Mafalda Rakoš

FESTIVAL SELECTEE 2024

MAFALDA RAKOŠ

All in this together

Mafalda Rakoš’ ‘All in this together’ is a nuanced exploration of the human condition during the turbulent period of Covid-19. Rakoš dives into the experiences of four protagonists, each navigating the labyrinth of social isolation and grappling with addiction disorders during the pandemic’s first year. Rackos employs her background as an artist-anthropologist and creates a performative collaborative process that through drawing and portraiture enables the participants to a therapeutic end. The scale of the images and the incorporation of drawings contribute to a multi-layered narrative that transcends the limitations of traditional photography.

“I had this picture in my mind of a white space, very clean, with very high-resolution portraits made with a large format camera and how nice it would be to draw on top of this print. I wanted to expand the act of drawing to arrive at this final result and to curb the fear – especially when it comes to drawing in such a big photograph – I developed with the participants a slow but sure approach, similar to that of a workshop.”

Mafalda Rakoš

ENTANGLEMENT

In the emotional aftermath of the pandemic

Project: All in this together by Mafalda Rakoš

The project ‘All in this together’ reflects on one of the hardest and strangest events of the 21st century: the COVID-19 pandemic that froze the world for more than a year. The Austrian artist Mafalda Rakoš dives into the experiences of four protagonists, each navigating the labyrinth of social isolation and grappling with addiction disorders during the pandemic’s first year. Her collaborative approach sets the work apart, bringing powerful insight into the mental state of her sitters through drawing, text, and final images that are built with a four-hand approach.

Mafalda Rakoš - Drawing by Elias

Mental health in unprecedented times

Rakoš’s approach to  All in this together creates the ideal environment for understanding the emotional aftermath of such unprecedented times as a pandemic like Covid-19. The four protagonists – Sara, Elias, Flora, and Manuela – actively participated in the project, visiting the artist’s studio for discussions, drawings, and collaborative portraits. 

The central question of this project was how people with pre-existing mental health issues were being affected during the pandemic. It was quite interesting to see very diverse responses from the participants.” 

Art as therapy – therapy as art

Mafalda Rakoš, who’s an artist-anthropologist, guided the dialogues and dynamics that ultimately resulted in large-scale drawings that were later photographed with the presence of the protagonists, building layered images that added depth to each of the characters built in the project. 

The use of drawing as a form of interview allows the protagonists to express their thoughts and emotions in a nonverbal, yet profound manner. This approach adds complexity to the final portraits, providing viewers with a deeper understanding of the invisible struggles faced by the participants. 

It was crucial to bring more people into the project to be able to better understand what was in the air, and how others were experiencing this detrimental situation to their health during that year. We spoke a lot about their feelings towards the transformation going on regarding mental health issues, as I felt it was a moment of de-stigmatization, as everyone seemed to be on the same boat at the time. 

Mafalda Rakoš - All in this together, Screenshot from Video

Challenging traditional hierarchies

By involving the protagonists in the creation of their portraits, Rakoš challenges the traditional hierarchy between different medias as well as photographer and subject, offering a more egalitarian approach to representation:

“I’ve always been interested in the ethical questions in documentary photography. When you point the camera towards someone it automatically establishes this hierarchy, especially when considering a classical approach to portraiture. I became focused on how to alter the space between me, the photographer, and the protagonist. I’ve been working on such sensitive topics over the years and drawing became a powerful tool to build this bridge as it is always such a nice way to bring back the picture to the person who is in the photo as you can get an insight into what is on their mind.” 

Visual testimonies of the participants’ experiences

The work seamlessly incorporates elements of drawing and performance, adding depth to the narrative. The performative element becomes crucial, documented through videos that capture the essence of the dialogues, showcasing the genuine human interaction and mutual understanding between the artist and the protagonists. The intimate collaboration and the scale of her images are crucial building blocks of All in this together. Moving beyond traditional photographic dimensions, Rakoš challenges the norm with large-format prints that serve as canvases for the protagonists’ drawings. This intentional choice amplifies the emotional impact, transforming the images into visual testimonies of the participants’ experiences.

