanvraag. Ik heb die naam bedacht toen ik A Possible Life samenstelde. Ik zou het leuk vinden om eveneens boeken uit te geven van andere mensen. Het is altijd een geldkwestie.

 

MT:

Hoe verhoudt dit boekje zich dan tot de eerdere uitgave A Possible Life en het nog te verschijnen Il m’a sauvé (2016)?

 

BK:

A Possible Life was genomineerd voor de DutchDoc prijs. Dat boek gaat over een vriend van mij uit Niger. Hij woonde tien jaar illegaal in Nederland. Ik heb foto’s van hem genomen, gecombineerd met privé-foto’s en documenten, en met brieven van zijn kinderen aan hem. Het was een heftig onderwerp; het boek gaat over illegaliteit. En wat het betekent als je gescheiden bent van je vrouw, je kinderen.

 

Looking for M. is lichtvoetiger van aanpak. Hoewel ik al heel lang met Mozambique bezig was, en het serieuze materie is, wilde ik een moeiteloos project. Er naar toe reizen en kijken wat we aantreffen. Ook vanuit het idee om Afrika eens niet zo zwaar van toon te benaderen.

 

Il m’a sauvé is een vervolg op A Possible Life. Met de vormgever van dat boek, Annette Kouwenhoven, ben ik naar Niger gegaan. Jean Gualbert was toen teruggekeerd naar Niger, inmiddels woont hij weer in Nederland, waar hij een tijdelijke verblijfsvergunning heeft gekregen. In Niger hebben we zijn familie gesproken, zodoende werd Il m’a sauvé een aanvulling op A Possible Life. We hebben zijn kinderen en andere familieleden geïnterviewd; wat is de impact van de afwezigheid van hun vader op het gezin? Het gaat veelal over geld, er worden kleine leugens vertelt, noem maar op. Het vervolg op Il m’a sauvé zal gaan over informele economie; hoe mensen hier illegaal verblijven en hun families daar onderhouden. Al die lagen willen we in het project onderzoeken. Looking for M. is ‘ertussendoor’ tot stand gekomen.
 

MT:

Dan is er dat pamflet bijgesloten; ik vind het een subtiel document; er zit veel in. De voorpagina van het bijgesloten katern op grijs papier is een reproductie van, wat ik eruit opmaak, een aanbevelingsbrief voor jouw verblijf in Mozambique, in augustus 2013. Waar diende dat document precies voor?

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BK:

Het document is bedoeld voor fotojournalisten om min of meer vrijelijk te kunnen fotograferen in Mozambique. In principe is het zonder accreditatie, uitgegeven door het Ministerie van Informatie om het mogelijk te maken op straat te fotograferen, maar er zijn allerlei restricties. Soms houden corrupte militairen je aan en vragen wat je aan het doen bent. En als je dan de taal niet machtig bent…Die brief hielp daar wel bij. De accreditatie moet je in Maputo aanvragen. De procedure is traag. Aanvankelijk dachten we, we doen het niet. We hadden het document nodig om de oud-strijders van FRELIMO te kunnen fotograferen. Officieel maken zij nog deel uit van FRELIMO en hebben een verblijfsplaats toegewezen gekregen. En ik wilde de veteranen per se fotograferen. Hiervoor is officieel toestemming nodig van FRELIMO, de partij die nog altijd aan de macht is. We hebben een dag gewacht op de accreditatie, de kosten ervan zijn normaliter 30 euro’s. Uiteindelijk kwam een hogere ambtenaar het document ondertekenen en hoefden we niet te betalen. Toen kon ik aan de slag.

 

MT:

Ja, mooi als opening van de publicatie: dit document had jij nodig om bij dit onderwerp te kunnen komen…

En dan komen we bij die grappige naam: ‘Eisenloeffel’. Moet er geen umlaut op de ‘o’: betekent de achternaam niet ‘lepel’ in het Duits?

 

BK:

Nee, dat vertelde zijn weduwe, Immeke Sixma, mij; de connectie met het Duits ligt gevoelig!

 

MT:

En wie is Frits Eisenloeffel, die in 1974 voor het eerst naar Mozambique afreisde? Dat laatste maak je meteen op uit de ‘tijdslijn’, zo noem ik het maar. In het pamflet staat ook een stuk dat hij schreef in Het Parool van 28 juli 1975. Het jaar dat Mozambique onafhankelijk werd verklaard.

BK:

Frits studeerde politicologie aan de UvA. Hij studeerde af op Internationale Betrekkingen. In die periode raakte hij geïnteresseerd in de onafhankelijkheidstrijd in Afrikaanse landen. Tijdens zijn studie is hij in aanraking gekomen met geradicaliseerde Portugese deserteurs in Parijs. Hij raakte geïnteresseerd in en schreef over Portugal, toen nog een fascistische staat. Op het moment dat de Anjerrevolutie plaatsvond (25 april 1974) in Portugal, een opstand van lage officieren, die er genoeg van hadden dat zij de prijs betaalden voor die koloniale oorlogen, heeft een machtswisseling plaatsgevonden. Dat was het einde van de fascistische staat. Hij maakte samen met fotograaf Han Singels verschillende reizen naar Portugal. Tijdens de Anjerrevolutie ging Frits E. met een militair transport naar Mozambique (in mei 1974), Guinee-Bissau en de Kaapverdische eilanden (in augstus 1974). Hier begon hij met het schrijven van verhalen over deze landen in transitie.
Frits werkte in die tijd als freelancer voor b.v. de Groene Amsterdammer, het Parool en Avenue.

 

MT:

Maar waar kwam die interesse vandaan?

 

BK:

Na een studiereis naar Egypte, onder Nasser, in 1965 raakte Frits E. geïnteresseerd in verzetsbewegingen in Latijns-Amerika en de onafhankelijkheidsstrijd in Afrika. In zijn studietijd had hij kennelijk ook contacten met Portugese dienstweigeraars die zich bezighielden met de koloniale oorlogen.

 

MT:

Oké, dat als achtergrond. ‘A brief history’ is een tijdslijn in het pamflet, gebaseerd op de BBC en FRELIMO Terceiro Congresso, gepubliceerd in 1978. Wat zijn dit voor bronnen?

