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The most impressive photobook presented at the UNSEEN fair/festival last weekend was not at the Book Market per se, but at East Wing gallery [stand 39, gas silo]: a three volumes publication Vienna MMix 10008/7000 in a sleeve published by Scheidegger & Spiess, a numbered limited edition of 600 copies. Jules Spinatsch made 10.008 images, as part of what he called Surveillance Panorama Project at the Vienna Opera Ball. The Vienna State Opera was not amused with the end result, but did give permission for the project.

Volume I, entitled Every Three Seconds, is bulky and dark green. It contains the integral sequence of the ten thousand pictures chronologically arranged in grids of 36 pictures on a spread.The images were made during an opera performance with two camera’s that moved every three seconds in a vertical line six positions downward along a rail, and up again after six shots. In this manner neither image selection nor editing took place. Volume III is a cahier containing two essays. One by neuroscientist Wolf Singer, who is exploring the transition of human perception in this age of (social and big) media and surveillance technology. Volume II entitled 71 photographs contains this exact amount of selected images, grainy and faded in colours: purplish, reddish, and yellowish, making them appear voyeuristic in nature.

All pictures are zooming in on textures, objects and people. Most are strangely cropped and remind me of portraits by Craigie Horsfield. We look at a curtain cord, a lampshade, and man in tuxedo biting his nails in the loge. Women are wearing pearls and evening dresses with décolleté and are cramped in a balcony behind tall glasses with champagne or water. A royal couple is mingling among guests. Hairdo’s, camera flashes, peculiar facial expressions, arms and fingers gesticulating mysteriously. All are spreads, each framed by a white vertical bar on the far out left page and printed on thin, matte, wood pulp paper. The sequences are interleaved with sheer white pages. I bought number 504, selling price: 120.00 EUR.

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 The funniest documentary photobook, I already spotted it online, is published by Journal in Sweden. This is a publishing house that makes exquisite photobooks (such as Trying to dance by JH Engstrom), but maintains low profile; e.g. Journal doesn’t attempt to increase its exposure through a website. I was thrilled to find they had a stand at the UNSEEN Book Market. One of the titles from Journal is Southbound by Knut Egil Wang, a Los Angeles based Norwegian photographer with a surname that sounds Chinese. His documentary style has both a Martin Parr and Alec Soth edge to it. The narrative in this publication is related to local culture, warmer climate and simple amusement during ‘long dark winters’ in the Northern hemisphere. A small cute illustration of an aeroplane landing on the French title page and the bright yellow flyleaves introduce you to sunny destinations. We see elderly Western people in groups with Christmas hats on, poles in their hands, small backpacks on passing through a white wooden porch that looks like a misplaced prop in a movie like Paris Texas. They enter a desolate dry, stony and greyish landscape. Another page shows a girl in a bikini and her boyfriend in swimming trunks posing awkwardly on a tile floor. His left arm bandaged, daggling in a sling, face and left knee bruised. Both are holding arms around each other’s lower backs. On the opposite left page is a detail of two cacti stems with a branch that looks like it’s embracing the other plant.

You may find more of these kinds of dialogues in juxtapositions of images. Peculiar forms of amusement are documented: muscular boys dressed in nothing but a black, or yellew, crutch holder on suspenders and doing shopping, another boy in such costume sitting wide legged in front of the camera, greasy curly hair, wearing sun glasses, smoking a cigarette and drinking beer from cans. The following pages depict a snake show, a gay parade, an elderly woman milking a goat, people bowling on a parking lot, three boys posing in naked torsos at night drenched in soap bubbles. All images are framed in a sober, neutral and restrained, almost puritan, layout. The print run of Southbound is 800 copies.

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My first encounter in the gas silo was with a large size children’s photobook, both conceptual and documentary in nature by the Slovakian female photographer Lucia Nimcova (1977). Animal Imago is containing pictures of abused, stuffed, encased, and misplaced animals in eastern and central Europe. We see a stuffed Nile crocodile in a shabby (what look likes a natural history) museum presentation next to a stuffed monkey on the back of a scooter. Another double page shows a gracious grey cow’s head popping up behind a tree, opposite a sticky dead duck attacked by horseflies and dumped on a garbage can along a park lane. As is done with children’s book the publication opens and ends with empty coloured pages, to make a drawing or take notes. There are no captions, and no other text. The publication Animal Imago is an ode to the photographer’s deaf-born son.

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 ‘The Indian Iron’ by the German female photographer Regine Petersen is an award winning documentary and well deserves this honor. Petersen is the recipient of the 2014 Outset | Unseen Exhibition Fund, which will result in a solo exhibition at FOAM in 2015. Petersen uses a kind of ‘retro-style’ in documentary photography: re-working and re-contextualizing found photography and collected documentation (newspaper clips) mixed with self-made images, traces and associations. Her topic is unusual: the moments in history that meteorites falling from the sky interrupt our daily practices, be it in Alabama, Rajasthan or Germany. Regine Petersen also made an unusual wall presentation at the stand of East Wing gallery, in which the narrative becomes part of the mural installation. So in one body of work ‘stars fell on Alabama’ you see a huge monumental image of a free standing meteorite against a black void, like a piece of gold ore, and underneath on the left side you see a much smaller image (a local photojournalistic record) of police officer and a woman, looking up at a huge hole in a ceiling of her living room in Alabama, next to an ever smaller photocopied and framed newspaper clipping describing the moment when a cosmic rock crash actually crashed through the atmosphere and appears to have hit somebody. So it seems. I like the fake history, the assemblage of photography, postcards and text, the humour, the cosmically aspect and the enticing narrative of this photowork. I dearly hope Regine Petersen will make an author/photographer book in the near future.

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TIERGARTEN photographed and ‘risographed’ by Johannes Schwartz, is a spiral bound. In terms of book production and size it is quite similar to A.M.G. Photographie (1933-1934), then published by Art et Métier Graphique in Paris. TIERGARTEN is a Japanese block in a soft carton sleeve, and is published by ROMA Publications. Experimental Jetset designed the book. Details are depicted of (rotten) food, fleshy meat chunks, and rows of slices of bread that happens to be served to animals at the Moscow Zoo. There certainly is a modernist flair to this book, in the way structures, fences, bread slices, potatoes and eggs and piles of leaks and crinkled newspapers are photographed. But the visceral quality of the food, the insects, the maggots, the packaging, the leaves, the fish, is all due to the offset printed and ‘risographed’ photographs made in the Charles Nypels Lab at the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht. Don’t ask me how that works, but the technique reminds me of dye-transfers. And what a marvellous typographic opening: each letter of the book title is a capital template letter. Each is printed full page in black on red heavy weight textured paper.

