In October 2017, Oliver Chanarin, a professor of photography at the University of Fine Arts in Hamburg, printed an archival photograph onto cardboard and left it on display in his office for his partner, Adam Broomberg, also a professor of photography at HFBK. The following week, Broomberg printed an image on top of the photograph. This exchange happened several times, ultimately creating unprompted photomontages. “I left a sample for Adam, as a little gift,” says Chanarin, who was born in London but grew up in South Africa. “That’s how it began – as a conversation in images printed on cardboard.”
Bandage the Knife Not the Wound is a collection of 40 images that remain significant to the London-based artists in today’s digital world, where the photograph has become so readily produced. From an image of Romanian sculptor Constantin Brâncuși’s children merged with images of Chanarin’s own children, to Chanarin’s father holding a Super 8 camera paired with American military training Afghani soldiers to fire artillery, and Broomberg’s wife obscured by a West African mask, the series includes images from research, practice and personal history, touching on themes of place and belonging. But why cardboard?
The artists “fell in love” with the cheap, readily available material when experimenting with ultraviolet printing because they liked the way images sunk into it; they lost their shine and contrast, and the sepia tones imbued the images with a nostalgic haze. What’s more, the use of unfolded cardboard boxes, originally used for packaging photographic paper, reflects the disposability of images in the digital age. Chanarin says that while the accessibility of photography has improved, with people sharing work and “liking” it through social media, “images have become like a Trojan horse, invading our most intimate experiences while concealing meta data that is there to transform every aspect of our lives into market research”.
According to Facebook, in 2015 around three trillion photographs were taken, suggesting that more images were taken that year than in the entire history of the analogue camera business. He believes this is affecting photography as a profession. “Photography is changing so fast it’s bewildering. The fact is, more images are produced every day for computers to ‘look at’ than humans,” says Chanarin. “The idea of making photographs for humans to contemplate sounds rather quaint.”
Bandage the Knife Not the Wound strives to act as an antidote to this.
Bandage the Knife Not the Wound will be on display at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, from 25 to 29 September, during Week 3 of fig-futures’ programme of exhibitions. The exhibitions are organised by the fig-futures project, where 16 shows take place across the UK over 16 weeks.