The term “blind spot” refers to a physiological characteristic of the human and animal eye; the area of the retina with no photoreceptors, and therefore “blind.” In popular usage it is the area around a vehicle that the driver cannot see. In everyday speech, it is what one does not see, cannot see, or what cannot be seen.
The term can be used to stand for the parts of the visible world that are built from language, discourse, knowledge, memory, and preconceptions. It summons the photography debates of the nineteenth century, in which a mere “copy” or image of reality was inferior to art’s imaginative capacity, and our contemporary blindness to the torrent of advertising and media images.
The proliferation of digital images and inflated forms of visibility point both to a “rarefaction of images” (Marie-José Mondzain) and a “decline of the visual” (Jean-Luc Godard). The distinction between the terms visual and image can be understood respectively as purely technical perception, and the added value of an image that is “always something more or less than itself” (Serge Daney). Further, there are no “good” or “bad” images, but images that require critical judgement, as opposed to those that stupefy the gaze and mind. Photographs, also, too often aestheticize and reinforce stereotypes, in ignorance of the equivocal quality of images. Images function through gaps and enigmas, whereas only army orders and advertisements come across loud and clear (Gilles Deleuze). Christopher Pinney provides further illumination in his text on Walter Benjamin’s “salutary estrangement” in the Berlin Documentary Forum 2 magazine.
In light of recent debates over the photographic image in the digital era, and the in reflection of the documentary form today, “A Blind Spot” (31 May – 1 July 2012), curated by Catherine David, looks at the work of three generations of artists and photographers who interrogate photography and film.
Eric Baudelaire explores an obscure historical episode in which photography is put the task of visualizing oppressive structures within landscapes. Elisabetta Benassi, David Goldblatt, and Christopher Williams present three very different and extraordinary acts of documentary classification. Hassan Khan deconstructs châabi (Egyptian popular music and dance) and the Middle East-inspired experiments of English musician Muslimgauze. Joachim Koester’s photographs operate in a field of tension between depiction and narrative content, and Vincent Meessen goes in search of the French colonial child soldier used by Roland Barthes in his classic semiotic analysis. Olaf Nicolai examines the frontiers of the exhibition space, and Melik Ohanian presents a work created for the 2011 Sharjah Biennial, where it eventually could not be shown. Efrat Shvily series 100 Years looks at the Israeli “situation” and the illusion of hiding in a man-made natural environment. Jeff Wall presents Cold Storage (2007), a series he has been working on since the mid-1990s informed by documentary tradition.
Presented in the framework of Berlin Documentary Forum 2, “A Blind Spot” is funded by Capital Cultural Fund (Hauptstadtkulturfonds) with the friendly support of Institut français.