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2021, Katerina Gregos - Tunnels and Pipes

I was absolutely thrilled to discover Dani Gherca’s riveting series Tunnels and Pipes (2011-2015), a photographic series depicting a community of homeless people in Bucharest who made a sewer their home – a space of 40 metres long 1.9 cm in height, and barely 2 metres wide. Apart from revealing another one of life’s totally marginalized and disenfranchised communities in the starkest way, the work has a totally immersive effect. It is rare nowadays that photography – so ubiquitous and thus devaluated – can deliver such a punch in the stomach.

Had Susan Sontag been around to see these images, surely they would have been an interesting case study for her seminal book on photography’s fraught relationship with human suffering “Regarding the Pain of Others”. Gherca’s eye is unforgiving, stark and unsentimental – but it is precisely the directness and frankness of this series that imparts it its strength; though there is clearly no intent towards emotional manipulation, the images are moving in that silent, subliminal way that does not need to shout “I identify!” It is commendable how Gherca dives into his subject matter, not documenting curious life stories from afar, but immersing himself in the situations he investigates. He is clearly aware of the trappings of the politics of representation, and – though close to the subjects – he somehow manages to afford them the little privacy they have. Looking at these claustrophobic, subaltern images, one feels transported inside these cavernous, low-ceilinged spaces and their destitute inhabitants, whose broken gaze still asserts an attempt to say, “I am still here, I exist.”

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