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 Collage is definitely back: Julie Cockburn, at the stand of The Photographers’ Gallery [stand 27, gas silo] shows embroideries on found photographs, all of which are portraits (Hollywood actors, American high school pictures). Another example is a series of portraits with round mirrors (where you would expect a face), and is created by Trine Søndergaard and presented at Martin Asbaek Gallery from Copenhagen. And of course Ruth van Beek (following up her well-received publication the arrangement), is displaying some premieres at gallery Ton de Boer.

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And striking documentary by Jason Larkin, Tales From the City of Gold, was presented at Flowers Gallery. This is also a wonderful book, about open air religious practice, mutating urban landscape and environmental issues related to mining in South Africa. The images depict mine dumps, hand made homes and coloured people in the Johannesburg area, interleaved with reproductions of a few small black and white drawings.

After the festival I collected by e-mail some refelctions on the event from booksellers present at the UNSEEN Book Market, who probally are already on their way to the London Art Book Fair or the New York Art Book Fair.

HOW many books did you sell?

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How many visitors have been looking at the better part of a book? And were attracted and encouraged to continue this acquaintance, or to stay at home? Or would like to offer it to a friend? And did so by paying a small amount? Finally 47 people paid for one or more books.

 

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I didn’t count yet, but certainly more than a 100.

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I offered the latest titles from my programme and some from the backlist.
Very well received were three little books about Hong Kong’s vernacular culture by Michael Wolf:
Hong Kong TrilogyHong Kong Flora; Hong Kong Informal Seating Arrangements 

Also well received were: Replies by Andreas Trogisch and Escape by Danila Tkachenko (Award winning at World Press Photo 2014)

 

What was the focal point for this fair/festival?

Johan Deumens Gallery

To present a program of conceptual and research-oriented artists, in this context focusing on photography-related artists’ books, to cultural institutions, publishers, private collectors and those unknown with these kind of approaches. To maintain and extend collaborations with colleagues and institutions. To sell works.

 

Finally, it was also valuable looking at the brand new black and white portrait series ‘Imperial Courts’ (one of the largest housing projects in Watts, Los Angeles) by Dana Lixenberg (1964) at Robert Morat Galerie. The project is a ‘come back’ to an earlier series, Dana started working on this poor community in 1993. There is an in-depth interview with Dana on pages 174-175 of UNSEEN MAGAZINE. Always impressive of course is new existential work by JH Engstrom at Grundemark Nilsson Gallery. And please don’t forget to read the essay by Taco Hidde Bakker: ‘Photography 3.0: The End of Photography as We Knew It’, starting on page 21 of UNSEEN MAGAZINE.

 

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Editing room where Valerio Spada worked on video files and stills of police operations

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Gomorrah Girl prints

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Gomorrah Girl first edition

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Gomorrah Girl xerox copies on a wall

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Signed copies from Gomorrah Girl second edition

Mirelle Thijsen (MT):

Twin Palms Publishers just released the third edition, which is a first American edition, of your well-received book Gomorrah Girl, and is releasing shortly your next publication entitled: I am Nothing.  

Both publications are dealing with the Mafia in southern Italy, both photobooks are telling a grim story on a father-daughter’s relationship, one in Naples (Gommorah Girl), the other in Sicily (I Am Nothing). Both titles are remarkable for their outstanding graphic design and bookmaking.   

How did you get involved; what is your relationship to the Mafia, let’s start with the Camorra, the ruling organization in the region of Naples?

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Valerio Spada (VS):

Fortunately I don’t have any relationship whatsoever with the Camorra. I was living in Paris for some years and in that period travelled frequently to Naples; during one of my earliest trips I met Giovanni Durante, the father of Annalisa, who has been killed in a war between Camorra clans in Forcella, and since then I’ve started to change my approach to, probably, my entire life. It was very painful to loose my parents when I was young, but nothing compares to surviving your own daughter… I guess.

 

These details from his story, sections from an interview he allowed me to record, gave me goose bumps. He describes details of the murder; how she died, the location of the bullet impact in her skull. After talking with forensic police I have collected even more details on the murder, like the lock of her hair that was broken off and fell on the street in blood, and many other things impossible to mention here. I got obsessed with the idea how is it possible in today’s world to die in this way, at the age of 14, in Naples. It’s the evidence of absence of the State. And since then nothing has changed really. And it’s sad.

 MT:

WHEN, WHY and HOW did you start to document the mafia?

 

VS:

I started in 2008. I think what intrigues me, are places where it is not safe to live, dangerous neighbourhoods and what life is like in those areas. I was trying to document the beauty of it, and I see it everywhere. The WHY, I think, is connected to the brutal way in which I’ve lost my mother and a few years later my father. Pain and suffering have always been in my life since I was 16. I assume it is a way for me to go back there, to the moment I lost my adolescence, trying to document my lost adolescence through the traumatic lives of others, in order not to loose anything of it once again.

 MT:

 How is it possible that a teenager (Salvatore Giuliano) becomes a Camorra boss at 19 years old?

 

VS:

In Naples it is possible, and not only there. In Naples you have young drug dealers of 10 years old. They start to reason and act like a drug dealer. Well, a few of them. At 13 you manage money, a stipend in fact, that your father collects on an average monthly basis (which is equal to a day fee of a drug dealer), and you do it during the weekend. At 17 you think bigger. And so on. It goes fast there. Any 14 years old girl in Naples is as smart in life as any 40-year-old experienced woman in Milan. They are even faster, better.

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MT:

Who was Annalisa Durante (daughter of Giovanni Durante)? What kind of girl was she? I understand that she kept a diary.

VS:

She was a regular girl. Beautiful. Dreaming of running away from Naples because she considered it dangerous to live there. Rome, for them, is like, for most of us, taking a trip to the moon. And in fact the city of Rome is only one-and-a-half hours from Naples.

 

MT:

On March 27, 2004, more than a decade ago, Salvatore Giuliano killed Annalisa Durante, just after a talk she had with her friends and the young Camorra boss, in front of her father’s store. It was a shot from the second revolver that killed Annalisa. Salvatore still has to serve 14 years in prison, charged for homicide. What happened?

 

VS:

In that year, 2004, 3 women were murdered. It was a one and only event in Naples’ criminal history probably, in recent history for sure. What I often do, is inform myself thoroughly about the topic before going to a location. I spend time in libraries, speak with journalists, with police officers, I read books, literature of all kind of events, and then I go there.

What happened is the following: Two murderers on a motorcycle and with uncovered faces pop out of a side street and open fire. Their aim is to kill Guiliano, who hides behind the car and starts to shoot back at them. The two friends of Annalisa find a getaway on the right side fleeing in a small street, while Annalisa runs in the opposite direction: where the killers are driving away. One of the three bullets fired by Giuliano hits Annalisa in the head, she died after 48 hours.