All in this together is a nuanced exploration of the human condition during a turbulent period. The collaboration, the mixed-media approach, and attention to power dynamics redefine the conventional boundaries of portraiture. The scale of the images and the incorporation of drawings contribute to a multi-layered narrative that transcends the limitations of traditional photography. In pursuing an understanding of mental health in the pandemic era, Rakoš demonstrates the transformative power of art and collaboration, highlighting the interconnectedness of human experiences.

Mafalda Rakoš - Reproduction of All in this Together

ENTANGLEMENT

“I'm always very interested in what we are thinking or seeing; what kind of societal circumstances brought us to the situation that we are in? To me, this is like a super entangled image. I can see in my mind the image of Elias drawing a silhouette and he’s making this connection to the outside, especially because of the internet, but is also super closed because he feels so isolated during the pandemic. This also connects very well to how I felt during that time: on one hand very isolated and on the other super connected due to the internet and the idea that one was experiencing this weird collective moment together with everyone else. We are very entangled to the world, to each other, and as an anthropologist, I think I’m especially aware of these connections both on a small and big scale.” 

Mafalda Rakoš

Text and edit · Felipe Abreu and Christine Almlund

Mafalda Rakoš by Paola Lesslhumer

ARTIST BIO

Mafalda Rakoš (b. 1994) lives and works between Vienna and Amsterdam. Alongside her studies at the Academy of Fine Arts, she holds a degree in Cultural and Social Anthropology. She later studied at the Royal Academy of Arts, The Hague (KABK).
Rakoš has exhibited in various museums such as the Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam, Benaki Museum, Athens, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb, as well as outside an art context at conferences on eating disorders or at the General Hospital in Vienna.

Selected achievements

  • – 2023 Nominated to Vontobel Art Award
  • – 2022 Nominated to FUTURES Photography by Der Greif 
  • – 2022 Screening at Nuit de l’Année, Rencontres d’Arles
  • – 2022 Solo exhibition, Fotodok x Astare, Utrecht
  • – 2019 Winner of Book Award for A Story to Tell, or: Regarding Male Eating Disorders (2019)

Crowdfunding

Check out Mafalda’s crowdfunding for her book All In This Together


Emanuele Occhipinti

FESTIVAL SELECTEE 2024

EMANUELE OCCHIPINTI

A Muntagna

In ‘A Muntagna’ the Italian documentary photographer Emanuele Occhipinti examines the deep, ambiguous and emotional connections of the sleeping volcanic beauty, Mount Etna on Sicily, to the locals who have lived on its slopes for centuries. Occhipinti is interested in the peculiar but very close relationship between the dormant giant that both enriches the land and its people with extraordinary beauty, sentiment and fertility, but also burns down crops and drowns entire villages in ashes once it decides to erupt.

"I envisioned the volcano as a silent protagonist, subtly influencing the story without dominating the visual narrative. The goal was to have it loom in the background, hinting at it, but not showing it directly. This was portrayed, for example, through a miniature replica of the mountain or in fireworks, or even in the pervasive presence of smoke and ash in some images. The volcano becomes an elusive force, leaving its mark on the story without explicitly revealing itself in every picture."

— Emanuele Occhipinti

ENTANGLEMENT

The benevolent giant in the backyard

Project: A’ Muntagna  by Emanuele Occhipinti

A sleeping beauty. A dormant lifegiving giant. And a feared neighbour with devastating and potentially life threatening powers. At the latest eruption in 2021, Mount Etna, or A’ Muntagna, as the Sicilian locals have coined the highest, active volcano in Europe, spewed eruptive columns up to nine kilometres above sea level, lapilli and ashes covered entire villages around the volcano itself. More than 50 eruptions were recorded in only six months, which is very unusual. After decades living in various bustling metropolises in Europe, Italian documentary photographer Emanuele Occhipinti has recently returned to Sicily, specifically to his cherished adolescence vacation spot, Mount Etna to live and re-explore his childhood fascination that he has always held for the seismic giant. Back in Sicily, Occhipinti started researching the connectedness of the population with the active volcano, how their lives are both transformed and inspired by it, and the deep bond the Sicilians have with their land and way of life. Out of this came the project A’ Muntagna, that unfolds the ever-looming presence of the mountain and how it generates a deep sense of adoration, life as well as fear.