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BK:

Kijk, ik heb ‘m meegenomen: dit is een propagandaboek, uitgegeven ter gelegenheid van een derde congres van de bevrijdingsbeweging. Er staat een uitgebreide tijdslijn in. FRELIMO had een aantal partijcongressen gehouden. In 1977 is officieel de marxistisch-lenistische doctrine aangenomen. En wat betreft de BBC: een BBC website heb ik geraadpleegd waarop een tijdslijn staat, die ik integraal heb overgenomen. (Dat mag eigenlijk niet). Ik ben me ervan bewust dat daar wel kritiek op zou kunnen komen, maar ik laat de tijdslijn beginnen in 1891, het jaar waarin de huidige grens van Mozambique werd vastgelegd.

 

MT:

Want?

 

BK:

Vanwege het ‘verzet’ dat al voor die tijd bestond, de geschiedenis van Mozambique reikt sowieso veel verder terug.

 

MT:

Ja, 734 na Christus!

 

BK:

Ja, dat zijn de eerste bronnen, uit orale overlevering.

 

MT:

Helder. Mooi om die bijzondere documentaire fotoboeken en tijdschriften in de post op te nemen. Is jouw tijdslijn er doorheen verweven?

En waarom maakte je in 1997 je eerste reis naar Mozambique, in 2000, drie jaar later, bracht je een tweede bezoek aan dat land; en in 2013, veel later, ga je opnieuw terug?

 

BK:

Heel concreet: ik had die tijdslijn nodig om gebeurtenissen te kunnen plaatsen; veel mensen kennen de geschiedenis van dit land niet. Het materiaal van Frits E. zit er doorheen, zo wordt duidelijk dat alles met elkaar is verweven. In 1997 studeerde ik in Zuid-Afrika, zoals ik zei, maakte een eerste bezoek en raakte overweldigd door het land, door de vriendelijkheid van mensen. Dat was relatief kort nadat de burgeroorlog was afgelopen. Mozambique was toen een vriendelijker land dan Zuid-Afrika. Apartheid was net afgeschaft, maar nog heel tastbaar op de universiteit: ik zat op een echte Afrikaner-universiteit. Je moest erg op je woorden passen. Sommige mensen waren niet gediend van Europeanen die de Afrikanen kwamen vertellen over hun geschiedenis. De kwestie lag gevoelig.

In 2000 was ik afgestudeerd aan de VU, mijn MA-scriptie ging over de rol van vrouwen in de onafhankelijkheidstrijd in Mozambique. In die tussentijd ben ik verschillende malen in Zuid-Afrika geweest, en maakte er de series ‘HIV’ (mijn afstudeeropdracht voor de KABK) en over arme blanken, in het verlengde van mijn thesis voor de Masteropleiding Photographic Studies.

 

MT:

Waarom ging je überhaupt naar Zuid-Afrika?

 

BK:

Dat was in het kader van een eerste uitwisseling tussen de VU en de Universiteit van Pretoria. Ondanks de culturele boycot heeft de VU die banden altijd behouden. Daarom kon ik probleemloos als eerste student van de faculteit geschiedenis van de VU daar naar toe. Na mijn studie in 2000 wilde ik een reis maken van Johannesburg tot Nairobi, over land. Ik had geschreven over Mozambique en wilde het nu met eigen ogen zien, het land doorkruisen.

 

Toen ik daar kwam vonden er grote en desastreuze overstromingen plaats, ik had niet door hoe ernstig de situatie was. Het Internet was nog niet zo groot… Ik wilde liftend naar Nairobi en reisde met een groepje backpackers. Ik wilde naar het Noorden reizen maar kwam noodgedwongen niet verder dan een plek waar de weg was weggeslagen door het water. We hebben zelfs een nacht tussen de vluchtelingen op straat geslapen en zijn toen teruggestuurd door militairen vanwege het gevaar van het natuurgeweld. Dat realiseerde ik me helemaal niet, dat was vrij naïef. Vervolgens ben ik via Zimbabwe teruggereisd naar het Noorden van Mozambique. Ik had langer willen blijven, vanwege de overstromingen was het verblijf beperkt tot Maputo en een stad in het Noorden: Tete.

 

Na 2000 heb ik fotojournalistiek werk in Zuid-Afrika gemaakt, de Master Photographic Studies in Leiden gedaan, het werk van Eisenloeffel beschreven en zijn archief ontsloten, en wilde nog een keer terug naar Mozambique om te fotograferen wat ik in de keren daarvoor had gemist. De herinneringen, die ik destijds niet heb kunnen vastleggen, wilde ik nu vastleggen.

 

MT:

Dit ging vooral over je eigen fotografisch werk maken, en het heden?

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BK:

Mijn vader overleed in de tijd dat ik aan het afstuderen was. Hij heeft mij kennis laten maken met fotografie. Mijn vader had, zoals veel mensen in de jaren 70 en 80, een doka. Als kind sprak me dat analoge procedé al aan. Sahel (1982) van Willem Diepraam was het allereerste fotoboek dat wij in huis hadden. Wij ontvingen het fotoboek van de Novib, net als elk jaar een kalender. Misschien dat in mijn onderbewuste al de verbinding is gelegd met jonge zwarte (school)kinderen die je stralend aanstaren!

Het was een roerige tijd, ik moest er even uit, uit het keurslijf van de universiteit en het studentenbestaan. Ik wilde vrijheid.

 

De reis in 2013 verliep heel anders: met een vriend, in een auto. Ik ben ouder, heb kinderen…meer verantwoordelijkheid. Ik stond daar anders in.

Toen ik weer foto’s van Mozambique zag, van Frits, dacht ik dat ik dit ‘verhaal’ maar eens moest oppakken, om de cirkel rond te krijgen. Op zoek naar het Mozambique dat ikzelf kende, dat Frits heeft gezien, en dat ik nooit heb gefotografeerd.

 

MT:

Even terug naar de historische context.

Frits E. beschrijft de periode van de dan al zittende overgangsregering van FRELIMO. Zou je kunnen uitleggen wat dat woord betekent. Het klinkt als een naam van een frisdrank!

 

BK:

FRELIMO is een afkorting van Frente de Libertação de Moçambique: het bevrijdingsfront van Mozambique, voortkomend uit het samengaan van drie andere politieke partijen. En de beweging is nog steeds aan de macht.

 

MT:

Ja, dat is ongelooflijk…FRELIMO werkte toen ondergronds aan de overgang van een staat van oorlog naar vrede, aan materiele problemen, diaspora – misschien bestond het begrip toen nog niet, maar daar ging het wel over – en hongersnood. Wat zijn ‘Dynamisation groups’? Frits E. spreekt van ‘autonome eenheden, vergelijkbaar met comités binnen FRELIMO (Frits zegt het zo mooi: “the most decentralized expression of popular power”).