MT: 

The title ‘Gomorrah Girl’ refers to a colloquial expression?

 

VS:

It refers to the story in the Bible of ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’; it refers to a book written by my dear friend Roberto Saviano who lived in Naples as intensively as I did. He was documenting in writings what I’ve tried to document in images. And it’s about a girl. It’s about every girl too.

MT:

Why is adolescence of young women ‘almost denied’ in this crime-ridden area? It seems such a primitive, patriarchal society.

VS:

As I was mentioning earlier, they just grow up faster than anywhere else. The area is dangerous; crime is everywhere. Surveys show a high percentage of teenage moms in Naples, the unemployment rate is very high. Actually there’s nothing ‘primitive’ about daily life there; it’s just an abandoned area due to the total absence of the government and the state.

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MT:

The publication Gommorah Girl is a book within the book: a police report in a cahier. On one of the first pages, the police report is showing the ‘proiettile’ from two angles. What are we looking at? Further on, the caption ‘Ril.12’ is referring to a projectile taken from Annalisa’s body, during autopsy on March 29, 2004, two days after she was killed. How did you get access to this police report and permission to publish?

VS:

My original intent was to present documentary evidence of Annalisa’s murder. That was not possible; you need to be a police officer to do that. So the local police gave me permission to photograph notebooks, reports and photographs containing all the evidence they collected. They allowed me to reproduce their pictures and donated to me some prints of the criminal investigations. I’ve spent a lot of time studying that material; it was a tremendous experience.

 

These police officers are obviously passionate about photography. For instance, the actual seize picture of weapons is made thanks to using a Manfrotto tripod they’ve borrowed me that day. When you look at the two pictures adjacent on a page in the police report [Ril. 1-2] what it shows is a ballistic match to prove that a single bullet at the crime scene has been fired from the murderer’s gun. The work of forensic police at a crime scene is crucial to get justice. It’s so under-evaluated in Italy. We have extensive juridical trails that failed to jail a killer because the first hours after a murder were lost; evidence was collected poorly or important traces were simply left behind. Naples’ forensic police is amongst the best there is in Italy and they work with such a limited budget compared to the amount of money criminals have, that it might even be considered an unfair battle.

 

MT:

The report is interleaved with small size documentary photographs in colour, pictures you took, from e.g. ‘La Scuola’, a former Kindergarten, and now an extremely dangerous place where drug addicts get together. How did you get in? How does this scene relate to the protagonist Annalisa?

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VS:

I can talk forever about the documentaries I made in Naples. I find correlations everywhere that other people might not see at first sight, and sometimes I am not happy to reveal them, maybe they are just in my head. That is a problematic I don’t want to solve; I like things to be untold, I like to credit the viewer’s intelligence. We, documentary photographers, have to leave a space, a gap, between what we document and what a viewer or reader is able to perceive. That gap is vital.

To answer your question: that picture in particular, in my opinion, is the reason why Annalisa was killed. The girl I photographed at La Scuola is shooting a dose of Kobret ( a low-grade form of heroine) in a vein in her arm, she paid 13 euros for the shot. The cheapest price in Europe you pay for that type of dope. That is Camorra’s core business. In Forcella, where Annalisa died, two family clans are in war to define superior strength and to control the area for drug dealing and crime related business. So, according to me, that is the connection between the two. Everytime I see that picture of the girl shooting a dose in her vein, I can’t help thinking that Annalisa died for that same reason.

 MT:

Please tell me about La Vela Rossa (The Red Sail) that looks like a run down apartment building in Naples. Francesca, and her sister (a single mother), and her mother live there. They, and the building itself, seem to be your protagonists?

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VS:

I don’t think there is a protagonist in this book. And if there is one, it is the one you don’t see, and you never get to see there, and that protagonist is the Italian state; how our government is seriously ignoring these problems. As I explained, I tend to approach a new story by thoroughly studying the subject matter. Then I get lost in the subject matter, on location. For months, even years. Suddenly I find myself, and I publish a book. I think the pattern is repeating itself. Certainly at the start of something new. I investigate a lot, conduct interviews, talk to prosecutors, to police officers, and journalists. And it all becomes pretty clear in my mind. Then I go to the area. And everything changes. I get lost. I think I am losing my time. I think I am a loser. I think it is stupid to risk my life… And for what reason? Then photography takes over. And everything changes again.

 

Francesca’s family was really sweet and welcoming. They used to live in Vomero, a wealthier area in Naples, later her parents got divorced and her mother had no money. So they moved to the apartment complex La Vela Rossa in order to avoid paying any rent. Francesca used to go out and work as a waitress in a pizzeria, one-hour drive away from Le Vele and she returned back “home” at 2AM. There are no lights on the run down stairs; she climbs ten/eleven floors up in total darkness, and goes to bed, bringing some money home. How many people do you know doing this?

 MT:

Suddenly a picture from the female prison in Pozzuoli shows up. Why? Later in your publication a woman, detained in the prison, describes the conditions inside.

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VS:

It’s about choices. What I was trying to document was what Annalisa could have become, after growing up. These kids are daily forced to choose between the good and the bad. The bad is there, with one-day cash money that their father, in case he is employed, has raised in three months time. The good is hard to find. It’s probably inside of you, …I guess.

Civilization of a country is measured by the way they treat their citizens in jail, someone once said.

 

Pozzuoli is a female prison. A dear friend in police work suggested to go there and take pictures inside on the living conditions of women inmates. Another policeman, while laughing, was saying, “They are going to rape you”. Anyway, it was a big experience. I remember being accompanied by psychologists guiding me in, and being envious ‘cause I carried all my cameras with me and they were employed for 12 years, and were never allowed to take a picture. I had permission from the Ministero dell’Interno [Ministery of Internal Affairs], it took a long time, months to receive it, but the permit finally arrived, and I’ve spent three days with 19 selected jail inmates. It’s a very difficult situation because very often the guards watching over the female inmates are themselves women that have lost their kids in drug issues. So they are very tough with women in jail, often committed for drug dealing related crimes. 

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MT:

You show other women in the book, young girls in fact: a fighter called Marcianise; an anonymous woman under house arrest and an Italian boxing champion named Viviana, as well as a 13 year old girl on her night out. To what extent do these girls relate to Annalisa?