Photo by Emanuele Occhipinti, A Muntagna

How to portray a volcanic giant?

Representing the entangled connections of the volcano visually without just reproducing the touristy, retouched images known from the travel agencies worldwide, presented a challenge for the photographer. How do you portray the ever-presence of a seismic protagonist like Etna? ‘The giant’, often referred to with the pronomen ‘she’ by the people living on her slopes, who considered themself her sons and daughters. The small details of everyday life, portraits and the historical anecdotes of the locals became a way forward:

“To convey this nuanced relationship, I recognized the importance of investing time in returning repeatedly to the places and immersing myself in the surroundings. It became crucial to go beyond the surface and capture the small details. I aimed to bring forth the complex interplay of love, connection, and occasional fear that defines life in this seemingly ordinary yet extraordinary place,” Emanuele says and elaborates on his decision to live and work in the community while working on the project too: “Becoming a winemaker, and a farmer, and fully engaging in the routines of the people allowed me to share in their experiences. Living alongside the locals meant that their stories became intertwined with mine. This shared existence enabled me to capture genuine moments, as I was not an outsider but a participant in their daily life.” 

Photo by Emanuele Occhipinti, A Muntagna

A deeply rooted emotional and magnetic interrelatedness

Occhipinti’s collection of local anecdotes are prolific. From tales of smouldering lava stopping right before destroying a village by the prayers of its inhabitants, to stories of volcanic crevasses opening in the backyard. But also stories that proudly boast the unique piece of nature and its close relation with the volcanic activity. Actually, the impact of possible destruction seems to always be downplayed by the people’s deep rooted love for the land and culture. Most of the people portrayed in A’ Muntagna could not imagine living anywhere else – and the long list of recorded historical volcanic events, dating as early as 1169, backs this up. 

Volcanic activity has not stopped people from settling on the slopes of Etna – maybe because the giant also is gentle enough to remind them of its extraordinary life power. As one of the portrayed locals, the farmer Valerio, says:

“I’m able to speak with “her” somehow. Its many sides are the reflection of my moods: desolate and melancholic like the dry volcanic northern slopes; green and lively like the lushy nature of the eastern side. There’s an emotional empathy and a magnetism that makes me connected with “her”.”

On good terms with the giant

Despite the importance of the traditional lifestyle for the locals, technology is also an important ally in keeping Sicilians safe and aware of Etna’s plans and to adapt to the life on her shoulders. The duality is visible in the images of A’ Muntagna, with simple adaptations, such as a windshield cover to protect a car from volcanic ash, appearing next to a volcanologist trying on a thermal and fireproof suit. This duality as well as the diversity of images by Occhipinti mixed with historical images of earlier eruptions and scans from thermic cameras unfolds the entanglement and complexity of living on good terms with one of nature’s volcanic giants.

Photo by Emanuele Occhipinti, A Muntagna

ENTANGLEMENT

"A 'Muntagna embodies the concept of entanglement by portraying the intricate connections between man, nature, tradition, and technology. The project illustrates how these elements are interwoven in the daily lives of the Sicilian community living near Mount Etna. As such the community becomes a sort of metaphor for what it is like to live closely entangled with the forces of nature – for better or worse, but always with respect.”

— Emanuele Occhipinti

Text and edit · Felipe Abreu and Christine Almlund
Exhibition organised with the support of Instituto Italiano di Cultura di Copenaghen

ARTIST BIO

Emanuele Occhipinti is an independent documentary photographer currently based in Brighton, UK. He studied photography at the Roman School of Photography and Cinema and furthered his education in the International Program of Photojournalism at the Danish school of photojournalism, DMJX. Emanuele’s photography mainly focuses on personal, long-term projects highlighting social, environmental, and anthropological issues. His works have been featured in esteemed publications including, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Il Reportage, Neue Zurcher Zeitung and Burn Magazine, to name a few and exhibited internationally over the years in galleries and photography festivals.

