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(Johanna Weber, Faces from the Resistance – Memory of Death, Memory of Life, Agra Publications, 1996 (Greek))

A photograph consists of a mixture of a certain amount of communication and a certain amount of poetry. The ratio of one to the other places the photograph in the category of a recording or the category of a work of art. In the second case, the image itself must encompass all the elements which establish its metamorphosis and bring out the emotions. In the first category, communication is achieved (in the best of cases) with the help of common cultural points of reference which most viewers can look back to and (in the worst case scenario) with the aid of other objects and comments, when the function of the photograph is restricted to the representation of the written communication. Naturally, the wider public is much more familiar with the communicative dimension of photography rather than its poetic aspect, which presupposes some knowledge of poetic photographic language.

 Artist-Photographers are often the victims of this double nature of photography, either because they themselves have not realised the difference, or because they cannot resist the easy reception afforded to the domination of the communicative nature of photography. Besides, the reason why publishers hesitate to invest in photography which does not have as its main objective communication but poetry is again either their inability to value the presence of artistic photographic language or caused by their legitimate desire for the book to be received well by the general public.

 Stavros Petsopoulos of Agra Publications is one of the very few publishers who has dared to print pure photographic albums, also taking on a very significant commercial risk. However, I am not sure if, on the occasion of the publication of the book entitled ‘Faces of the Resistance’ by Johanna Weber, a German national resident in Greece, three years ago, he believed this was an artistic album or a historical recording. The question is an important one as its answer defines the type of critical approach.

 This book, the aesthetic and typographical quality of which is perfect, as is usually the case with all the books published by this house, includes a series of likenesses, square, frontal, black and white portraits of members of the Greek Resistance, some of whom are familiar to the general public (eg. Manolis Glezos, Mikis Theodorakis), and others who are probably not. The photographs are placed on the pages on the right and the corresponding pages on the left contain comments by the subjects in first person about the period of the resistance and the unfortunate events they experienced. The structure and presentation of this photographic album in combination with the photographic exhibitions which accompanied its publication in my opinion left no doubt that the photographs in question lay claim to being characterised as photographic works of art rather than as historical recordings.

 The problem which arises with these portraits is that on their own, as photographs, they present the limited interest which the portrait of a face can offer, even with minimal intervention on the part of the photographer. The same interest (not at all insignificant) which would be presented even by a series of identity card photographs. It is characteristic that the reader-viewer cannot distinguish which of the photographs present an excess which has not been achieved in the remaining images. This uniformity and concurrent absence of the stigma of the creator’s presence has been adopted by several interpretative modern photographers whose artistic suggestions (whether one agrees or not) cannot but be recognised. Only that, to support this approach the photography of the portraits must clearly be the same and there must not be the slightest emphasis or reference in relation to these faces. They should function in other words exclusively as human samples of a police or medical gazette (eg. Jeff Wall, Thomas Ruff, Luc Delahaye). If again anyone should want to unite this series of portraits in an artistic light and photographic proposal through the dominating presence of the photographer, then they would have to extend the significance of each image separately, reducing the whole to typology, like the example perhaps of the great August Sander, or the African Seidou Keita or the American Mike Disfarmer or the modern German Thomas Struth or the Hispano-Argentinian Humberto Rivas, where none of the portraits identifies with the others, though they are all somewhat similarly connected to each other more in their little differences than their all too clear similarities.

 In ‘Portraits of the Resistance’ (as the title states) an attempt is made to provoke the interest and reach out to the emotions of the viewer through the reading of the accompanying texts (and respective interviews), which provide information about the role and the identity of the subjects, at the same time mentioning repeatedly in the introductory texts (and respective interviews) that the artist belongs to the nation which caused suffering for or tortured the subjects portrayed. The photographs function simply as detonators for the emotions and not as primary and principal material. The texts bring identity to the faces, a particularly charged identity indeed, and reinforce the communicative part of the image to the detriment of the abstract and the poetic. It is in fact probable (impossible to ascertain now) that the photographs would have worked better without the crutches of the informative texts. Besides, the juxtaposition of photographic image and words more often works to the benefit of the latter rather than the former.

Weber is without doubt a capable photographer (earlier works she was kind enough to show me confirms this without any doubt) and clearly honest, when she attempts to combine national guilt with the country she resides in and with the artistic medium she uses. However, all this would have done better to feed a genuine photographic emotion with the extent of the abstract which photography and the photographer herself can offer without being put at the service of a certain and self-evident historical-literature approach.