 

BK:

De opkomst van FRELIMO is vrij complex: FRELIMO opereerde aanvankelijk vanuit het Noorden van Tanzania, dat was bevrijd gebied. De situatie was minder spectaculair dan je in de propaganda van FRELIMO leest. Ze oefenden daar enige invloed uit. FRELIMO wilde een socialistische maatschappij scheppen, vanuit Tanzania. En die ‘dynamiserings groepen’ zijn organisaties die werden opgezet in gebieden die nog niet bevrijd waren door FRELIMO. Dit heeft alles te maken met de overgangsfase. Het waren groepen waarin mensen zelf hun leiders konden kiezen. Die zaten in fabrieken, landbouwcollectieven, en dorpen. De bevolking wees de leiders aan.

 

MT:

Een soort vakbonden?

 

BK:

Ja, vergelijkbaar. En vanuit die groepen werden delen van het land bestuurd. De leiders hadden veelal een lidmaatschap van FRELIMO. Officieel opereerden zij onafhankelijk van de leer van FRELIMO en werkten zij aan een nieuwe samenleving. Zij zaten vooral in gebieden waar nog geen strijd was gevoerd tussen Portugal en FRELIMO.

 

MT:

Klinkt enigszins als zendingswerk…

 

BK:

Ja…Die groepen waren een vorm van buffers; mensen werden er klaargestoomd voor de socialistische ideologie. Een van de speerpunten van FRELIMO was het verzet tegen prostitutie, dat werd verboden toen zij aan de macht kwamen. Er werden een soort toneelvoorstellingen gegeven waarin tegen prostitutie, kapitalisme etc. werd gepropageerd. Om er voor te zorgen dat achtergebleven Portugezen niet zouden radicaliseren of reactionair gedrag zouden gaan vertonen. Ook waren er veel Mozambikanen die niets van FRELIMO wilden weten, niet socialistisch ingesteld waren. Later is Mondlane vermoord, waarschijnlijk door dissidenten binnen de beweging, in samenwerking met de geheime dienst van Portugal (PIDE). Er zijn veel machtsspelletjes gespeeld; kortom, die overgangsperiode was heel roerig. In 1977 is de doctrine officieel tot regeringsbeleid gemaakt. Die ‘dynamiserings groepen’ werden ook gebruikt om fabrieken draaiende te houden op het moment dat de Portugezen vertrokken, vraag is of ze daartoe in staat waren. In feite om het land, ook economisch, klaar te stomen voor wat komen gaat.

 

MT:

Sommige dingen weet je gewoon niet. Medio jaren 70 leefden 200.000 blanken in de Portugese kolonie. De helft ervan is dan al weggetrokken, schrijft Frits. Het gaat om mensen die hoog op de maatschappelijke ladder staan: Europese dokters, ingenieurs, docenten, makelaars, ambtenaren. Dat leverde nogal wat kritiek op. Ik vond deze zin veelzeggend: “ An average departing Portugese family has as many cubic metres of baggage as the total living space of an average (much larger) African family living in a slum”. (aldus een uitspraak van een jonge FRELIMO aanhanger, ergens in de havens van de hoofdstad). Zou je op die uitspraak willen reageren?

BK

De Portugezen hadden het natuurlijk beter dan de oorspronkelijke bewoners, net zoals dat het geval was in de andere koloniën. De macht was ongelijk verdeeld. Op het moment dat de overgang plaatsvond dienden zij te vertrekken; daar zit een heleboel haat en nijd. De uitspraak heeft betrekking op vluchtende Portugezen die bang waren voor een ‘Bijltjesdag’.

Tijdens de overgangsperiode was er veel angst onder de Portugezen, die leidde tot een massale exodus. De Portugezen zijn dus niet verjaagd, in tegenstelling tot veel berichtgeving. Vooral veel jonge Portugezen zijn gebleven; hele families raakten verscheurd, omdat kinderen die geboren waren in Mozambique zijn gebleven.

 

We spraken een vrouw, die in 1975 als meisje gevlucht was uit Mozambique, en nu is teruggekomen om een hotel te openen. In het hotel was een soort museum over Samora Machel ingericht, maar zij ondervond wel last van allerlei restricties. Door de crisis in Zuid-Europa keren sowieso veel Portugezen terug naar de voormalige kolonie. Daar liggen kansen. De overheid is echter terughoudend in het toelaten van Europeanen. Mensen worden letterlijk aan de grens tegengehouden. De meest aangrijpende foto’s zijn die van vluchtende Portugezen. Tegelijk heb ik begrip voor de uitspraak van die Afrikaan. Hij zal oprecht verbolgen zijn geweest. De Portugezen woonden immers in mooiere huizen, hadden het beter dan de Mozambikanen.

 

De president die aan de macht was toen ik in Mozambique was, voormalig minister van Binnenlandse Zaken in de regering Machel: Armando Guebuza, had een decreet uitgesproken: ‘24/20’. Iedere burger mocht maximaal 20kg bagage meenemen en moest binnen 24 uur het land uit zijn. Dat is pertinent onjuist. Portugezen waren welkom om te blijven, behalve reactionairen, groot-landbezitters en kapitalisten, die werden verdreven. Er deden een heleboel verhalen de ronde. Zo zouden de Portugezen beton door de liftschachten van een groot hotel hebben gestort om het op die manier onbruikbaar te maken.
De uittocht werd versterkt door de val van het fascistisch regime en de mislukte coupe van september 1974, waarover Eisenloeffel ook schreef (een coupe door reactionaire Portugezen).


MT:

Ja, je voelt de wrijving. Samora Machel was de nieuwe president, die vlak na de onafhankelijkheid het land intrekt en de toekomst met zijn burgers ging bespreken. Frits E. spreekt van zijn “impressive circus”. Wat bedoelt hij daarmee? Hoe moet je je dat voorstellen?