Selected achievements

  • – 2023  Exhibition at Helsinki Photo Festival 2023, Helsinki Finland
  • – 2022  Exhibition at PhotoVogue Festival, Base, Milano  
  • – 2022  Burn Emerging Photographer Fund 2022  Finalist
  • – 2018  Exhibition at Odesa Photo Days Festival, Literary Museum of Odessa, Ukraine  
  • – 2018  Exhibition at Riga Photomonth 2018, Latvia


Yuxing Chen

FESTIVAL SELECTEE 2024

YUXING CHEN

The Oriental Scene

‘The Oriental Scene’ by Yuxing Chen exposes the flawed knowledge and imagery of the Western gaze and cultural appropriation of Chinese culture. Through a series of photographs that let the viewer re-imagine Chinese architecture and reframe western imagery of Chinese culture, she not only points to the cultural appropriation and flawed understanding of another culture. Her project gently deflates Western colonialism as it forces us to rethink the ways in which Westerners have portrayed symbols of cultural otherness and uncovers the great irony of its widespread empirical power.

“When I moved from Shanghai to London in 2021, the surroundings were all very unfamiliar to me. I couldn't help but observe the environment and buildings, so when I first saw the Chinese architecture built by Westerners, I was fascinated by the subject of ‘differences’ and decided to explore it further. I selected the Porcelain Tower of Nanjing not only because it is the original prototype for the Pagoda in the Royal Botanic Gardens, but also because of the history of photography and the exciting chain of image transmission that is linked behind this architecture.”

— Yuxing Chen

ENTANGLEMENT

The flawed Western gaze

Project: ‘The Oriental Scene’ by Yuxing Chen

When Chinese photographer Yuxing Chen arrived in London from Shanghai the differences from her home country were striking. By chance she stumbled into something that reminded her of home, the Porcelain Tower of Nanjing at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew. The tower was of course a replica. It was built in the 17th century by William Chambers, based on drawings he received from travellers who visited China. But it contained a major flaw compared to the original in Nanjing: While all Buddhist pagodas have an odd number of stories, the one at Kew has ten. Chen’s discovery of the replica tower and its extra floor inspired her to start the research that culminates in the project The Oriental Scene.

Yuxing Chen - Stereocard and Stereo Viewer

From porcelain to pagodas

Chinese symbols and aesthetics have been appropriated by European culture in several ways, from porcelain pieces to huge architectural structures such as the pagoda at Kew. This desire to reproduce without the necessary knowledge or information generates the distortions that Chen presents with dexterity in the three image groups that compose The Oriental Scene: still lifes, archival imagery, and photographs of Western-made Chinese buildings transformed into ghosts, leaving a void for the viewer’s imagination to fill.

Reframing the western gaze through photography

“I was concerned with somehow reinforcing the Western cultural gaze toward the East implicit in these buildings. I then began experimenting with redacting them from the photography, leaving space for exploring Eastern and Western cultural gazes and power. By actively choosing to cut out the subject, I attempted to revisit the parts that have been ignored or forgotten and to reveal the differences under the imperial eye.”

Over fourteen thousand kilometres away from the original Porcelain Tower, William Chambers built the replica based on drawings he received from travellers who visited China, to impress and reassure the royal subjects about the vast power of the British empire.

Yuxing Chen - The Pagoda at Kew

An ironic testament to power relations

However, due to the lack of precision in the drawings that guided Sir William and knowledge of the buddhist culture, the crucial mistake was not eradicated. The building is thus also an everlasting testament to the westerners’ lack of knowledge, attention and ultimately care of the rich culture it happily appropriated. Once this quirkiness is uncovered the tower stands out and marks with irrevocable irony a once oh, so great imperialistic power. Something that could have remained unperceived as there is no photographic evidence of the original tower, as it was destroyed before the expansion of photography in China. 

Yuxing Chen’s project opens a discussion around the very important and delicate topic of decolonising and with the subtle gesture of creating an empty space where there used to be a building and reframing the gaze of archival material, the artist invites us to imagine a key symbol of her culture and the distortions each of our gazes can create. 

Yuxing Chen - The Kew Postcard

ENTANGLEMENT

“There is a connection to time and authorship that goes through my work, the right of knowledge that is hidden underneath these produced images. How did people use photography in the past to see and understand each other and how does the authorship of these images impact their perception and the building of history are key questions my work wishes to explore.” 

