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GALLERY 2013

visual communication practice

Facing (orig. Im Angesicht)

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Description of idea

Describe your idea and concept of your work in relation to the festival outlines:

Throughout the book project, titled “facing“ (original: „im Angesicht”), I am dealing with
different aspects of the meat industry.
I am using documentary photography to take a glimpse behind the scenery of slaughterhouses
and to further emphasize certain parts of it. This happens through the genres of interior-,
still life- and portrait photography.
What attracted me to work on this theme was to actually deal with the theme “slaughterhouses”
without showing the process of the slaughter. My target is to visualize the surroundings
of the event, but to renounce any type of assessment.Pieces of meat or even living
animals do not (at least in the common way) take part. The freshly chopped heads of the
creatures reflect a certain type of calmness. They look as if they were standing somewhere
between life and death. The rooms look sterile and cleaned up. Through this I am entrusting
the viewer with his imagination. The more or less bloody clothes of the workers (portraits)
make the viewer suggest their occupation, but do not keep him from feeling sympathy for them.

What kind of communication approach do you use?

I think showing the rooms of the abattoir without an obvious use of a wagging finger even has a stronger affect on people than with it.
In this way, the viewer of the picture dares to get lost in the picture more easily than by showing a picture with blood and cruelty on it.
Additionally, the representation of the motives is mostly light and color-reduced. This emphasizes the sterility
of the actions in a practical, but also in an emotional way.

What are in your opinion concrete benefits to the society because of your communication?

It pushes people to think about meat consumption.

What did you personally learn from creating your submitted work?

First of all I was very curious myself to see slaughterhouses in reality- especially because I wanted to know if it would strengthen my (former) decision to live as a vegetarian.
But, to my surprise, even I, who denies to eat meat for reason and who had done a lot of research before, had to find out that working in a slaughterhouse (me as a photographer) makes you dull after a while and that p.e. pigs are, once they are cut into half, only a piece of meat and hardly any emotion is left to it.

Why is your work, GOOD communication WORK?

It catches one's eye and stays in mind.

Where and how do you intent do implement your work?

I would like to show it in even more magazines and exhibitions all over the world.

Did your intervention had an effect on other Media. If yes, describe the effect? (Has other media reported on it- how? Were you able to change other media with your work- how?)

Yes. It was published in quiet a few magazines and blogs. People from all over the world contacted me and told me that it had made an affect on them. It also was exhibited a lot, like the Goethe- Institut in Washington, D.C., the "Haus der Photographie" in Hamburg, Germany and "Museum für Fotografie" in Berlin.


Curators comments More info on Curators & Editors ›

I've chosen this because it seems to be an investigation of the artist's own position on animal rights and the morality of industrial food systems.

Initially I felt the project's ambiguity was a problem - that the "renouncing any type of assessment" just reinforced our alienation in regards to our relationship with the subject. After all, not "showing a picture with blood and cruelty on it" is already the modus operandi of the dominant food systems. Is this merely doing the same thing? Is the artist just cleaning up a messy reality (again)?

Maybe. But I'm not sure. And this space of uncertainty can definitely be inhabited by a criticality. The bloodless sterility and calm industrial atmospheres are menacing enough without the gore - for me anyway - but I don't eat meat. Would I still find these spaces fascist if I was an unrepentant carnivore? Or would they correspond to my subconscious consumer expectations for the tidy processing of consumptive desires?

It's true images of living creatures being cruelly slaughtered could just make me turn away and disengage. But perhaps there is another perspective again that doesn't rely on shock, yet doesn't stylise death, suffering and exploitation out of the picture?

View other works commented by Jason Grant  ››

This work relies on traditional ideas of documentary, and is highly impactful in terms of emotional response. As a group, the images rely on an editing/representational strategy based on two categories: in one, the empty rooms, tools, garments of the workers etc. create a strong indexical presence of past or future use- the actual violence of slaughtering is never expressly shown (except the remains), but the 'trace' of it is evident and exists as what the viewer constructs or imagines.

This is contrasted with the completely de-contextualized portraits of the workers on photographic seamless (a strategy used quite a bit in photographers like Richard Avedon for example, or in a different way August Sander and his 'typologies'). This forces the viewer to scrutinize the portrait in a way that both denies clues (no action or relationship to anything else in the scene), and magnifies the reading of emotions in the face, where the gaze of the person is directed, their posture, their general physiognomy, etc, + any additional clues from a previous 'action' (blood splattered on their apron, etc.).

This is a highly effective strategy. I think the critique of it as effective communication is that while it engages us emotionally through what we imagine has happened in the scenes or environment, and there is a lot of photographic description going on of physical objects, it does not tell a particular story, or get inside of the actual experiences of the people in the photographs. This was a criticism of Avedon and others as well. I am not sure what a strategy would be here, but I think it does merit some investigation... but a lot of really interesting ideas could come out of this, such as our interpretations of the images contrasted in the actual documentation of the worker's understanding of what they do, how they rationalize it, etc. Exploring an expanded 'storyline' in the work to augment our immediate emotional responses to the images might lead to interesting engagements with viewers and audiences.

View other works commented by Scott Townsend  ››

Other comments

Juun
4 years ago

After having exhibited this work a lot of times and talking to people about this my target of this work seems to work out.
I have been thinking about showing all the bloody mess first, but that I have seen so many times before. The exaggerated sterile look of the clean rooms to me is a way to hint the cruelty and to emphasize the emotional coldness of the actions that happen in those rooms. And me, as a vegeterian, I don't feel guilty by looking at the bloody type of pictures. I only feel sad. But the carnivores I've been talking to told me that by looking at those bloody pictures they feel guilty and don't want to look at them any longer. My pictures also make them feel guilty, but they keep on looking, start to discover the rooms and reconstruct the happening in their imagination. So in my opinion that is quite an achievment! It seems to push people to think about the meat industry and I am proud of that.

Curators comments

This work has been commented by 2 curator(s):
Jason Grant Scott Townsend go to comments ›

Entry details

Title

Facing (orig. Im Angesicht)


Headline

Slaughterhouses in Germany


Concept author(s)

Julia Unkel


Concept author year(s) of birth

1982


Concept author(s) contribution

I did everything on my own.


Country

Germany


Competition category

visual communication practice


Competition subcategory

static


Competition field

nonacademic


Competition subfield

professional


Subfield description

"Facing" was my final thesis at the University of applied sciences in Dortmund, Germany. Since, I'm trying to earn my living with working as a freelance photographer. I had several jobs for magazines, p.e. "der Spiegel"