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BK:

Machel heeft Eduardo Mondlane opgevolgd. Hij was de militaire leider van FRELIMO en president van de eerste Republiek. Machel maakte in de aanloop naar de onafhankelijkheid een zegetocht door het land. Dat werd een soort mediacircus, waarbij hij toespraken hield en een plek bezocht waar een massaslachting heeft plaatsgevonden. Verder bezocht hij de strategische Cahora Bassadam, een energiecentrale die FRELIMO trachtte te vernietigen omdat de Portugezen daar hun stroom vandaan haalden. De zegetocht had een enorme symbolische waarde. Machel was mediageniek, een knappe man die tot de verbeelding sprak. Tijdens zijn regime heeft de gewapende strijd een enorme vlucht genomen. Hij wordt daarom nog altijd geëerd. Eisenloeffel reisde mee met het mediacircus, met een filmploeg.

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MT:

Interessant om die verbanden te kunnen leggen. Laten we dat beeld vasthouden: Machel en zijn mediacircus. In het kleine pamflet – dat zo compact is en zoveel informatie verschaft – is ook een genummerde foto-index opgenomen. Wat opvalt is dat Looking for M. opent – getuigend van een zekere bescheidenheid – met een krantenfoto en copyright stempel van Frits Eisenloeffel. Waarom?

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BK:

Het is een fragment uit De Groene Amsterdammer. Het copyright stempel is van Frits, het bijschrift ‘photographs must be returned’, is afkomstig van een persfoto waarop Machel samen met Mondlane te zien is. En de opname komt weer terug in een van mijn foto’s. Historisch en juridisch gezien was het niet correct, maar het paste zo mooi bij de wens: niet terug naar de fotograaf, maar naar het land. Merkwaardig genoeg was er ook een militair die ons aanhield en begon te fulmineren dat fotografen altijd maar foto’s kwamen nemen van de mensen in Mozambique en verder niets terug gaven.

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Ik kwam pas later op het idee om de foto’s van Frits en mij te gaan combineren. En tegelijk is het een ode aan zijn werk; een manier om zijn oeuvre meer publiekelijk te maken. Hij was er eerder, in Mozambique, vandaar begint het verhaal chronologisch met de foto’s van Frits en het eindigt met een documentje van mij: het entreekaartje van het Museum van de Revolutie. Frits heeft zich tien jaar intensief beziggehouden met Afrika, en heeft indertijd gepubliceerd in bladen als Avenue, Het Parool en De Groene, maar op deze manier wordt dat deel van zijn werk in een nieuwe context geplaatst. Het betreft overigens zijn vroegste werk.

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MT:

Nog een enkele vraag over jouw tekst in dit boekje. Jij beschrijft in het pamflet hedendaags Mozambique veertig jaar later. En opent met de vermelding van een paradox tussen, aan de ene kant opzichtig kapitalisme in het straatbeeld, en aan de andere kant de (lit)tekens van de gewapende revolutie toentertijd en van de inmiddels verlaten Marxistisch-lenistische ideologie, in standbeelden en muurschilderingen. Zou je die paradox enigszins kunnen toelichten?

 

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BK:

De muurschilderingen zijn een essentieel onderdeel van het Mozambikaanse straatbeeld en van de geschiedenis van het land. Dit wordt mooi uitgelegd door Paul Fauvet die ik heb ontmoet in Maputo. In alle grote steden en plaatsen vindt je muurschilderingen. In deze schilderingen werd op een prachtige wijze geageerd tegen de bourgeoisie en het verhaal van de revolutie verteld. Als in een stripverhaal wordt die geschiedenis uitgelegd. Misschien is het beeldverhaal bedoeld voor ongeletterden. Veel van die muurschilderingen blijken gebaseerd te zijn op foto’s. Foto’s die in de pers naar buiten zijn gebracht. Het is echt prachtig.

 

De toenmalige leiders zijn nu nog steeds aan de macht. Dat is fascinerend. Onder president Chissano liet FRELIMO het Marxisme-leninisme achter zich, maar veel van de oude heren zitten nog op het pluche. Verder spreekt vooral Samora Machel – hij is echt de vader des vaderlands – nog altijd tot de verbeelding. Hij is charmant, heeft sexappeal; hij is echt het symbool van het land. Deze vorm van persoonsverheerlijking speelde nog niet in de tijd dat Mondlane de beweging leidde.

 

Nu zie je een enorme influx van het kapitaal. De Mozambikaan is tegenwoordig niet per se geïnteresseerd in de historie van de revolutionaire strijd. Je ziet dat vooral jongeren geïnteresseerd zijn in een carrière, het verdienen van geld en in hun telefoon. Dat is in het straatbeeld te zien. Mensen lopen achteloos langs de muurschilderingen. Voor Frits stonden deze schilderingen voor de toekomst, voor mij eerder voor het verleden. Daarom heb ik ook bewust de muurschildering van R. Kelly in het boek opgenomen. Die schildering komt uit het hart van de jeugd. Verder zien we reclames, ook in de vorm van muurschilderingen. Rondom een standbeeld van Machel in Beira staan ‘standbeelden’ van flessen Coca Cola. Ik heb dit monument niet opgenomen in mijn boek. En inmiddels zijn er meer muurschilderingen van mCel en Vodacom dan van Samora Machel. De mobiele telefonie-aanbieders zijn meer aanwezig dan de revolutionairen. De geschiedenis lijkt daarmee enigszins te vervagen; je moet er naar op zoek. En waar voorheen Mondlane op de voorgrond trad, lijkt het er nu op dat nieuwe standbeelden van Machel een prominente plek innemen.

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MT:

Zou je wat meer kunnen vertellen over de oprichter van FRELIMO en het prototype van de moderne oppositieleider: Eduardo Mondlane? Nu enkel nog een schim, een vaag historisch figuur, schrijf je.

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BK:

Eduardo Mondlane was een intellectueel; een doctor in de antropologie, hij sprak goed Engels. Hij genoot een opleiding in Zuid-Afrika, werkte voor de V.N. in de Verenigde Staten en huwde een Amerikaanse. Daarna, kwam hij terug naar Mozambique, om vanuit Tanzania de beweging te leiden. Toen FRELIMO in 1962 voortkwam uit de fusie van drie andere partijen werd Mondlane gesteund door president Julius Nyerere van Tanzania; hij was gekozen als leider. Mondlane is dus de oprichter van de partij, maar in die tijd opereerde FRELIMO vooral vanuit Tanzania.

 

Hij was anders dan Machel, die was opgeleid tot verpleger. Ik was heel benieuwd hoe de Mozambikanen dat verschil ervoeren tussen Mondlane en Machel. Volgens een Mozambikaanse barman was Mondlane de theoreticus die aan de hand van een theoretisch raamwerk uitdacht hoe de eerste stappen richting onafhankelijkheid te maken, en was de commandant van de strijdkrachten: Machel, de persoon die daadwerkelijk de oorlog heeft gevoerd.