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VS:

Again, everything I notice in Naples is related to Annalisa. The fact that her father is depicted in the first picture of the book, and carrying the only image of Annalisa on his necklace, doesn’t make that picture more related to Annalisa then the fighter in Marcianise. Viviana, the boxer, is a girl that works out 3 to 6 hours per day during championships and tournaments; it’s her way to counteract to the lack of government assistance or to the kind of life she is forced to live in. Viviana could have been Annalisa, in my eyes. Any of the girls in jail could have been Annalisa, if only Annalisa had been offered the time to make the wrong choices, and she wouldn’t probably anyway. After I had talked to Annalisa’s father, I started to see Annalisa everywhere and anywhere.

MT:

And then there is Sabrina, a ‘Neo-melodic’ singer. What does that term mean? And HOW does Comorra exploit this obscure market? I read that songwriters have been persecuted for paedophilic contents of their lyrics?

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VS:

That subject matter could have been a book in itself. Neo-melodic singers start their career very early, around 7 or 8 years old, and sometimes you have kids at 13, their fame already descending, and getting depressed. They sing at ceremonies, for about 15 minutes, several sessions per day during weekends, get paid cash and move on to the next one. They make quite some money considering their age. In a few cases Camorra abuses these singers to send specific messages incorporated in the lyrics at the end of a performance, in order to ease a conflict between two different clans in Naples.

MT:

Then we end up in the forensic laboratory of the ‘Polizia Scientifica’ [Forensic Police] showing a pile of boxes containing documents and weapons from the Casalesi’s family in Aversa. Who are these people?

 

VS:

Well, the Casalesi family is a smarter clan than the ones that use drug dealing as a main income. They are almost “Sicilians” in my eyes, in the way they run their business. Keeping it low profile and making huge money in construction projects. Although, the war they’ve started caused several executions in Naples. If you take a look at Walter Schiavone’s villa designed in the grandiose Scarface style, after the mobster’s mansion in the 1983 film Scarface, you understand the incredible loop. American movies were inspired by the Godfather’s Sicilian mafia life style, than Neapolitan mafia was inspired by American movies, like Scarface, to create their own image in the territory of Naples. In addition, there are movies about that too.

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MT:

Twin Palms Publishers released shortly a different edition of Gomorrah Girl, after two print runs of this cahier. A case bound edition containing 78 photographs will come out. Why yet another edition, and what is the difference with the first publication?

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cover Gomorrah Girl third edition Twin Palm Publishers 2014

VS:

I consider Twin Palms Publishers to be the best publishing house out there. I like all of it: their profile, their catalogue, their artists, the fact that they publish very, very, few books per calendar year, and for many other reasons. They wanted to republish Gomorrah Girl, in order to introduce my work to the US market, that was before my work in Sicily for the book project I Am Nothing, because the publication was sold out really fast and very few copies of the second edition were left. But still, we are talking about 500 copies of the first edition and 750 of the second edition. The third edition has the largest print run. I think it was a bright idea to have Gomorrah Girl out there NOT just for collectors, prices on the self-published first edition were getting so high, and in this way granting a wider audience to have the book largely available in the future.

 

MT:

Is Twin Palms Publishers making a facsimile of Gommorah Girl?

 

VS:

Twin Palms releases the first American edition of Gomorrah Girl. It’s not a facsimile. It is definitely a first American edition, and it’s the third edition of this book after two self-published editions.

The main differences in design and realisation compared to the earlier editions are:

a case bound hardcover; wonderfully designed by Jack Woody that protects the fragility of the book. What Jack Woody did to the cover design is poetic and cared for without changing the book at all. In the heart of the book, the centrefold poster in the second edition had a letter sent from female prison inmates describing the conditions inside the jail, very cruel and touching. In the third edition, Twin Palms has had that letter translated from Italian to English and over imposed the text on the photograph in order to better divulge the power of the letter itself. So there is no longer the foldable poster I’ve designed for the second edition featured in The Photobook A History Volume III (2014) by Martin Parr and Gerry Badger. The cover photograph is different too.

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MT:

Let’s move on to your recent publication I Am Nothing. There is an artist’s edition of 500 copies, signed and numbered. A trade edition of 1000 copies is available, again by Twin Palm Publishers. To what extent do both publications relate to each other?

 

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Santa Fe, working with Jack Woody on book layout of I Am Nothing

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Santa Fe, working with Jack Woody on the book layout I Am Nothing

VS:

Twin Palms Publishers edition is a trade edition, they will distribute the photobook to bookstores worldwide; in this way I do not have to deal myself directly with bookstores, which took a lot of time for previous editions. It may seem like a minor thing, but it is not, when you want to create a new body of work. I had a really bad experience with an bookstore in Milan that never paid the original low retail price for several copies of my first edition, while reselling my book for several hundreds euros a piece to their clients. Honestly, I am happy I don’t have to deal with this now. Fortunately, this only happened in Italy; there are plenty of fantastic bookstores worldwide. Twin Palms Publishers is used to dealing with bookstores and have a solid network. If you are self-publishing, there is only one thing you can trust and it’s your website and people that look out for you there.

Jack Woody has designed an additional dust jacket for the Twin Palms trade edition of I Am Nothing. I liked the idea to keep a small special edition of 500 copies as a first edition to sell directly from my website, signed and numbered, for collectors only, and hopefully for the people that showed all that appreciation for the first edition of Gomorrah Girl. Probably the types of buyers are very different, or maybe not, but it’s a good compromise to keep the book quality very high when in print and also to be sure that the book is and will be still available in the Twin Palms Publishers catalogue in case of possible future editions.

 MT:

And, in terms of content, to what extent do both publications Gommorah Girl and I Am Nothing relate to each other?

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VS:

This is a good question, because I presume every photographer ending up closing a chapter of years of work resulting in a book might have the same inner question. Which is: Why am I doing this? Why am I covering this? Will I always work on mafia and adolescence? I tell you that, for sure both books are chapters to me of a long-term project on Italy. I never get tired of portraying Italy. Gomorrah Girl is about the Campania region and specifically the area of Naples, while I am Nothing is about Sicily and whoever wants to rule that part of the country, and the latter is about never losing the focus on who is living there.

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Both projects are very much intertwined. Again we are dealing with an impossible or broken father-daughter relationship. Not that I go looking for that, but it happens to be there while documenting the stories and the areas. They have many things in common; there is a correlation between the two works, but this does not exclude something completely different and lighter in the future. Right now it is hard for me to move away from these stories; I rather do a ‘Gomorrah Girl 2’, if you allow me using such a strange expression, than moving elsewhere. This has nothing to do with the great feedback the book received, or about staying in a comfort zone (not that it is at all comfortable working in those areas) but just because Naples is endless. And so is Italy.

