Moving Stills at Synthesis Gallery (12 March–8 April) is a mixed event combining a photo exhibition and screenings of documentaries by curator of photography and filmmaker Trisha Ziff, held jointly with this year’s edition of Sofia International Film Festival. The admission to the screenings at the PhotoSynthesis café is free. Photographs and information about the documentaries Chevolution (2008), La maleta mexicana (The Mexican Suitcase, 2011), El hombre que vio demasiado (The Man Who Saw Too Much, 2016) and Witkin & Witkin (2017) are on display in four rooms at Synthesis Gallery. The films tells the stories of photographers Alberto Korda––the legendary ‘Guerrillero Heroico’ photograph of Che Guevara, used now for various purposes; of three lost boxes recovered in a closet in Mexico City in 2007 of photos from the Spanish Civil War by Gerda Taro, David Seymour and Robert Capa; of legendary Mexican photographer Enrique Metinides; of photographer Joel-Peter Witkin and his twin brother, painter Jerome Witkin.
Trisha Ziff attended the unveiling of the exhibition and the screenings; talked about her works and answered questions at the discussions. The documentaries and the exhibited photographs trace these four stories telling the lifes of the photographers and details about the taking of pictures. The films are constantly shown on screens at the gallery. Standing visitors are, of course, unable to see the feature-length documentaries out, immersing themselves in their atmosphere and stories. Those, who have missed the screenings, are recommended to watch the films online, and visit the gallery to devote their attention to the images, which are impactive, documentary and true to life.
The photograph of Che Guevara is all too familiar, being so mirthlessly commercialised that a few have a clue to how and when it has been taken, what the original has been and who has pressed the button of the camera. Cuban photographer Korda, born Alberto Díaz Gutiérrez, never even dreamed of his photograph evolving into a modern iconic image found on all sorts of contemporary products, from caps to posters to online collages. It is hard at the same time to imagine another photo that has been estranged to such a degree from its own prototype, becoming even an emblem of antagonistic ideologies.
Death in Enrique Metinides’ photographs is difficult to describe. In this sense, I feel obligated to say that they are not suitable for children. The images he has succeeded in capturing are now more of a taboo and probably taken as crime scene photos for police archives and ought to be censored by the media. At the same time their authenticity is almost palpable, giving you the creeps and hushing you. The almost shocking effect of the dead bodies lying in unnatural positions, accompanied in some instances by their personal stories, is somewhat tempered only by the passage of time. They exude stillness, the silence of death.
Similar is the impact of the images from the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). Robert Capa, an icon of photojournalism, has been featured in a number of films and books. The very story of the finding of those 4,500 negatives seventy years later is no less intriguing. As with the case of the photos by Vivian Mayer discovered posthumously in storage lockers and sold, I’d inevitably ask myself as to how many other pictures and negatives have sunk into oblivion, never reaching the public…
I believe that this type of documentary photography teaches us a lesson. Being so true, unadulterated and real, it provides information about the age, time and people. Photography almost lost with the advent of new technologies. With the contemporary strongly manipulated and processed digital photography, the question is as to what evidence of our time shall be handed down to posterity. Looking at the photos in Moving Stills, one can clearly see how much more valuable documentary photography becomes with the passage of time.