 

Toen Mondlane aan de macht was, bleek er een enorme interne machtsstrijd gaande. Mondlane is in 1969 vermoord door een bombrief in Dar es Salaam –waarschijnlijk door de geheime dienst van Portugal, en door FRELIMO dissidenten. Na zijn dood volgde een machtsstrijd tussen Uria Simango, de vice-president, en Samora Machel. Laatstgenoemde won. Simango werd van verraad beschuldigd en na een showproces geëxecuteerd. Het doet enigszins denken aan het verhaal van Lenin en Stalin en Trotsky. Mondlane bleek geen fan te zijn van sommigen die na hem aan de macht kwamen en in zijn boek The Struggle for Mozambique staat hij zij aan zij met Simango. In een latere stripversie staat Simango nergens afgebeeld. Toch behoorde Simango tot een ander kamp dan Mondlane en Machel, die het land wilden hervormen naar een socialistische staat, Simango daarentegen wilde de blanke elite verruilen voor een zwarte elite.

Ik heb altijd het gevoel dat Mondlane een ietwat meer gematigd figuur was dan Machel en ben benieuwd hoe hij het land na de onafhankelijkheid zou hebben geleid. Welke richting FRELIMO dan gevolgd zou hebben…

 

MT:

Vanwege zijn plotselinge overlijden?

 

 

BK:

Ja…En wat betreft dat vervagen van Mondlane als historisch figuur… Niet alleen Machel heeft een standbeeld, er is ook een standbeeld van Mondlane, geschonken door Noord-Korea. In 2010 zijn er in alle provincie hoofdsteden exacte replica’s van het oorspronkelijke door Noord-Korea geschonken standbeeld van Machel geplaatst en in Maputo zelf, zo’n honderd meter van het origineel werd een reusachtig nieuw exemplaar geplaatst. Machel is inmiddels een exportproduct, een soort Che Guevara. Mondlane is dat niet meer , en misschien nooit echt geweest. Hij stond vroeger op de bankbiljetten afgebeeld, nu is dat Machel. Je ziet ‘m hooguit af en toe op een muurschildering, of in een school hangt een foto van hem.

 

MT:

In het begin van ons gesprek heb je al verteld waarom je in 1997 besloot, als student geschiedenis, zelf naar Mozambique te reizen. Ik wil toch even terugkomen op dat documentje dat je hebt opgenomen achterin het boek. Dat vertegenwoordigt, lijkt mij, een heel bijzonder moment voor jou. Je was op dat moment de enige bezoeker van het Museum van de Revolutie in Maputo. Het gebouw was vervallen, een oude onafhankelijkheidsstrijder, in lompen gekleed, gaf je een rondleiding door de ‘geschiedenis van de onafhankelijkheidsstrijd’.

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BK:

Ik heb het museum twee keer bezocht. In 2013 was het dicht.
In 1997, studeerde ik, zoals ik al zei in Pretoria en had inmiddels mijn vakken afgerond. Een studievriend woonde in Maputo en ik was uitgenodigd daar langs te gaan, hij werkte overdag op de ambassade. Met de Lonely Planet in de hand bezocht ik allerlei plekken waaronder het vervallen museum van de revolutie en het natuurhistorisch museum. Het museum is zo typisch revolutionair artefact. Ik houd daarvan; musea die niet zo aantrekkelijk zijn voor de meeste toeristen. In El Salvador zag ik die ook. Van die slechte bordjes, vreemde objecten (wapens, pasjes, foto’s, vlaggen, maar ook een springtouw en de korte sportbroek van Machel) trof ik aan. Sommige zaalteksten waren rechtstreeks overgenomen uit Mondlane’s boek. Pas toen ik mij aan de Vrije Universiteit (VU) in Amsterdam met Mozambique ging bezighouden viel alles op z’n plek.

 

Het feit dat de man, een oud-strijder in een half uniform, terplekke in het museum, voor mij uitliep en de lichten in de zalen ontstak, gaf een bijzonder gevoel. Alsof je teruggaat in de tijd; als een archeoloog die een ontdekking doet. Het museum was in de jaren zeventig opgericht. Er staan kanonnen, er hangen Koreaanse schilderijen. Fascinerend om te zien dat er ogenschijnlijk niets veranderd was sinds de opening van het museum. Vergane glorie. Toen ik in 2000 terugkwam, met meer historische kennis, kon ik alles wat tentoongesteld was veel beter plaatsen. In 2013 was het museum gesloten, in verband met een renovatie. En wat betreft dat kaartje: ten gevolge van de inflatie is de entreeprijs verhoogd; de oude prijs is doorgekrast op het entreekaartje.

 

MT:

Vertel alsjeblieft wat meer over het boek waar de oud-strijder, ik noem hem nu gemakshalve de ‘suppoost’, jouw op wees: The Struggle for Mozambique en dat is geschreven door Eduardo Mondlane zelf. En hoe de publicatie de basis vormde voor je MA-scriptie geschiedenis, waarin je de rol van vrouwen in de onafhankelijkheidsstrijd onderzoekt.

BK:

Vaak wordt The Struggle for Mozambique aangeduid als een autobiografie, maar het is in feite een heldere uiteenzetting van de geschiedenis van de strijd om Mozambique. Het Museum voor de Revolutie is voor een groot deel gebaseerd op deze publicatie. Zo raakte ik geïnteresseerd in de strijd om Mozambique. Ik was me aan het specialiseren in moderne Afrikaanse geschiedenis, in relatie tot het ANC in Zuid-Afrika, maar naar aanleiding van dat museumbezoek en de publicatie van Mondlane wilde ik hierover gaan schrijven. Mondlane was een voorstander van het verbeteren van de positie van vrouwen. Daarover gaat mijn scriptie. In eigentijdse propagandistische bladen als Mozambique Revolution werd aandacht besteedt aan de vrouwenbeweging, daarop ben ik dieper ingegaan. In de bevrijdde gebieden, kregen vrouwen in eerste instantie meer rechten. Ook werden vrouwen opgenomen in de zogenaamde Destacamento Feminino’ aangevoerd door Machel’s eerste vrouw Josina Machel. In Looking for M. staat een portret van een vrouw die in zo’n detachement heeft gezeten.