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MT:

I am Nothing is a book about Sicily, about impeded communication and about a hopeless relationship between a father, Matteo Messina Denaro – a most wanted criminal and fugitive – and his daughter, who he’s never met. Please tell me about the small slips of paper, so-called pizzini, mafia bosses use for high-level communication, and what it involves to disappear from Sicilian mafia circles.

 

 

 

 

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VS:

Matteo Messina Denaro has been a fugitive from justice since 21 years. I am not sure whether he is in Sicily right now or not. He might be there while I am talking to you. He has been in Tunis a lot because he can take night trips with fishers’ boats in Mazara del Vallo and still be close to Sicily controlling everything that happens there.

VS_Sicily-03

The “pizzini” is how they communicate nowadays and have been communicating for the last 43 years. Bernardo Provenzano, a previous Mafia boss and Don of the Dons, used this technique, with a typewriter machine, which I had the chance to photograph. He sent of messages including the most violent death orders in Sicily and directed the money traffic in his territory. “Pizzini” are A4 paper size coded messages, folded multiple times and wrapped in transparent tape with a number on it. They usually had 160 people to give orders and to write to. So on the “pizzini” you have the number, which indicates the final recipient. That message will be passed from one person to another: 7 different people in total, before it reaches the order’s recipient. Only for urgent matters Matteo Messina Denaro is using Skype, to talk with his sister Patrizia, arrested last December.

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objects in a Bible which belonged to Provenzano

MT:

You have documented Matteo M. Denaro’s possessions. How did you get to him, and what possessions did you record?

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VS:

I’ve documented a lot of Bernardo Provenzano possessions. I was interested in what you carry with you when you decide to disappear; he had lists of things when he was moving from one place to another. Finally when he was caught, after 43 years on the run, during a massive police operation, they were able to list and collect all his personal objects and I had the chance to record them. Nobody ever had access to these objects before, not even a journalist who specialized in the Mafia and who wrote two books on this boss. When he saw these objects, he was there when I was photographing them, he was really astonished. On the other hand, regarding Matteo Messina Denaro, I’ve made a graphological analysis of the few traces, in terms of letters and documents, he left behind. He is smarter. You don’t really get to Matteo Messina Denaro.

 

 

Mirelle Thijsen (MT):

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Recently I purchased your publication CONTEMPORARY ARCHAEOLOGY, in particular because I adore accordion folded photo books. Flipping through the pages, I wondered about various topics: ‘mental reconstruction’; usage of found and vernacular objects as well as personal documents; a self-made photographic reportage about the mummy transfer of Ramesses I; and the book project itself. I understand everything in the book relates to a CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) program in Karnak, in the south of Egypt where you have been working since October 2003. What kind of program is that?

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Olivier Cablat (OC):

I had just finished my eight years of art studies when I was selected for a commissioned documentary photography project in Karnak, a major city in older Egypt. The AMON-Ra temple of Karnak is close to Luxor and for more than one hundred years French scientists have been working on this temple. CFEETK (Egyptian-French Center for studies on Karnak Temple), a branch of CNRS, leads a program of photographic documentation dedicated to archeology, Egyptology and architecture. Archeologists, artists, and anthropologists were all participating in this project, making new discoveries, reconstructing sections, finding artifacts, studying the epigraphs. A part of this program, supervised by Antoine Chéné, consisted of digital reconstruction of big sections of walls bearing epigraphs. The main part consisted of taking pictures of objects found during archeological excavations. I was assigned as a documentary photographer; I simply had to record the objects for scientificpublications.

 

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MT:

How did they find you, to do this kind of work?

 

OC:

There was an open call for students; I worked like a professional but was on a salary scale for graduate students. I was selected because I was already working in a documentary style, and I speak a little Arabic; the transition from student to professional went smoothly.

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MT:

Are you of Arabic descent?

 

OC:

No, but I am from the south of France, which is a region very much connected to Arabic culture. My wife is from Morocco, for example. Many of my friends, when I was in school, were from Morocco or Algeria. So many times I had reason to travel to Arab countries. I was considered to have project facilitation skills to go to Egypt.

 

MT:

And how does this scientific research project relate to the book project Contemporary Archaeology published in 2014?

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OC:

Yes, there is a long time in between the research and the book project! I need a lot of time to make things perfect. Just to explain, finalizing the project in Karnak: I participated in assembling the digital data. The biggest challenge for us was to integrate different parts of found artefacts containing epigraphs and to mount them in assemblages of multiple elements from individual photographs, using digital tools. Another part of the assignment was simply making photographic records of the objects. Sometimes we processed as many as 200 objects in a single day. It was impressive: for an Egyptian archeologist working in Karnak, the finds collected in one day would be equivalent to what one would collect after one year at an archeological site elsewhere in the world.

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MT:

So were you taught how to use digital tools, which you later applied to your documentary approach to photographing objects and people?

 

OC:

Exactly! I had the chance at the end of my art studies, at that time, to use the tools at the very start of the development of digital tools in art and photography. There was a question of morality underlying the work. In high school I was taught that with digital tools you distort reality. So when I started to work in the framework of scientific research there was no problem with morality at all! The task was to just be objective and efficient.

 

MT:

Please explain briefly what kind of objects you collected and recorded?

 

OC:

I worked on the official CNRS program for half a day; in the afternoon I used the same tools, the same light, the same technique, to record found objects in the street, in the garbage can at the office, or vernacular objects I bought at the corner shop, like my cigarettes packages. One of the objects in the book is an empty packaging of cigarettes, with the head of Cleopatra. It was a package I smoked.

 

MT:

What is does CNRS refer to?

 

OC:

CRNS is a French research institution, Le Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (National Scientific Research Center), financed by the government and involves a wide range of academic disciplines.

 

MT:

So what you did in the afternoons after working for CRNS relates to your initial intention regarding this project that you code-named: ‘Egypt 3000’. I understand that you started from raw material, found objects related to everyday life in contemporary Egypt; I assume you made no hierarchical judgments about the nature of the material, and applied the same treatment to it as scientific researchers do to ancient artifacts. Still, please explain the book title: what does it stand for? And, how did the project develop over the years?

 

OC:

The initial intention was to develop my own documentary research, involving a reflection on archaeology. I have been close to the discipline throughout my life, living in the south of France among archeological sites and later on even a little bored with the archeological classic works. I was most interested in investigating contemporary Egypt, contemplating on archaeological methods and worship Egypt. Because the Egyptian society is really fascinating: it’s very complex with a generous culture from the past and present, and has a socially constructed violence. The relation between men and women is complex in a cultural-historical context, as is the relation with tourism. One of the objects I present in the book is a banknote of Egyptian currency, one side of the note shows an archaeological site, the other a religious subject. Archaeology and religion are mixed in the same culture, making things rather complex.

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MT:

What does the title refer to?