— Yuxing Chen

Text and edit · Felipe Abreu and Christine Almlund

ARTIST BIO

Yuxing Chen is a Chinese artist using photography and archives. She received her MA in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography from the University of the Arts in London. Photography has expanded her perspective as a new approach to narrative and representation. Her photographic practice is centred around the creation and discussion of decolonization on cultural differences, identity, and historical public issues.

Selected achievements

  • – 2023 IPE Award, Royal Photographic Society, UK
  • – 2023 Grand Prix Images Vevey, Finalist, CH
  • – 2023 TOP20 Chinese Contemporary Photography, CN
  • – 2023 The Paintbrush of Nature, Aperture Gallery, London, UK
  • – 2022 The Fourth 1839 Photography Nomination Award, CN


Vic Bakin

FESTIVAL SELECTEE 2024

VIC BAKIN

‘Epitome’

In his project ‘Epitome’, the Ukrainian photographer Vic Bakin sensitively elaborates on the consequences and entanglements of war for a young generation of Ukrainian men. Their everyday lives are now marked by war, fragility and uncertainty. The prints convey a distinct, delicate black and white tactility that resonates to images from other wars decades ago . However, these were made by Bakin in his bathroom in Kyiv during the Russians’ long air raids just months ago.

“This pile of discarded chairs stood there like a sculpture or an installation dedicated to a time in which we are living. I immediately found an emotional connection to this object and it still is one of the main pictures of the series. The uncertainty, the unease, and fragility of being but also beauty and tenderness became the main essence of the series.”

— Vic Bakin

ENTANGLEMENT

Entangled in war: when home inhabits the heart

Project: Epitome by Vic Bakin

A pile of chairs sits in a strange formation. All tangled together. In the back, trees with no leaves left and a grey sky. This impromptu sculpture of devastation and beauty played an important role in Vic Bakin’s understanding of his project “Epitome”, which brings together portraits of young men with landscapes marked by war and scenes of sunflowers bowing their heads to winter’s gloom. All connected by the distinct, rustique black and white tactility of the prints that lifts the project into a sphere of timeless evanescence.

Photo by Vic Bakin, Epitome

The unexpected war zone

Bakin’s project started as an investigation of the coming-of-age struggles and was radically transformed when war erupted in Ukraine, in February of 2022. Bakin, who has always worked from Kyiv and still lives in the capital, went from shooting editorials and portraits for newspapers and magazines to finding himself in what was an active war zone just a few weeks earlier. The connection between the young men he recurrently photographed and the country’s new reality was inevitable: 

“The father of a friend I photographed extensively was killed in the occupation zone and the youth I portrayed years ago is now listed to the armed forces and sent to the frontline. There are a lot of friends and friends of friends who will go there. You can’t help but think about these things.”

In the context of war 

The fact that it is mainly young men who are fighting this war (if not all of them) is sensitively  touched on in the portraits we see in Epitome. The buzz-cut head of a man in his early twenties could be a style choice, but a quick context check reminds us of the hair cut employed by militaries all over the world – from World War I to now. The young naked body lying on a couch could carry an innate and ageless sensuality to it which is sharply transformed when the thousands of casualties of this war come to mind. Another beautiful association made by Bakin appears when the rib cage of a young man sucking out all the air in his belly takes the similar shape of a roof from a house. Not any house, but one falling to pieces, devastated by a military attack and hanging on by the last bits of its structure. 

“For me, these things are pretty interchangeable. In a sense, we are at home wherever we go. Especially now when so many people are fleeing and moving. Home is where the heart is. Isn’t it? The body holds the heart. The home or a feeling of a home inhabits the heart.”

Photo by Vic Bakin, Epitome

Air raid prints from the darkroom

All of these images, and the many others that make up Epitome, are prints made by Vic himself in the bathroom of his apartment, most of the time during long air raids, with the sirens as a backdrop. This small room with the red safety light as the only thing helping him navigate the chemicals took on a womb-like role, keeping him safe while providing him with room to create.

“Seems to me this tight womb-like bathroom became my place of escapism of a wartime reality too. Could I make today something that does not refer to a war? I doubt it. The war affected everyone. When I was out there shooting I was asking myself  — is there a meaning, a justification in approaching the world the way I do in ‘Epitome’? And time and time again I kept receiving the same answer — Absolutely yes.”

