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Issue No. 17 - Enigma

OLIVER CHANARIN & ADAM BROOMBERG: HOLY MOLY

Our Holy Bible was inspired by a chance viewing in Bertolt Brecht’s archive, which we visited whilst re- searching another project, War Primer 2. Whilst we were there we came across this remarkable artifact: Brecht’s personal Bible, which we noticed because it had a picture of a racing car glued to the cover. As we looked through it we saw that he’d underlined passages, written notes in the margin, and stuck in pictures and pieces of paper. It was a different way of looking at a text that we grew up reading every day; it changed the context of the book for us.

Reading the Bible cover to cover is a harrowing experience, some of the words, the stories, are almost unbearable in their violence: the ways in which God enforces his power and agency over his subjects - ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ – it’s often barbaric. When it’s something you’re taught at a young age, and in such a ritualistic fashion, it becomes a form of propaganda that you just assimilate - it was a very different experience to come back to it as an adult.

Magic-13'ʹAnd it came to pass'ʹ – Esther 5:1, Holy Bible, Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, MACK/AMC, 2013 
 
 
Magic-04'ʹAnd it came to pass'ʹ – Genesis 29:25, Holy Bible, Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, MACK/AMC, 2013 
 

 We were introduced to the work of Israeli philosopher Adi Ophir around this time, and we were struck by his argument that the Old Testament is, fundamentally, a parable for the growth of modern gover- nance: God chooses his people, determines a set of commandments, or laws, and then punishes those who break them. Adi’s text ‘Divine Violence’ highlights that God essentially reveals himself through these acts of catastrophe. We constantly witness death on an epic scale and the victims hardly ever know what they have done to deserve such extreme retribution.

This reading of the Bible reveals an unspoken contract that we are all forcibly bound into with the mod- ern state, and our naïve acceptance of the harsh punishments the state meters out; prison, the death sentence, the war on drugs, the war on terror...Our education in photography has been through look- ing at images, rather than taking them, and we’ve seen time and again the ways in which the camera has been drawn to sites of human suffering since the inception of the medium. But, interestingly, the camera is not used merely to record these catastrophic events; it becomes a participant in them too.

Our studies of Brecht revealed his deep concern about the use, or currency, of images within printed me- dia—a relatively new medium at that time. He described press images as hieroglyphics in need of decoding rather than documents to be implicitly trusted. His concern is ours too, and we wanted our Bible to reflect photography’s preoccupation with and involvement in catastrophe. We’re seeing a vast number of images of conflict circulating within current mainstream media that are powerless to affect any real political action. Despite the bedlam we encounter in God’s judicial reckonings, there’s a regular meter to the text, repetitions that serve a didactic function. One particular phrase, ‘And so it came to pass’, resonated with us—it became something of a ritual in itself, the process of underlining each one. The images of magic tricks we paired with the words were intended as conceptual interjections—it’s a little like the use of “meanwhile...” in silent movies. These words seemed such a benign way to move from one catastrophic event, on to the next, but we ultimately learn to accept we’re being told the truth, no matter how great a leap of faith is needed. The images act as a counter to this: acrobatic stunts, card games, magicians, sleight of hand—all appear as little miracles. Accompanied by images, the phrase acts as a little Brechtian reminder that this isn’t reality, but a story we are being told, emphasizing man’s ultimate impotence in the face of absolute power. So it actually reiterates that agency: that someone is behind the scenes, behind the smoke and mirrors, controlling the whole show.

Magic-01'ʹAnd it came to pass'ʹ – Genesis 14:1, Holy Bible, Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, MACK/AMC, 2013 

 

Magic-07'ʹAnd it came to pass'ʹ – 1 Samuel 7:2, Holy Bible, Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, MACK/AMC, 2013 
 
Magic-08'ʹAnd it came to pass'ʹ – 2 Samuel 15:1, Holy Bible, Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, MACK/AMC, 2013 
 

 

Magic-03'ʹAnd it came to pass'ʹ – Genesis 24:15, Holy Bible, Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, MACK/AMC, 2013 
 
 
Magic-15'ʹAnd it came to pass'ʹ – Ezekiel 24:14, Holy Bible, Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, MACK/AMC, 2013 

 

by oliver chanarin and adam broomberg

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