 

OC:

‘Egypt 3000’ is referring to the future and at the same time it could be the name of a cheap corner kiosk. It is pretentious and unpretentious at the same time. One of the shops, dating from the 1980s, I went to for example was called ‘Electricité 2000’, or ‘Automobile 2000’.

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MT:

It seems as if you were in search of a fitting documentary mode, in order to show the material. You wanted to get away from the usual sequencing we know in photography and the documentary tradition. Furthermore you seemed to have a bias against what you call the patronizing and snobbish aspects of travel photography. How did you progress?

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OC:

I wanted to develop a photographic practice in a new way. Secondly, I wanted to make travel photography with the same rigor as a documentary project of my own, without any form of compassion towards the subject, keeping distance from it. I was enthralled by ethnology and sociology. I have been studying both. In those disciplines you learn to be objective regarding any kind of subject matter or topic: no compassion, no idealization, nothing like that! At the same time French orientalist painters intrigued me. They had a big influence on the interpretation of the Orient. All the clichés and all the constructed ideas about the oriental countries originated from these paintings that were made from artists’ studios in France. Many of the painters had actually not even been in the countries portrayed. They were charmed by superficial exotics, fuelled by both lack of time and self-investment. It is the opposite of the documentary approach! And in a way, I think travel photography is the same: You have an intention, a constructed idea before going to a location, and you verify it while making the picture on location. In sum, I wanted to question the ideas of the orientalist painters. And the third dimension involves writing in new ways about my own documentary practice. I wanted to make a clean sweep of everything I was taught by my teachers in art and photography. I really started from scratch with this project.

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MT:

I notice this approach in your publication Contemporary Archaeology. Your first book on the project entitled Enter the Pyramid (2012), triangular in shape, is composed of a set of images you found on the Internet using the keyword ‘pyramid’. What ideas did you want to convey through this publication?

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OC:

I presented the work in progress for the first time in 2012 at Antifoto (Düsseldorf), Winthertur Pla(T)form and then at the Rencontres d’Arles that same year. Afterwards, I decided to make an artist’s book on this project. The book consists only of found images from the Internet through different search engines, using the keyword Pyramid. It is the transposition of a digital installation. You can find the program on my website. If you have time… the installation contains about 3000 images. It is like a labyrinth, it is like the research on the enigma of a pyramid. This project, in a way, documents a mental journey, on fantasy and symbols preceding my trip to Egypt. When I decided to go to Egypt, I had prejudices about the country, the culture. It was a trans-historical mix in my mind. A disorder, I wanted to work out in a project. These images delve into a rich history concerning the representation of Egypt by the West, from the Napoleonic campaign to disco and funk album covers.

So I collected many, many pictures on the Internet, even organograms (schematic drawings showing how organizations are structured) in that pyramid shape. I documented a state of mind, a mental journey, started before I went to Egypt, continuing when I was there and finished six years later. It was complicated; it took me six years of programming to make this project. And it takes time to figure it out, to navigate through the miniatures; there are some pitfalls along the road. In Germany, some people have followed the program from the beginning till the end (and only in Germany)!

MT:

So are you a software programmer?

 

OC:

No, I am not a programmer; I experiment with digital software, learn how to use it and independently apply it to a photographic project. I use HTML Basic. It’s a program to make websites. I used it to build my own website. It is simple but it takes time. The idea was to make the first documentary digital installation with found pictures.

 

MT:

What strikes me, since I am not familiar with your earlier work, is that you have a specific scientific approach, a neutral and distant way of dealing with photography; resulting in stripped-off hybrid images of freestanding people or objects. Contextual features are removed: interior, surroundings. Your working method seems to derive from archeology: you collect thousands of images, classify them and make typologies, be it of jockeys or neglected vernacular objects. HOW and WHY are you imposing in that way reality on us?

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OC:

Some people are confused: on one side I create the pictures, on the other I am very close to the real objects, to real people. And because I don’t appreciate all the artefacts that make a picture beautiful, I tried to be as close as possible to the subject itself. And go as far as possible with the idea of using new objects as new forms, and new techniques for my artistic vocabulary. And I am integrating these skills in a new project. Like, ‘DUCK / A theory of evolution’ my new project is integrating everything from archaeology and scientific language, the association coming from a mixing different kind of pictures in one and the same work. I resist using photography pur sang. I can’t, and I don’t want to do it. Photographs that I take and that I find are on the same hierarchical level. Photography is not an act per se. It is all raw materials from which I can extract, select, copy and modify an internal organisation. It is the starting point of a project.

 

MT:

Do you make an assemblage?

 

OC:

 

Yes, yes. In my opinion that’s what digital world allows us to do: using images in combination with other materials, like in a puzzle, from which you can change and organize the parts the way you want.

 

MT:

What is the end result?

 

OC:

To be as close as possible to the intention; the final aim is to make a picture, consisting of different elements. I use the digital because it is the facility of today. It allows us to combine different timeframes, spaces, people, and things and present the final result on different supports.

MT:

You work with humour, the documentary practice, the media, high tech tools and assembled imagery. Would you please give an illustration, for example, based on the project ‘DUCK / A theory of evolution’?
 This project is produced by the Festival Images (Vevey, Switzerland), because you have been awarded the Nestlé Award at the Vevey International Photography Award 2013/2014.

 

OC:

As I explained earlier, in this recent project everything is integrated that I did before and is applied to a new subject. Starting from an architectural concept by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown from in the early 1970s, the concept of the ‘DUCK’, including all kind of structures, and the idea is that the form of the structure takes the form of something you can identify. I tried to create a fictional genealogy of a different kind of these buildings by using only found pictures.

 

MT:

I see that. Is it a kind of typology?

 

OC:

Yes, exactly. But we couldn’t do it like that before the Internet.

 

MT:

Do all these buildings in the shape of animals exist?

OC:

Yes. Even before Venturi picked it up. But he was the first to intellectualize it in his publication Learning from Las Vegas. It is a manifest for a new form of popular architecture. Venturi defines this kind of architecture. I decided to make a project of it, by using contemporary digital means, like finding some relevant pictures on the Internet, on Flickr, for example, and taking pictures from my collection of books on this subject, adding my own pictures, and mixing everything in this new project.

 

 

MT:

And what are these buildings actually used for? What goes on inside these ‘animals’? Is it, for example, a café?

OC:

Yeah, these are functional buildings. The DUCK was originally a shop; a place where you could buy roasted ducks! Another structure taking form of a Hot-Dog is a place to buy Hot-Dogs. Sometimes it is more complex. What you see in this movie ‘DUCK’ is about 10% of the integral project. The final project will consist of a feature movie, a fictional genealogy of these types of buildings showing the mutations of the original buildings, in morphing forms. There will be a book integrating some digital augmented reality, which you can access by iPhone, a scientific presentation of the mutations, and even some cookies, taking forms of Ducks, as well as the original building will be teleported from Long Island by using only pictures found on the Internet.

