© Julián Barón
A few weeks ago, I wrote about some photobooks which have been shortlisted for a new award at Paris Photo. Among these books was C.E.N.S.U.R.A., by Spanish photographer Julián Barón. When I found this book over the summer, it immediately grabbed my attention. While it's not uncommon to see photography projects (or books) which take a political topic as their theme, C.E.N.S.U.R.A. (C.E.N.S.O.R.S.H.I.P.) functions in a much different way from the average book: it incorporates a political statement into its own photographic language.
Barón's ambitious goal is to attack a "false" kind of image through his own images. What exactly is he after? "In the great circus that is politics," Barón writes in the book, "photography and censorship align to manipulate people through a false use of the image as a document." And how does overexposing images work against this tendency? "Trying to break down the use of the camera, it is possible to make photography censor censorship in order to, negative against negative, offer something positive." The result of Barón's technique can be startling; entire swathes of the image are washed out by his flash.
They are boring people living in a boring world.
Barón says that he started taking pictures of political posters in 2007, during local elections in Spain. Still, he didn’t approach politicians until 2010. He says that he was inspired by Muntadhar al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at George W. Bush: "the feeling and the strength of that journalist made me think about the possibility of attacking through the language of photography." He states plainly that his photogaphs "are a provocation," and says the the politicians he's photographed are "boring people living in a boring world."
Brings up a question I've been thinking about lately regarding technique in general. There are two poles to the idea of technique, I think. On the one hand, It's now relatively easy to produce technically good images without any knowledge of the craft of photography. This can lead to some interesting projects. At the same time, there are also certainly projects where it helps (or is necessary) to know how to really use a camera. Someone could look at Barón's photographs and say, "well, those are just bad photos, he needs to fix his light meter!" Fair enough, but he's clearly spent some time to develop this particular kind of overexposure, even if it will be dismissed by some.
Personally, I'm not too interested in the technical details behind C.E.N.S.U.R.A., but I'm a lot more interested in the reasons why Barón decided to shoot this way—and I do think they are compelling. When we're talking about photography as an artistic statement, I want to suggest that, just as shooting radically overexposed images is a conscious choice, so too is shooting a perfectly exposed, beautiful image. Obviously, there is no right or wrong way to take a photograph. But these days, at least, the thinking behind these choices is a lot more interesting to me than the aesthetic qualities of the image itself. At first glance, Barón's project might be difficult to look at, but he's making a sincere attempt to push the meaning of photographs.