2023, Daniella Geo - Shifting Grounds
From around its 100 th anniversary on, photography constituted histories. other than the classic one grounded on technological advancements and prowess. In the 1930s and in the late 1960s-early 1970s, photography became aligned with respectively the communication and the art systems. With the boom of illustrated press, photojournalistic material was consequently in high demand. Not only photography’s indexicality but also its narrative potential and serial usage were largely explored. Conceived as a means of communication, photography has ever since composed this system, sharing a common thought, production and history. Such shared grounds with the Arts came about decades later. Developments in sociology, anthropology and semiotics, with the photographic understood as a category, have informed numerous artists’ œuvres. More importantly, they have opened up new paths to definitely legitimize photography as an artistic practice beyond earlier borderline conceptions, freeing the medium from visual juggling. The use of photography by Pop Art and Conceptual Art as well as the fundamental dissemination of documentary photography approaches that made critical and programmatic use of the document aesthetics and, together have cultivated photography’s and art’s mutual interest and finally established, as it happened with Communications, a common thought, production and history.
It should be mentioned, nevertheless, that such an understanding has long faced resistance from major actors in the arts field when referring to artistic practices that used photography as end (as opposed to as support). The artistic practice of documentary photography has only been broadly accepted in the international art circuit in the 1990s and 2000s, depending of the region. This genre of photography was though crucial for consolidating the contemporariness of photography and art thinking.
Dani Ghercă’s (1988, Bucharest) photographic work is nurtured by this legacy and so is by the reverberations of the digital turn initiated in the 1990s and still finding its ways and theoretical base.
During the first nine years of his production, from 2010 to 2019, Ghercă worked with analogic photography on long-term projects that documented Bucharest, making use of both the document and the snapshot aesthetics. Bucharest (2010-2017), Tunnels and Pipes (2011-2015) and A Diagram of Utopia (2014-2017) are exemplary of that. Most series from this period are observations on urbanism – in its intrinsic relation to infrastructure and people’s living condition – within the very specific context of the country’s capital, where the impacts of becoming a global capitalist democracy intermingles with the lasting bequest of communism. Born the year before the fall of Ceaușescu’s regime, the artist was raised in one of the numerous residential complexes in a working-class neighborhood, having his parents migrated to the city in the 1970s in quest for better opportunities. A Diagram of Utopia depicts such urban landscapes focusing on the built environment and how people inhabit it and its surroundings. The collective edifices with numerous units are omnipresent and greatly shape public space and urban life and culture.
Housing stratification in contemporary Romania is a matter that appears transversally in Ghercă’s œuvre. Tunnels andPipes presents daily scenes of a group of unhoused people that have made the sewer near Bucharest’s Central Station their home. Indirectly, the series exposed the lack of urban structures to provide for people in vulnerable situation. But differently than the majority of Ghercă’s works that are thought to embody large format Diasecs for exhibition, this series is only available for viewing on his website. At least until now, with the exception of a triptych in which three different men, one in each image, are seen entering a hole on the pavement with their faces mainly unshown. In a public gallery context, the visitor cannot see much but strive to put him/herself on the other’s shoes. In contrast, the four largest administrative buildings of Bucharest that were built before 1989 and are currently nearly empty and unused are the subject of Four Houses (2015- 2016). Here, Ghercă does not resort to a large series of images detailing the constructions and their function. The work is simply made of four individual photographs of Casa Scinteii’s, Casa Radio’s, Casa Poporului’s, and Casa Stiintei’s facades, emphasizing their scope. In today’s urban planning these massive presences have partial life. Yet they hold their historic stature and are still determining of Bucharest’s identity. The images were shot with expired films as in most projects of Ghercă’s beginnings. This choice even if led by economic reasons engendered a contradictory gesture – that of perserving with decaying material – that is no void of symbolism. Neither are the visual results of much paler colors than those dreamt of or propagandized in times people believed in utopia. Ghercă has no intention to take a political stance and indeed his works have an ambiguous quality in which one might doubt where the critical commentary lies. The artist prefers to leave it to the eyes of the beholder.
Nowadays, he states that he no longer believes in the role of photography to document reality. And in a movement towards a more abstract proposal, Ghercă has inaugurated a shift in his work. In 2019, he gave in to the digital apparatus, as he had then more difficulties to buy film and his new medium format digital camera offered him high quality images and immediacy.
Critical artistic approaches tackling photography’s truth regime has permeated post-modern perspectives not being original to the digital advent. But somehow working with electronically processed images gave the artist the unapologetic freedom to detach his work from photography’s proximity to the idea of reality and documentary inclination. While he pursued his interest in urbanism and related issues.
His latest and ongoing series A Glimpse of Disconnection (2020- ) is not made in Bucharest, at least not the act of shooting. Aerial cityscapes from, so far, Paris, Berlin, London, Frankfurt, New York, Chicago, Dubai and Kuala Lumpur form the basis of this work although the locations are unidentifiable. Their interchangeability is key in the series and mainly attained through the use of Photoshop. It is not the first time Ghercă, who currently lives between Bucharest and Brussels, interferes on the images after photographing them. In Bucharest, for example, he has experimented with light leak-like exposure in the darkroom before developing the films. Some of the resulting images seem older, worn out or accidental. But in the new series, the gestures involved in the post-production have clearly grown in importance.
Playing with highlights and shadows to enhance some lines and obscure certain zones, Ghercă has created chameleonic images: they resemble from abstractions to electronic circuit boards to urban plans to anonymous cityscapes. In addition, the large format prints are at times placed in a direction other than the regular upward position, favoring the disorientation. The series give the impression of parallel realms. Still, it is not a matter of constructing a fiction but of building on the real to lay bare the intangible: the sense of disconnect as the title suggests. Of the estrangement stirred up by the impersonal, individualistic core of our metropolis. Of the disengagement from concrete reality provoked by our Big Tech dominated world system.
The series is expanding, as are the artist’s horizons.