Sunday, February 14, 2010

Eva Leitolf- Looking For Evidence

Pond, Viersen, 2007

A twenty-two-year-old man told the police in Viersen that on 10 July 2006 he had been verbally abused and physically assaulted by four young men on account of his skin colour. He said that he had succeeded in defending himself and getting away. The state security department of the Mönchengladbach police took charge of the investigation but was unable to identify any of the perpetrators.
 
I don't get bowled over by many photography books anymore- perhaps for several reasons: they aren't as "rare" as they used to be; they aren't as "good" as they used to be; it's all been done before and twice on the internet; my soul is dead and housed in a rotting shell. Any of those a possible reason. So I was several steps beyond elated gazing upon Eva Leitolf's Looking For Evidence. And I'll confess right here and now that this "review" comes from all of ten minutes that I spent with it in my arms. Why didn't I buy it? It cost $65, a serious dent considering my current income, so I walked around the block rationalizing how I could rationalize said purchase, and when I returned, SFMOMA was closed (and good thing too, since I was able to find it half price via said internet).

Looking For Evidence is one of the most beautiful photography books I've ever seen, and the quality of  the reproductions, absolutely outstanding! Viewing them online is a distinct disservice to the grandeur Eva Leitolf's large format images convey. And just what is the subject matter that is so beautifully captured and portrayed- grand scenic vistas, natural scenic wonders? They are essentially banal and vacant crime scenes- inconspicuous corners, streets, and crossings in Germany where racial assaults, beatings and confrontations had recently occurred. There is no telling evidence left to be examined, no remnants to suggest- it seems Eva Leitolf has literally commanded these photographs to captivate and sustain our interest through sheer force of will. Her straight forward compositions are often bolstered by a vibrant color palette, but basically what she has pulled off is a conceptual tour de force- visually entrancing one with an otherwise mundane sight unseen infamous only for something it cannot possibly portray.

Perhaps this is what is meant by a viable alternative to the current in your face tragedy journalism. And it is easy to understand why it is not exactly common practice- one doesn't cover a news event well after the "decisive moment" has long left the building. But it is not entirely without precedent. Simon Norfolk and a small handful of other photographers have covered events after the fact in a somewhat similar fashion, and Joel Sternfeld's On This Site covered much the same territory with the exact same technique back in '96, but his subject matter was more varied and his photographs considerably more pedestrian- so many of Leitolf's images however, manage to resonate profoundly even when one is completely unaware of their historic, and quite horrific, context.

By the village pond, Pömmelte, 2007

The son of an Ethiopian man and a German woman who lived in a children's home in Pömmelte was verbally abused in a bus by five juveniles on 9 January 2006. When the twelve-year-old got off the bus in Pömmelte, the group followed him several hundred metres through the village before maltreating him for more than an hour at the village pond. He was spat upon, beaten and kicked with army boots. The perpetrators forced him to lick their boots and trainers and to answer questions with 'Yes, my Führer'. The ringleader threatened him with a gas pistol and throttled him, while another urinated on his head. He was subjected to a tirade of verbal abuse. The boy suffered thirty-four injuries, including craniocerebral trauma and a broken nose, and had to spend a week in hospital. The court found that the sixteen- to twenty-year-olds had sadistically tormented and gravely injured their victim for racist reasons, and sentenced the ringleader to three and a half years youth custody. Three other accused were given suspended sentences. In response to the crime the anti-fascist alliance in Schönebeck and Magdeburg called a demonstration in Schönebeck on 25 February 2006 under the slogan 'Don't look the other way, intervene!' At the same time the Young National Democrats and other local right-wing groups organised a counter-demonstration entitled 'Stop the media hate campaigns! They talk about Nazis but they mean all us Germans!'

3 comments:

stansivlav said...

Looks like really fine work. Glad to read that you managed to get a copy. I'll certainly go look at one. Thanks for posting.

beatriz said...

after just seeing the World Press awards, this work makes sense...no spewing blood but an awareness of what is seen and what is not seen. great presentation, thank you!

Benjamin said...

Beatriz,

totally agree with your comments.