Broomberg and Chanarin

Adam Broomberg was born in 1970 in Johannesburg, South Africa; Oliver Chanarin was born in 1971 in London, England. The pair both now live and work between London and Berlin and are renowned  photographers. They are both Professors of Photography at  the Hochschule für Bildende Künste (HFBK) in Hamburg, Germany. The photographers have exhibited many solo and group exhibitions and are multi award-winning. Just a few go their solo exhibitions include the ‘Centre for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw  2015’, ‘Jumex Foundation, Mexico City, 2014’, ‘FotoMuseum, Antwerp, 2014’, ‘Townhouse, Cairo, 2010’ and ‘Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2006’. They duo have also participated in many international group shows, for example the ‘British Art Show 8, 2015-2017’, ‘Conflict, Time, Photography at the Tate Modern, London and Museum Folkwang, Essen, 2015’ and the ‘Museum of Modern Art,New York, 2014’.Unsuprisinly Broomberg and Chagrin have been the recipients to many photographic, art and publication awards and example of this would have to be the ‘ICP Infinity Award, 2014’ for their publication ‘Holy Bible, 2013’, they also won the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2013 for ‘War Primer 2, 2011’.

It’s the way that both these publications, ‘Holy Bible’ and ‘War Primer 2’, are constructed that interests me. ‘War Primer 2’ is a limited edition book that inhabits the pages of Bertolt Brechts ‘War Primer’, 1955. Brecht’s book ‘War Primer’ is a collection of news paper cuttings and images form the second World War, he left Germany during the War and spent the duration of it in Sweden, Finland and the USA. Over this time he collected newspaper and magazine cuttings about the war and kept them in a portfolio. Whilst doing this he would write short four line poems to accompany them, and the combination of the two created a literary memorial to the second world war. Broomberg and Charnarin said that “The title deliberately recalls the textbooks used to teach elementary school children how to read; Brecht’s book is a practical manual, demonstrating how to “read” or “translate” press photographs. Brecht was profoundly uneasy about the affirmative role played by the medium within the political economy of capitalism and referred to press photographs as heiroglyphics in need of decoding.” In 2011 Broomberg and Chanarin gave War Primer a new life and meaning. The recreated the commemorative book by covering the previous images with contemporary images of modern day ‘War’.  On their website the pair described their publication as “the belated sequel. While Brecht’s War Primer was concerned with images of the Second World War, War Primer 2 is concerned with the images of conflict generated by both sides of the so-called “War on Terror”.

“”Don’t start with the good old things but the bad new ones” Brecht famously said, and in this spirit Broomberg & Chanarin have gathered their material from the internet – compressed, uploaded, ripped, squeezed, reformatted, re-edited and often anonymous images – rather than sifting through newspapers with a pair of scissors.

Heiner Müller once said that to use Brecht without changing him is an act of betrayal. With War Primer 2, Broomberg & Chanarin have appropriated Brecht’s original, giving us their critique of images of contemporary conflict, which is simultaneously a betrayal and a homage.”

Although the message that both Brecht and Broomberg and Chanarin are portraying is something that interests me, it is the way that the duo have remade an iconic book and made it their own that inspires me for my own work. I love the simplicity of the layout and how the new found imagery only part covers the original, leaving the mind to compare and contrast the meaning of the two images, and how times have changed. I like how the concepts behind the two books share a similar message yet visually couldn’t be more different. The layout of the book is what inspires me the most and I want to use the concept of re-sharing a  message but with a modern twist to make it relevant to today’s society. I hope to use my own imagery to re tell an iconic story and cover the previous imagery in the same way that Broomberg and Chanarin have in ‘War Primer 2’.

Another book that Oliver Chanarin and Adam Broomberg made demonstrating this overlaying technique was their 2013 publication, ‘Holy Bible’. This piece of work was yet another visual representation of conflict, this time questioning why God only reveals himself through catastrophe in the Holy Bible. The pair worked along side philosopher Adi Ophir, who claimed  “Right from the start, almost every appearance he made was catastrophic… Catastrophe is his means of operation, and his central instrument of governance.” Violence and catastrophe of war were recorded within The Archive of Modern Conflict, the largest photographic collection of this kind, and Broomberg and Chanarin made use of this using some of the images in this archive to demonstrate “that God reveals himself predominantly through catastrophe and that power structures within the Bible correlate with those within modern systems of governance.” Similarly to ‘War Primer 2’, ‘Holy Bible’ is a combination of the original texts of the bible overlayed with images of conflict and war. Throughout the book the text correlates with what the images represent and it is once again a modern take on famous texts, something that I will try to do in my own work. The covering of certain parts of the texts changes the meaning of the whole page or chapter, manipulating the truth to the story you want to tell.


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