Intimacy, violence and the ageless decay of war

There is a powerful bond between intimacy and violence in Epitome. The connection we build to each of the men that appear in the pictures is suddenly menaced by the context in which they were put. This constant duality keeps the viewer on the edge, trying to decipher the deeper meanings the images have in them all the while thinking of Bakin in his bathroom, printing while the sirens ring outside and the ageless devastating influence of war.

Photo by Vic Bakin, Epitome

ENTANGLEMENT

“This pile of discarded chairs stood there like a sculpture or an installation dedicated to a time in which we are living. And I immediately found an emotional connection to this object and it still is one of the main pictures of the series. The uncertainty, unease, and fragility of being but also beauty and tenderness became the main essence of the series. We all, who stayed here, are mixed up and entangled in this together. I mean I’m a portrait photographer too — I see it in every face I happen to photograph.”

— Vic Bakin

Text and edit · Felipe Abreu and Christine Almlund

ARTIST BIO

Vic Bakin is a self-educated Ukrainian photographer and printer. He was raised near the Carpathian mountains in Ukraine and is now based in Kyiv. His photographic practice mainly revolves around documenting Ukrainian youth. Before the war Bakin’s focus was on different local queer communities and fashion scenes, rave and music culture. With the war his focus naturally shifted to the themes concerning the consequences of the war in Ukraine. His project Epitome will be published by the VOID Photo Publishing in 2024.

Selected achievements

  • – 2024 Grant winner, Documenting Ukraine, IVM Institute for Human Sciences, Vienna
  • – 2023 Winner of ‘The Ones To Watch’ by British Journal of Photography
  • – 2023 Recharge & Revolt group exhibition, Melkweg, Amsterdam
  • – 2023 Winner of the LensCulture art photography awards
  • – 2022 Shortlisted in Palm Photo Prize


Marcus DeSieno

FESTIVAL SELECTEE 2024

MARCUS DESIENO

‘Geography of Disappearance’

American artist Marcus DeSieno’s series of wet plate emulsion images, Geography of Disappearance, critically examines the border landscape of deliberate oppression of immigrants trying to cross the US-Mexican border. His project exposes the power structures deeply embedded in the American landscape and history through a deliberate and concise use of 19th century wet plate technology and lith printing. DeSieno wants to foster a conversation about the risk of dehumanizing immigrants as a global issue that only escalates as conflicts, wars and climate catastrophes close in on our communities.

“The history of the United States, especially of the Western United States, is built upon this legacy of colonialism and white supremacy. This legacy is baked into our border policies. When I think back on the history of American landscape photography, it is a conversation about power, and for me, using the landscape is a way to continue this tradition of talking about these embedded power relationships, of talking about this legacy that's embedded in the border and always has been.”

— Marcus DeSieno

ENTANGLEMENT

Landscapes of power

Project: Geography of Disappearance by Marcus DeSieno

American artist Marcus DeSieno’s work is deeply engaged in documenting American military surveillance. One day he was photographing the electronic surveillance fence on the Mexico-US border when he stopped at a gas station to fill up. What should have been a mundane action, fell totally apart when he heard a man was calling for aid in the scorching desert sun. Marcus called 911 and stayed with the man, but help arrived too late. The traumatic experience became the catalyst for DeSieno’s series of wet plate landscape images Geography of Disappearance that explores the power dynamics in the United States and the weaponizing of surveillance technology in relation to landscape imagery.

Photo by Marcus DeSieno, Geography of Disappearance

“Illegals die out here all the time”

“When the officers got there they told me ‘illegals die out here all the time. Don’t worry about it’. The police didn’t take any notes, they just left this man’s belongings in the middle of the parking lot. This kind of dehumanization, this apathy towards suffering is something I continue to see throughout my time on the border. This sent me off this journey, on this path. Why are people dying? Why is it so normalised that people don’t care?”

The border and the very unforgiving conditions in its surroundings in the desert are used by the government as a weapon to deter and discourage the immigrants. 