MT:

Dat vond plaats in 1999. Zes jaar later ontdek je het archief van de Nederlandse journalist Frits Eisenhoeffel (1944-2001). Het is me niet duidelijk wat zijn professie was. Was hij fotojournalist of schrijvend journalist?

 

BK:

Frits Eisenhoeffel (Frits E.) was schrijvend journalist en had beeld nodig bij zijn stukken…

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MT:

Want jij zet Frits E. als fotojournalist op de voorgrond.

 

BK:

Dat klopt ja, ik ben zijn fotografisch archief ingedoken.

 

MT:

Frits E. was begin jaren zestig geïnteresseerd in, toen, fascistisch Portugal en het verlies van haar grip op de koloniën. Vanwaar die bijzondere belangstelling van Frits E. voor dit land, in deze problematiek?

 

BK:

Zoals ik al zei, Frits kwam in contact met Portugese deserteurs. Zijn werk valt in twee delen uiteen: Zuidelijk Afrika, en in de jaren tachtig van de twintigste eeuw de oorlogen in Afrika, vooral de bevrijding van Eritrea. Tien jaar lang heeft hij de antiapartheidsstrijd gefotografeerd.

 

MT:

Hoe kwam je in aanraking met zijn archief?

 

BK:

Via Flip Bool (voormalig hoofdconservator collecties/archieven Nederlands Fotomuseum NFM, Rotterdam). Ik liep stage in het Nederlands Fotomuseum. Ik deed onderzoek naar Nederlandse fotografen in Afrika van 1840 tot nu. Flip Bool had contact gehad met de weduwe Immeke Sixma, vanwege haar verzoek zijn archief onder te brengen in het NFM. Flip Bool achtte het toen niet geschikt, maar wees mij er wel op. Immeke gaf mij vervolgens opdracht het archief te beschrijven en te ontsluiten. Met het oog daarop is een stichting is in het leven geroepen om het werk van Frits E. gemaakt in Afrika bij een breed publiek onder de aandacht te brengen. Uit 300.000 foto’s was een keuze gemaakt van 3.000 stuks, die zijn gescand. Later heb ik de geselecteerde foto’s aan de hand van publicaties, tijdschriften, en dagboeken in een fotoprogramma beschreven. Mozambique is daar slechts een klein onderdeel van: ongeveer 200 foto’s. Een deel daarvan is beschikbaar gemaakt door het Internationaal Instituut Sociale Geschiedenis (IISG) in Amsterdam, in de vorm van een digitale tentoonstelling. Het instituut heeft de collectie van Frits E. integraal verworven.

 

MT:

Je hebt de gegevens in een databank opgenomen?

 

BK:

Ja! In FotoStation, een software programma waar Hollandse Hoogte ook meewerkt.

 

MT:

Hoe lang heb je hieraan gewerkt?

 

BK:

Zo’n anderhalf jaar, gedurende een dag per week.

 

MT:

Straks gaan we meer op zijn afzonderlijke foto’s in, ook in vergelijking met jouw werk.

Er is nog een begrip dat Frits introduceert. Wat moeten we verstaan onder de ‘Carnation Revolution’ van april 1974? Ik lees: een militaire coup van links progressieven, zonder bloed vergieten.

BK:

Carnation Revolution is de eerder genoemde geweldloze Anjerrevolutie van 25 april 1974. Deze revolutie leidde het einde in van een jarenlang fascistisch bewind. Lagere Portugese officieren kwamen in Portugal in opstand uit frustratie over de hoge prijs die, vooral door hen, betaald werd tijdens de koloniale oorlogen. Frits had contacten en interesse in de bevrijdingsstrijd. Hij besloot mee te reizen met een militair transport om verslag te doen. Eerst in het West-Afrikaanse Guinee-Bissau en later in Mozambique. De andere zuidelijk Afrikaanse landen volgden later.

 

MT:

Vlak daarna reist Frits E. naar Mozambique en Guinee-Bissau om verslag te doen van de politieke omwentelingen voor Het Parool en De Groene Amsterdammer. Waar ligt dat?

 

BK:

Aan de Westkust, bij Senegal.

 

MT:

Fotografie is ingezet voor partijpolitieke propaganda, daar wees je ook op in relatie tot het tijdschrift Mozambique Revolution. HOE dan?

th

BK:

FRELIMO had ook steun vanuit het buitenland nodig. Veel buitenlandse anti-imperialistische actiegroepen (zoals de Eduardo Mondlane Stichting – later opgegaan in het NIZA) verspreidden tijdschriften (Mozambique Revolution is de bekendste), posters etc. Daarin werd veel gebruik gemaakt van werk van Mozambikaanse fotografen. Kok Nam, Ricardo Rangel en anderen staan in dat land voor een sterke foto-journalistieke traditie. Vraag is in hoeverre hun foto’s werden afgedrukt in de propagandistische tijdschriften van FRELIMO, die ze wereldwijd naar antiapartheidsorganisaties stuurde. Fotografie speelde daarin een belangrijke rol, om de wandaden van Portugal te tonen en de manier waarop FRELIMO opereerde in bevrijdde gebieden. Desalniettemin waren er ook veel buitenlandse fotografen die foto’s maakten. De Zweed Anders Johansson, de bekende Afrikanist Basil Davidson, de totaal vergeten Japanse fotograaf Tadahiro Ogawa, maar ook Koen Wessing en Frits Eisenloeffel. De foto’s van Frits verschenen destijds, meen ik, op een actieposter. Het werk van Frits werd echter niet door FRELIMO of de MPLA gebruikt.

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MT:

Wat valt er te zeggen over de neef van Frits E., de professionele fotograaf Koen Wessing? Van hem verschijnt, nota bene in 1974, bij de Bezige Bij in Amsterdam Chili september 1973. En, lees ik in Wessing’s biografie, vertrok hij datzelfde jaar in opdracht van het Angola Comité naar Guinee-Bissau. Wie ging met wie mee?

