Belgium’s Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale showcases photographer Dirk Braeckman’s groundbreaking work at exploring the boundaries between photography’s liquid and ocular intelligence. Inhabiting the impossibly contradictory intermediate space between illusionism (where the picture represents somethings that is out there in the world) and modernism (where the picture is a self contained totality that reflects on itself as a medium), Braeckman’s world ask the right questions at the right time. His work could be considered post-photographic for he does not document reality when taking the photograph but instead when making the gelatin silver print in the darkroom and ultimately presenting his monumental work to the viewer in the exhibition space.
A couple of days ago, I was working with Argentine painter Andres Comastri who insists in using photographs as point of departure for isolating painterly gesture as an object. The problem with doing this is the inherent fragmentary quality of the photographic image. Of course, he is not alone in this kind of painterly exploration. Ed Ruscha and Gerhard Richter have been using photographs as their raw materials since the late seventies. Having said this, while in Richter, Ruscha and Comastri painting seems to follow photography as if in an extended dialogue, in Breackman painting is deliberately excluded and replaced by the dark room. Deploying the visual effects that can be achieved in the dark room., what is crucial to him is the image in itself instead of what the image indicates or represents. His images, however, are not mere plastic exercises but documentations of a reality that exceeds that very moment when the photo was taken.
The art world discovered his work in the early nineties when making the crossover from the photography circuit to the world of visual art when Jan Hoet invited him to hold his first exhibition at the Vereniging voor het Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst (Society for the Museum of Contemporary Art) in Ghent in 1995. At that point he had got tired of working in the darkroom in small trays and instead he started adapting the darkroom to create more ambitious liquid images. He aimed at scale, surface texture and density of the visual elements. All this was physical, messy and liquid. The camera was not protecting him anymore from the chemical aspects of the medium. Thus, the photographer, abandoned the safety of the camera to delve into the aspects that make the medium the most uncontrollable medium of them all. In his own words: ‘I like to have a physical relationship with the image. I don’t produce documentary photographs or windows onto reality; in my case, the image itself is a reality, an object on the wall. The result is a tableau. Most of my works are large and are never mounted behind glass. The sense of the matt, fragile and tactile photographic paper is part of the experience’.
Apart from the liquidity of the medium, he explores the effects of the camera flash as an element in the construction of the image. He deploys it as an autobiographical aspect of his work showing that he was right there and then. This, of course, contradicts the approach to the image as a pure one but constructs it as an object. Thus, his images inhabit a space in between purity, objectuality and experiential indexicality. Post-Photography at its best! J A T