”It is  a specific US policy called “Prevention through Deterrence” that was started in the mid 1990’s. As a result, Thousands of migrants have died in the borderlands over the past thirty years. This work is a way for me to actively critique these laws and policies created by my government.” 

The weaponizing is visible not only via physical fences and surveillance cameras but also the graves of the people who died trying to cross. In DeSieno’s work it is these spaces, installations and landscapes that take centre stage. 

Fostering conversation about landscapes of power

DeSieno makes the purposeful choice of leaving out the main characters of this story, the imigrants, and focuses on the landscape to build his narrative. But it is not random landscape images from the border. The images depict the exact spots where migrants have died. DeSieno uses GPS coordinates to locate the spots. The faces and bodies of those who attempt this perilous crossing are not seen, but the places where they died are documented – and the mountains, fences, and graves. When asked about this decision, the artist gives a poignant explanation: 

“These people have already been stripped of their dignity by a political system that has been designed to kill and injure them and not to treat them as human beings. Photographing a body, to me, further strips them of their dignity. I want to have a conversation about violence without objectifying the victim. I want to create work that’s going to foster a conversation about this deeply important issue without turning death into a spectacle.”

Photo by Marcus DeSieno, Geography of Disappearance

Wet plate and the subverting of surveillance

The choice of photographic technique is carefully selected and plays a profound role in the narrative and intellectual decisions behind Geography of Disappearance. It is through the use of wet plate collodion and the following process of lith printing and all its difficulties and imperfections that DeSieno manifests his story. 

“I merge wet-plate collodion with the lith print process for Geography of Disappearance to create unsettling landscapes where the grit of the lith print and the marks of the collodion negative work in concert  with each other. I’m interested in pushing the possibilities of analog photography by experimenting and merging processes to create a new aesthetic vocabulary. I am fascinated with this act of transformation. How can materials and process radically transform how we read and perceive a photographic image?”

By subverting the technique he adds complexity to his visual approach and inserts a new element into the history of this process and its relevance in landscape photography. DeSieno’s mistrust of technology due to its use for surveillance and punishment is transparent in his choice of techniques for this and other projects. It is a powerful stance connecting not only his choice of topic but the way in which to present it to the viewers.

“I am deeply concerned about how visual technology and its evolution is utilised as a system for oppression. A lot of my work often involves using or misusing imaging technologies,  such as surveillance cameras, facial recognition, algorithms, and artificial intelligence.”

Exposing embedded structures, not spectacle

It is by discussing a system and its tools that DeSieno builds the vision of Geography of Disappearance. By steering away from the spectacle and looking at the structures that built this human disaster, he brings forward a more thoughtful approach, skillfully combined with a photographic technique that can welcome mistakes and accidents, creating very complex imagery. It is in the scratches on the printing, the fences, and the crosses that we can feel the hurt so embedded in this topic.

Photo by Marcus DeSieno, Geography of Disappearance

ENTANGLEMENT

“The United Nations declared the US-Mexico border the deadliest land crossing for migration in the world, but it is far from being an exclusive issue. This danger is present in the Mediterranean as well – it is actually the deadliest area for migration in the world. As the global situation continues to deteriorate due to climate change, global trade policies, war etc., more people will flee from their homes and this issue will be more and more present. How can humanity come together to deal with these issues? How can we end the political violence against innocent people?”

— Marcus DeSieno

Text and edit · Felipe Abreu and Christine Almlund

ARTIST BIO

Marcus DeSieno is a visual artist interrogating institutions of power through the language of photography. DeSieno is particularly interested in how visual technology is used as a tool of oppression by the state and what our future holds as this technology continues to evolve.  He received his MFA in Studio Art from the University of South Florida and is currently Associate Professor of Photography at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington

Selected achievements

  • – 2022 Group exhibition Impression Remains, Finnish Museum of Photography, Helsinki, FI.
  • – 2022 Around the World, Musée de Albert-Khan, Paris, FR
  • – 2020 No Man’s Land: Views From a Surveillance State, Auburn City Gallery, Auburn, Washington, US
  • – 2019 Now You See Me: Visualizing the Surveillance State, Photo Access, Canberra, AU
  • – 2018 publication, No Man’s Land: Views from a Surveillance State