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BK:

Frits en Koen zijn daar niet tegelijkertijd geweest. Frits is in Guinee-Bissau in eerste instantie geweest om samen met anderen in opdracht van de VPRO een film te maken. Koen Wessing is een volle neef van Frits Eisenloeffel. Frits leerde het fotograferen van Han Singel, Joost Guntenaar en Koen Wessing. Wessing heeft inderdaad na zijn markante publicatie over Chili Djarama PIAGC gemaakt, in opdracht van het Angola Comité, naar aanleiding van het eenjarige bestaan van de Republiek. De publicatie, meer een cahier, heeft hetzelfde formaat als Chili, september 1973, maar de vormgeving is kwalitatief minder hoogwaardig. Ik denk dat de geestdrift die in Chili, september 1973 aanwezig is ontbreekt in Djarama PIAGC. Ik heb ergens gelezen dat op het moment dat Wessing deze foto’s maakte, Angola, net als Mozambique, de facto al onafhankelijk was. Portugal erkent de onafhankelijkheid van Guinee-Bissau in september 1974. Op het moment van verschijnen van Djarama PIAGC viert Guinee-Bissau de onafhankelijkheidsverklaring van de Republiek, die een jaar geleden officieel plaatsvond.

MT:

Ik vroeg me af in hoeverre beïnvloedt zo’n boekje als Chili, september 1973 iemand als Frits E.?

 

BK:

Ik denk dat ze het engagement deelden. Frits heeft overigens nooit fotoboeken gemaakt. Frits heeft wel een verhaal over Guinee-Bissau geschreven in de Groene Amsterdammer op 15 mei 1974, waarin foto’s van Koen Wessing staan. Dat was voordat het boekje Djarama PIAGC uitkwam.

 

MT:

Dus er was sprake van een soort kruisbestuiving!

Vanwaar was het catalogiseren van het foto-journalistieke oeuvre van Frits E. een katalysator om in 2013 opnieuw naar Mozambique te reizen?

BK:

Het archiveren van zijn werk riep een herinnering op. Door al die foto’s te bekijken voelde ik de behoefte weer terug te gaan. De herkenbaarheid van de beelden, de herinneringen die de beelden en teksten of dagboeken van Frits opriepen, en de herinnering aan mijn MA-scriptie, zetten mij ertoe om het land weer te bezoeken en te gaan vastleggen wat ik tijdens mijn eerdere reizen had gezien, maar niet gedocumenteerd. In die zin slaat de ‘M.’ in de titel zeker ook op ‘Memories’…Maar ook op ‘Mondlane’, ‘Machel’, en ‘Mozambique’. Dat gaf mij het gevoel dat ik dit hoofdstuk kon afsluiten.

 

MT:

Het volgende citaat is passend op dit moment in het gesprek. Zou je het kunnen toelichten? “The concept of Looking for M. is a conscious departure from the traditional journalistic method, being rather a personal and almost anachronistic approach in which both substantive and aesthetic synergy arises between the artistry and perception of two Dutch photographers working in different areas.” Hier breng je jullie beide samen en de perceptie van beide op Mozambique, er zit weliswaar veertig jaar tussen. Je beschrijft de waarde ervan, in tamelijk zware termen. De benadering is ‘persoonlijk’, ‘anachronistisch’, en ‘substantieel’ en ‘esthetisch’.

 

BK:

Op een geforceerde manier breng ik foto’s die destijds gemaakt zijn samen met mijn foto’s. Soms vullen de foto’s elkaar inhoudelijk aan, zoals in de foto’s van komende en gaande mensen in de havens van Maputo. Dan weer is sprake van overeenkomst in vorm. Zo is hier links een portret van een oud-strijder afgebeeld, een veteraan, en hij heeft misschien wel gevochten tegen deze militair op de rechterpagina.

DUMMY003 DSCF2030

In mijn eerste dummy heb ik de foto’s van Frits nog niet gebruikt.
In de dummies die daarop volgden heb ik de selecties op basis van esthetische gronden (denk aan hoe Stephen Gill het boek Let’s sit down before we go van Bertien van Manen samenstelde) gemaakt. Er was soms sprake van een opvallende gelijkenis tussen de voorstellingen op de foto’s van ons beide, die ik absoluut niet van tevoren had bedacht.

MT:

Laten we dit verder bespreken aan de hand van beeldmateriaal. Hoe plaats jij het werk van Frits E. in een nieuwe context, in Looking for M? En WAT zien we in jouw werk; waar kijken we naar? En dan komen we vanzelf te spreken over dat schoolmeisje, met zo’n grappige gele button op haar jurkje. Laten we dat bespreken aan de hand van een aantal dubbele paginaopmaken. De nummering van de foto’s ontbreekt op de fotopagina’s, dat maakt het wat lastig; je moet echt je best doen.

BK:

Frits werkte als journalist en zijn foto’s waren destijds bedoeld om mensen te informeren over de situatie toen. Nu krijgt zijn werk gedeeltelijk een andere betekenis, doordat zijn journalistieke beelden aan mijn documentaire foto’s worden gekoppeld. De cultuurhistorische context verandert en daarmee wellicht ook de interpretatie van de beelden.

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002-003

De tekst ‘return to sender’ komt van een veelgebruikte persfoto van een onbekende fotograaf, die ik op een gegeven moment heb gekocht. De stempel slaat op het terugbrengen van de foto naar de ‘bron’, hetzij de fotograaf, hetzij een archief. Frits wilde echter ook dat zijn foto’s gezien zouden worden door de mensen wie het daadwerkelijk betrof.

De persfoto, waar Eduardo Mondlane en Samora Machel samen op staan, is gemaakt in Tanzania. En kijk, dit bedoel ik met die muurschilderingen: hieruit blijkt ook weer dat Machel de logische opvolger is van Mondlane. Er zijn niet zoveel foto’s gebruikt waar ze samen opstaan.

 

MT:

Een meester-gezel verhouding, zogezegd. Oh, de muurschildering is daadwerkelijk gemaakt naar deze foto!

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BK:

Ja. Vele mensen die de geschiedenis van Mozambique kennen, zullen deze foto herkennen. De Zuidafrikaan Albie Sachs heeft zelfs een publicatie uitgebracht over de specifieke Mozambikaanse muurschilderingen Images de Uma Revolução (1983). De foto’s in dat boek zijn gemaakt door Susan Meiselas. In het fotoboek is haar naam aangeduid als ‘Susan Maiselas’.

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MT:

Mooi dat je dit vermeld!

 

006-007

En dan…welk nummer? Ik had de fotopagina’s gewoon moeten nummeren! Ik vermoed dat dit ook een zogeheten dynamizing group is. Collectief wordt er gewerkt aan een weg. Frits beschreef lang niet alles; dus dit is een foto waarmee ik het moet doen. En dit vond ik zelf een mooie landschapsfoto. Als je nu door Mozambique rijdt wordt overal aan wegen gebouwd, onder toezicht van Chinese opzichters. Frits E. werkte, zoals veel fotografen uit zijn tijd, in zwart-wit. Deze opname is in kleur; veel mensen denken daarom dat ik die heb gemaakt!

