Putting one’s self in the picture

There’s a darkly disturbing photo exhibition airing at The Hague’s main photo gallery at the moment. No sooner do you walk through the door, then you are confronted by aggressively evocative images of bestiality, sexuality and sado-masochism.

At first, one stares at the photos, not really knowing what to make of them. The protagonist in many of the photos has deep gouges on his arms or torso. The many women that he is with seem to be in some sort of orgasmic anguish.

Appreciation of this kind of photography is not made any easier by the fact that many of the shots appear unsteadily out-of-focus (well, it can’t be easy trying to take a photo whilst having a BJ – although I rather suspect that the blurry shots came with a ‘artistic’ seal of approval).

I don’t think of myself as the naturally squeamish type and I have seen many such brutal cannibalistic images before. It wasn’t that I was appalled by the pictures – it was just that I was perplexed by them. I just didn’t feel… well, whatever it was that the photographer wanted me to feel.

But, when I got to the end, I found an intriguing explanation of the exhibition – and suddenly started to understand.

It is here that I wish I had scribbled down exactly what the photographer wrote, but at the time I didn’t consider blogging about it.

In essence, he explained that the purpose of his photography was to capture the underlying reality of the world, often concealed by the illusions of love and happiness. The world is an evil, godforsaken place – so why not reflect it as such.

One man’s view, and a good explanation of exactly why the photos were so dark and macabre.

But, for me, that wasn’t the really interesting point he was making. His explanation went on to say that he is the protagonist in the photos. That it was him having sex with the prostitutes he was photographing. That he enjoys violent sex with prostitutes in order to forget – or perhaps to remember – the callousness of the world.

Too often, he decried, photographers hide behind the lens, letting the subject represent what they themselves want to say. His photography is an attempt to break through this barrier, to become a part of the message and not to conceal one’s self behind it.

This struck something of a chord with me, as a journalist. What do journalists do, other than report a particular message, pretending it is someone else’s rather than their own?

For those that are interested, the artist’s name was Antoine d’Agata.

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