Ante

A circle like a halo is then drawn around their head on that faded group shot. Because, if you are famous, people zoom in.

-Ilse van Rijn

Grouped around the protagonist in the image are children of the same age. To the left and right of the main figure we can see smart dresses, neat pullovers, starched (bow) ties and glimpses of these items. The chosen child is controlled in an unnatural looking manner by an upper arm, a thigh or a belly. Only a little can be seen of the setting; it looks unaccustomedly official. It is a set up you recognise, you can remember the accompanying feeling, the photographically frozen tension, the baited breath of those around you while the group portrait was taken. Later on, people often literally refer to the annual class photo when the child has grown up to be a famous boxer or a politician, an opera singer or a notorious criminal. A circle like a halo is then drawn around their head on that faded group shot. Because, if you are famous, people zoom in.

In Martine Stig’s photographs the child has been chosen in advance, spot lit, framed and photographicaly isolated. The history that is yet to be written has been manipulated in advance. The school photographer’s historical intervention is already being doubted or, at the very least, questioned. As an experiment, Stig reverses the photographic discourse that a photograph contains a trace of a vanished moment which inds its origins in Roland Barthes’ memories of his deceased mother in the Winter Garden Photograph. Can a photo capture the future instead of being used to read the past? Can we create — a priori — that charged, dramatic moment, instead of interpreting it posteriorly? Stig’s question reminds of Chris Marker’s belief in the power of the photographic image’s capacity to remove itself from the time’s linear progression, as he detailed in his cinematic essay La Jet& (1962). In the latter, the main character ignores historical chronology on the basis of an obsessively remembered image. The photograph is related to the past and the future: a dreamimage that signifies death. In Stig’s photographs a vision of the future is formally stuck onto a contemporary moment in time. Her crisp photographs seem to bear no similarity to the often grainy, damaged fragments of the childhood photographs of today’s celebrities. In its formal framing, the ‘spotlight’ becomes the image’s straight edge. Various, unexpected timelines come together in this way in her pieces which contort time to the extreme.

Or rather: we are confronted by the construct that underpins our current sense of time. Photographs have actively participated in the ‘oficial’, linear arrangement of a broader history or a smaller, individual narrative. Here Stig suggests that this familiar, comforting, traditional straight line has unexpected side roads, in the same way W.G. Sebald did in The Rings of Saturn (2002 [1995]). In this book, meetings, stories and photographs engender dialogue between Kafka’s Gregor Samsa, the teenager who turns into a beetle, and Rembrandt’s Anatomy lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp. The narrator dreams, remembers and travels along the east coast of England. He departs for the Congo with Joseph Conrad and becomes lost in a labyrinthine Chinese pavilion. Fact and iction question one another. The past, present and future are inked in a non-hierarchic manner. As in Martine Stig’s work, the possible multifariousness and controlled ambiguity of the stories crossing paths gradually undermines accepted history. Its writing and reading. Because the viewers, readers and active users of the photographic image as naive models in and as the often subconscious translators of the photograph are challenged here. After all, who’s story, dream, wish or expectation can be read here? The concentration on the children’s faces returns the question. Is the future your dream or rather my reality?

-Ante

-Ilse van Rijn

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