01 Vanishing Techniques—Photography of Jean Baudrillard

by Pan Gaojie

Nowadays, photography as a kind of art is stepping into an unprecedented golden age. “Rhein II”, a photographic work of the Germany photographer Andreas Gursky has sold at the sky-high price of $4.34 million at Christie’s Auction House and became the most expensive photographic work in the world. Recently, MOMA held a personal retrospective exhibition for the female photographer Cindy Sherman. Bernard Faucon, the renowned French master of conceptual photography, has come to give a lecture in the Central Academy of Fine Arts. When Hiroshi Sugimoto’s personal exhibition appeared at Pace Beijng, the scene was quite hot. The photographs of Kotori Kawashima’s daughter, collected in his Photographic Album “Mirai-Chan” have gone viral on every social networking site. Photography has built up quite a head of counteroffensive steam. Several months ago, the exhibition “Vanishing Techniques-Photography of Jean Baudrillard” was also displayed at CAFA Museum which seems quite timely. If we compare the works of Jean Baudrillard to that of the previously-mentioned photographers, we will find that Baudrillard doesn’t concentrate on “human” but focuses on “objects” and “landscapes” from which to seek occasional surprises.

In our view, a photography exhibition of an ideologist is novel, which can fulfill the complexity of ambiguous association with worship. However, the works of the exhibition are not “fresh” which already have “a history of appearance”. Early in November, 1997, these works were exhibited at the Paerke Gallery, Tokyo. In an interview about the exhibition, this funny little runt said:”In 1981, I got a camera in Japan, thus I started taking photographs. Later, inspired by my friends, I held photography exhibitions. Everything is occasional, but for me, photography is not only a kind of interest, it is an enriched and interesting activity in itself. “Since the 1990s, after having taken a large amount of photographs, Baudrillard started to publish his works. At first, Baudrillard never considered publishing or planning exhibitions for his photographs, because he thought it’s an extremely personal behaviour. But in an activity in memory of his published books, for the purpose of creating atmosphere and attracting readers, the planners organized a small-scale exhibition for him which contained only about twenty photographs. It is such a small-scale photographic activity that it was well received and attracted great interest in his photography. Since then, he has been continuously invited by galleries and art museums to hold solo exhibitions.

Baudrillard’s photographs are basically composed of two partial contents, the first part is the photographs taken during his academic activities or personal travels while the second part is taken from his living spaces in daily life. In the interview, he also mentioned why he prefers “objects” and “landscapes”, as related to his comprehension of photography, “I found that all things are covered with meanings and contexts, whereas photography could wipe them off from all the objects. The reason why I scarcely take pictures of people is because humans are full of meanings which can’t be wiped off by photography. Moreover, I found that in the process of taking photographs, the objects and I(the subject)are actually in a bidirectional relationship of two-way temptation. On this occasion, subject and object exist no more but become one, it is this kind of unity that has attracted my interest in photography. Except that “landscapes’ and “objects” are easier than “human” to strip away of meanings, careful people will find that most of the works are named after place names, which doesn’t mean photos named Paris will present the Champs Elysees or the typical French slow life on the left bank. In these photographs named of cities around the world, there are not any sights which can represent the local cities, in contrast, these sights thousands of miles away are those palpable scenes surrounding every viewer, which could be the interesting coincidence formed by the wine bottles in the open space and the doodles, or, the figure silhouettes reflected by the glasses, full of formal beauty. The viewers will not even suspect that these photographs are taken in the places suggested by the titles? Baudrillard has never turned his lens on those representative sights of somewhere, but they are still “here”.

During the process of viewing the works, we can’t help considering the paragraphs in the books of Baudrillard which hang all around all the time so that it seems like a photography exhibition which offers assistance to the viewers to get into the ideological context of Baudrillard. As Fei Dawei, the curator said:”The exhibition has presented a unique way of a unique thinker of seeing the world.” This suddenly complicates the original, formal and pure pictures, as a viewer, I was tempted by the words again and again trying to review the pictures in the context of theory. But it not only seems contrary to the original intention of Baudrillard, but also makes the whole exhibition like a huge Reading Comprehension Question. After seeing the exhibition, a lot of viewers want to read Baudrillard’s books like “Simulacra and Simulation’, the book focusing specially on photography, Baudrillard once said:”For me, photography is a behaviour of losing identity.” Fortunately, these exhibitions haven’t resulted in the loss of his identity and the viewers merely want to find some theoretical evidence in his works of the exhibitions.

The pamphlets printed for the exhibition have fulfilled the viewers’ needs of words, my favorite article is an interview translated by Gu Zheng, in which his straightaway oral discourse has expressed the meanings of the obscure texts of his books and has answered why he doesn’t take pictures of people, that is, humans have too many meanings which can’t be wiped off by photography. It is no doubt that this conception is anastomotic with his theory. He is trying to restore the real-look and pureness of things and avoid the intervention of the subject: “The violence we give to images is far beyond that of the images themselves: it was used for documents, certifications and information…Thus we always forget it, therefore, we lose the attention to the fate of the image itself. Most photographs which present reality are keen on reflecting the disasters of the objective world and the violence of living conditions. However, the suffering and violence described by the pictures don’t shock us. On the contrary, in order to let the contents affect us, we should be infected by the image itself and moved by its unique language.”

Although for Baudrillard, the most valuable feature of photography is its “silence”: “the silence of the image doesn’t and shouldn’t need any annotations; in the roar of the real world, the image gets the silence of objects.” In the exhibition, we can see that the silence of photography is another way of taking a stand, the exhibition is like a theatre of forms and thoughts, who is the leading role? Just as the photographer says, the violence of aesthetics is more serious than that of the images, more interpretations will depart from his original intention. It is better to be silent instead of using music and lets the mind in behind the scenes for a moment to enjoy the revelry of forms.

About the author

Pan Gaojie

Born in Guangxi Province, China in 1990

Grown in Guangdong Province since 1995

Currently studying in Beijing


2009—— , Study in Art History Department of Humanities Institute, Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing.

Constellation: Sagittarius

E-mail: pgj1211@gmail.com

Blog: http://blog.163.com/pgj1211@yeah/

Weibo: http://weibo.com/pantea

The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of CAFA ART INFO.

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