So the actual DUCK, the building itself, will be put up during the Vevey festival. I work with an architect (Antoine Mialon) and, just with found material from the Internet showing all the angels and sections of the building, we are able to re-create it with 3D software and send the plan by data transfer to a builder in Switzerland. Currently the team at Festival Images is building the DUCK.

 

MT:

But, didn’t the building once exist and didn’t Venturi design it?

 

OC:

No. He was enthralled by this kind of popular architecture; he is not the architect. This is vernacular architecture. The entire project is showing examples of this kind of vernacular architecture.

 

MT:

I understand now. That explains the book title: Learning from Las Vegas!

OC:

I tried to develop the idea, to conduct a photographic research on only one issue, one specific architectural form and display it multilayered, on many platforms, such as an exhibition, in scientific images, even cookies.

 

MT:

That is extraordinary. Let’s now discuss your recent publication: Contemporary Archaeology. It’s a plain looking accordion fold with cardboard covers. Why did you choose accordion fold binding?

 

OC:

In fact, when we compiled the pyramid shaped booklet it was a success because of the form. So we had to come up with something original again! Ha-ha. And a first edition of Contemporary Archaeology was an artist’s book, made as an experiment. I looked for a book technical shape allowing access to the complicated large montage in one single view.

MT:

You refer to Side One now?

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OC:

Yes.

 

MT:

We see an assembled photograph, a digital montage I assume, over a length of 1.80m, entitled: ‘Casern’s allegory’. What does the title mean or refer to?

 

OC:

It refers to Plato’s allegory of the cave, with militaries in the role of the shadows, the idea that a human being can consider his own experiment as reality. I was studying philosophy in high school and I remembered Plato’s allegory discusses the idea of your own reality being in front of what you see. It is the idea of the shadows: in the allegory of the cave chained prisoners are inside the cave and just see shadows on the wall, and those shadows constitute their reality. And in French ‘caverne’, which means cave, is really close to ‘casern’, which is an accommodation for soldiers. That is the joke!

 

The military soldiers in this long stretched photomontage are representing the shadows of the allegory of the cave. When I arrived in Egypt I was very impressed by the number of military soldiers and weapons you encounter everyday and everywhere in such a dictatorship. After a few months it was my daily reality like the reality of every Egyptian.

 

MT:

The caption related to this photomontage is found on the last page of Side One, at the very end of the zig-zag shaped booklet, and is fitted into a pyramid shaped triangular vermicelli-line. It reads: ‘Mental reconstruction. Made with unselected photographs from a photographic report about Ramesses I mummy transfer, from Karnak temple to Luxor museum, March 2004’. We see Egyptian police officers, in dark uniforms, armed, gesticulating, running, on motorbikes, all moving in one direction out of the frame. Civilians, kids too (all males) are watching the scene from the shade, on the side of a dusty, plain, yellowish road. Or they are running, walking and looking in the same direction. Where did you find this unpublished material? Why did you re-work and revive in particular these photographs?

 

OC:

The material itself was a result of a commissioned reportage, part of my official job in Egypt. I was making reportage on Egyptian antiquities. They found a mummy at Karnak temple, possibly identified as Ramesses I, but nobody really knows, and because of that discovery a national funeral was organised. The national flag was put on the coffin, there was television, there were politicians, and lots of military servants. They used a big veil boat to transport the mummy along the Nile to the museum of Luxor. I took about 80 pictures during the ceremony of the transportation of the mummy. The officials did not select half of the self-made photographs.

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MT:

So the actual reportage was published afterwards?

 

OC:

I don’t know.

 

MT:

But was the unselected material used for the book?

 

OC:

Exactly. I decided to use this rejected material.

With the ‘left overs’ of the reportage I created this new assemblage. It took me six months to make the digital montage consisting of 40 pictures.

 

MT:

So we see a digital montage looking like a single shot made during the day: one fake documentary photograph?

 

OC:

Exactly. It is a fake documentary picture, although based on a traditional approach, adapted to my methodology. That’s why the subtitle refers to <mental reconsrtcution>  

MT:

I thought these men were police officers, but they are military?

 

OC:

The scene expresses not only the idea of the cavern but also the idea of aimless emergency, which is the impression I got from the soldiers’ activities that I observed daily. In fact, some are chiefs of the secret police; those are people without uniform, who you are normally not allowed to photograph. Others are chiefs of the military as well. Yet others are young soldiers in military service in Egypt.

 

MT:

So some of the civilians, all men, are military and police officers under cover? Maybe that’s why those images were not selected?

OC:

Yes, yes.

 

MT:

Let’s look now at Side Two, which is entitled: ‘Towards a contemporary archaeology’. It is a collection of found objects in Karnak and Luxor (Upper-Egypt), from October 2003 to June 2004. Each freestanding object, be it an empty cigarette packaging, a doormat, a mobile phone card or a banknote, has a unique number and a funny pseudo-scientific caption. Can we go through the ten pages and objects; please describe WHAT you found, and WHERE, and elaborate on the caption.

 

OC:

The ticket: this is simply an entrance ticket to the temple of Karnak.

MT:

And the caption of this picture reads: ‘economical perspectives’.

 

OC:

Yes. In fact I was really more interested in these trivial objects than by the valuable archaeological objects. I was impressed by the powerful graphics and the playful use of antic references on contemporary useful objects. And the way of recording these objects, as I explained earlier, is exactly the same as I used for documenting scientific artefacts: I created the same typologies; used the same system with numbers and titles. I gave these found and collected trivial objects a fake scientific definition in a caption, at the same time expressing something about the contemporary Egyptian society. And the fact is, the only thing Egypt can count on for the future, in economical terms, is tourism. Like selling entrance tickets to the temples.

 

MT:

That is very clear. And the next page is showing ‘the banner’?

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OC:

It is a doormat at the entrance of my office. I wanted to have the liberty to interpret this daily object as a ‘banner’. But maybe I can say something about the cassettes, the tapes?

There are two cassettes among the found objects selected for the book. One is of a belly dancer. You spoke yourself about the fact there was not a woman on the street. That is the reality in Egypt; women are not very visible, especially in the south of the country.

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MT:

So, that picture of the doormat with the word ‘welcome’ on it is rather cynical.

 

OC:

You can interpret it like that.

The belly dancer depicted on the cassette is called Souheir Zaky. She is a famous belly dancer from the 1970s and 1980s. But nowadays-Egyptian girls are no longer practising belly dancing because it is forbidden by the state. I was told all the belly dancers are now coming from Russia and Germany.