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010-011

Hier zie je het contrast heel sterk. Dit is een zwembad op het dak van een duur hotel in Maputo. We zien een migrant die het zwembad onderhoudt. En deze foto is gemaakt in het Grand Hotel in Beira: een megalomaan Portugees project uit de jaren vijftig. Een heel groot hotel is het, dat nooit goed heeft gelopen en daarom meteen failliet is verklaard. En later is gekraakt. Vergelijkbaar met Ponte City in Zuid-Afrika! Dit is het eerste Olympische zwembad in Mozambique. Nu doen mensen daarin de was. Tijdens de overgangsperiode was FRELIMO hier gezeteld. Beide foto’s heb ik gemaakt.

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MT:

Het is dus niet altijd TOEN en NU op het formaat van een dubbele pagina?

 

BK:

Nee, niet altijd.

 

014-015

Ik vermoed dat dit een voorstelling is in het kader van een dynamiseringsgroep. Waarin bijvoorbeeld werd verteld wat er fout was aan het kapitalisme. Het zou ook een feestelijke bijeenkomst kunnen zijn. En hier zie je spelende kinderen in Beira.

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MT:

Het spelkarakter, het speelse hebben de beelden met elkaar gemeen….

 

016 en 018-019

10maart DSCF207310maartDSCF2081

Dit is een oud FRELIMO strijder, die nog altijd de baas is en met veel ontzag wordt benaderd. Hij is nog altijd de commandant, en deed het woord. Hij leeft in een dorp voor de veteranen.

En de vrouw afgebeeld naast ‘the school girl’ is een oud-strijdster uit het vrouwen detachement. Gisteren keek ik weer eens naar Sahel, het fotoboek van Diepraam, en op de achterkant staat een blinde vrouw afgebeeld. Deze foto doet me daaraan denken. Wellicht een clichématige referentie die er onbewust is ingeslopen.

 

MT:

Dit is een van de weinige momenten dat je een panoramisch zwart-wit fotootje klein op de bovenste helft van de witte pagina afdrukt. De man rechts, in uniform, is een Che Chevara type.

 

BK:

Opdat je niet ‘in het beeld’ hoeft te draaien. En de militairen hebben allebei een droevige blik, de houding is zelfs vergelijkbaar.

 

MT:

De lichaamstaal komt overeen.

10maart DSCF2074

028-029

Ja. De vrouw met het kindje valt een beetje weg tegen de muurschildering. Ik heb daar een tijdje gestaan met mijn camera. Mensen lopen er achteloos langs. Ertegenover staat een zwart-wit foto van Portugese militairen die luisteren naar een toespraak van Machel.

 

MT:

En Machel is afgebeeld op de muurschildering?

 

BK:

Ja, in die zin komen de foto’s weer overeen. Maar dit zijn wel boeven, toch?

 

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032-033

Die jongens staan op een vuilnisbelt en zijn op zoek naar bruikbare materialen, om speelgoed van te maken. Deze opname is gemaakt op een vrij toeristische plek in het Noorden Pemba. Mozambique heeft een mooie kustlijn. En die kinderen, gefotografeerd door Frits, poseren op eenzelfde manier.

 

MT:

Dat verandert niet door de tijd heen….

 

BK:

Nee…

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034-035

Links zie je een fotowinkel gerund door een Chinees. Verderop, buiten beeld, hangt een portret van de nieuwe president. Hier zie je een portret van Mondlane. Ik dacht die koop ik, maar hij vroeg er 100 EUR voor. Er zijn nu veel Chinese invloeden in Mozambique. China heeft met dit land een andere relatie dan met Europa.

 

 

038-039

Een detail van de Groene Amsterdammer. Sowieso vond ik het mooi om in het midden van het boek een variant op de eerste foto af te drukken, om te laten zien hoe de foto’s van Frits E. in de pers op de bladspiegel geplaatst werden. En beide personen, een echtpaar, heb ik afzonderlijk in Looking for M. geportretteerd.

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041-042

Dit is een teken van werkgelegenheid… Dit soort portretjes van Afrikanen worden veelal gekoppeld aan genocide. Dus zo’n foto heeft in eerste instantie een negatieve connotatie, maar dit zijn werknemers in een broodzaak die werd gerund door een Marokkaan uit Fes.

 

MT:

Oh ja, ik vind het een prachtige dubbele pagina.

Maar waarom worden de portretten van de werknemers van een bakkerswinkel daar zo uitgestald? Zijn het ID’s?

 

BK:

Ja, eer soort ID’s, een soort gezondheidsverklaringen die in die winkel hingen. Het zijn de medewerkers. De andere foto is vanuit een rijdende auto gemaakt en daarom enigszins onscherp. De Mozambikanen stoken op kolen. En de jonge vrouw op de foto is een verkoopster van kolen. Een vorm van economie op straat. En die kleuren, in beide foto’s, dat werkt goed samen.

 

055-056

Dit zijn de schoenmaker en zijn vrouw, die eerder (op pagina 038-039) zijn afgebeeld op de persfoto van Frits E., die ik net beschreef, in het hart van het fotoboek.

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MT:

parents mourning’ is de titel.

 

BK:

Machel kwam tijdens zijn toespraak terug op de herdenking van de massamoorden, waarin hun enige twee zoons zijn omgekomen. En daartegenover staat een soort anachronistische reclamefoto van ‘R. Kelly’, een hedendaagse R&B zanger. Ook als tegenhanger van de overige muurschilderingen.

 

MT:

Dus deze muurschildering is veel eigentijdser dan die politieke, propagandistische

exemplaren. En dan tenslotte het schoolmeisje…We beginnen en eindigen met haar!

 

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059

Zij is een van de schoolmeisjes die ik aan het eind van mijn reis fotografeerde op Ilha de Mozambique. Haar naam is mij niet bekend. Ik had het ergens opgeschreven, maar ben dat papiertje kwijtgeraakt. Ik weet bijna zeker dat de button een clipje is om je telefoon aan te haken. Iedereen heeft een mobiele telefoon. Overal zie je telefoon reclames, zelfs de huizen zijn beschilderd in de kleuren van telefoonaanbieders.