 

MT:

Where did you find this object?

 

OC:

It is from my own collection. I bought it at a music store, while collecting some cassettes.

 

MT:

Oh, they still have music on cassettes in Egypt? And that’s why it is called an ‘endangered object’.

 

OC:

Yes. It is a play of words between the woman as an object and the music cassette as such, in both senses of the word.

 

MT:

Let’s continue to the next page with the images, a series. What are we looking at?

 

OC:

This is an onogram on the official ID from Egyptians. This one is depicting Ramses IInd I think.

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MT:

You collected them?

 

OC:

Yes. I took pictures from the onograms with a camera used to photograph insects. I made different pictures. They show the mixing of the religious world with the antique figuration of the pharaohs. So you perceive a direct connection between the identity and the schizophrenia of Egyptian society.

 

MT:

How did you come across these ID’s?

 

OC:

I simply asked colleagues at my office for their ID’s and made pictures.

 

MT:

And you gave these pictures the following caption: ‘economical identical reminiscence’. I presume that is a play on words.

 

OC:

I like to create neologies; in French it works! It is not correct in terms of grammar, but the ID is also very complex referring to economy, religion and antique times.

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MT:

Another interesting one is the telecard. Where did you find this object?

 

OC:

I bought it, because at that time there was no Internet, I bought a card to talk to my wife in France. Such a card is expensive and was good for 30 seconds telephone call.

 

MT:

And you added the title: ‘a map of Egypt’.

 

OC:

Yes, because in French ‘map’ is the same word ‘carte’ [telephonique]…but…

In fact, you don’t need a map; just this picture and you know it represents Egypt.

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MT:

Then we go to your daily cigarettes. I like in particular the caption here: ‘restoration’.

You mention ‘the state of discovery’ showing one crumbled packaging and next to it a package showing ‘the state after restoring’. Would you please comment on this?

 

OC:

I simply used both faces of the same tobacco package. The package, showing a picture of Cleopatra, was the one I used to smoke. The price was like 15 cents. On one side is writing in English and on the other in Arabic. I showed both faces, side by side, to evocate the manner in which Europeans and Americans practiced restoration. Sometimes temples look like fakes after restoration.

 

I wanted to use a metaphor of restoration. Because in the south of Egypt all the temples sites, where excavations are taking place, where they are digging, are all commissioned to different nations. The French work on the temple of Karnak, The US, Poland and Spain elsewhere. That is the way restorations are financed and made possible in Egypt.

 

MT:

Everybody gets a piece of the cake?

 

OC:

In a way it sounds ideal, but I was struck by the way it is done. A Polish team is, for example, supervising The Atchepsout temple restoration, near the Valley of the Kings. They collected all the stones and pillars and re-built it, as if they were building a new house. It looks like Disneyland. And each country has its own policy regarding restoration. Further, Egyptology is an occidental discipline, executed by the West. Egyptology is not an academic study in Egypt, and is only taught at contemporary fine art schools.

 

MT:

That is quite a statement. This page in the book, I guess, shows a freestanding picture of a bag of chips?

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OC:

Yes, it is. I did not taste it, though.

 

MT:

And the caption reads: ‘elementary perspective’. Who are the persons on the package?

 

OC:

Jean-Claude Van Dame and Dennis Rodman, a famous Belgian action movie actor and a famous American basketball player.

.

 

MT:

And what about the caption?

 

OC:

Egypt is importing most of its food supplies, except for some vegetables and fruits cultivated along the Nile. When there is an economic crisis, and a country is dependent on import, in addition to being poorly organized and overpopulated and no means to grow its own vegetables, the future is pessimistic. Each found object has got its own story and I used the scientific caption to give some key information.

MT:

Then we have two sides of a bank notes depicted on a following page.

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OC:

Yes. This is a bill of 50 Piasters.

 

MT:

How much is that in euros?

 

OC:

50 Piasters equals to 7 eurocents…

 

MT:

What do you buy for that in Egypt? How many packages of cigarettes?

 

OC:

Half a package! Ha-ha. One Pound is equal to 15 eurocents. So a package of cigarettes is 15 cents.

 

MT:

And why did you add the caption ‘culturo-economical schizophrenia’.

 

OC:

Why…? Because that is the truth. One side is dealing with antiquities, with pharaohs. The other side is showing a mosque. There are always these two sides to the coin: antiquities and religion. And the relation between the two is complex because antiquities are previous to monotheist religions. During the Christian times, Egyptians destroyed some parts of the temples. The representation of figures, associated to animals or people was forbidden…

 

MT:

You mean iconoclasm?

 

OC:

Yes, exactly. But the Egyptian Christians used also the temples as churches, to practice their religion. And after the Christian civilisation, the Muslim civilisation mostly ignored the temples and the antiques. Some temples were covered by sand dunes for years. And most of the temples are well conserved because of that. And now archaeologists are searching in the sand and exploring inside the temples.

 

MT:

Two more pictures: Who are these men?

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OC:

This is one single man represented in four portraits, the Sufi style singer called Sheikh Amin Al-Dishnawi. He is a star of Zikr Sufi music from central Egypt. I went to a presentation he gave in the south of Egypt. I had to walk a long time at night to get there, and I was the only person from the West. He represents a Zikr Sufi ritual that is not recommended by official religious leaders. During four or five hours he chants and people enter a trance; it is really peaceful and impressive to watch. It is one of the rare occasions that women and men could be mixed.

MT:

Is it a poster, or a card?

 

OC:

This is a tape, a music cassette.

 

MT:

And the last one is so cute: one last match left in a match package. And your caption reads: ‘industrial perspective’. Did you need it to light your cigarettes?

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OC:

It was a present. A friend of mine, a French conceptual photographer I worked with: Gael Polin, handed it to me. And I decided to never touch it. I keep the last match till my last day. Regarding the caption: A lot of industry is concentrated along the strip of the Nile. If that same industry is disposing of its industrial waste in the river, it kills whatever is developed. And besides that Egypt is extremely dependent of other countries.

 

MT:

One final question: Contemporary Archaeology could well be considered a work in progress. Are you planning a follow-up?

 

OC:

Everything I did in Egypt has been presented about eight years after taking the first pictures. I took a long time to process the material. I consider the project as finished until my next journey to Egypt. The continuation of the research, the mixing of archaeology and photography, as well as the documentary approach and the idea of erasing the context of pictures – as I do in the DUCK project –will continue.

 

[Read more: daily diary by Olivier Cablat containing all the pictures of the book: http://egypt3000-oliviercablat.tumblr.com]