As forces clash in Tripoli amidst conflicting proclamations and general confusion, it seems an opportune moment to review my friend Raoul de Lange’s photo-journalism instillation, entitled Mug Shots. Raoul’s project, completed as the exam exhibition portion of his photojournalism degree from the Royal Art Academy in The Hague, is noteworthy for its uncompromising and provocative iconoclasm: Raoul did not himself take a single photograph for this, his graduation project in photojournalism. Despite or because of this, Raoul’s exhibition was awarded the Paul Schuitema Prijs for photography and graphic design, and has now been nominated for the Steenbergen Stipendium, awarded annually to a student from one of the five accredited photography programs in the Netherlands for general excellence. The work has undeniably hit a live nerve, and rightfully so.
Mug Shots is simple in its conception and complex in its ramifications, both aesthetic and political. Raoul co-opted images of violence from the various revolutionary uprisings of the “Arab Spring,” most of them appropriated from new technology sites such as YouTube and Twitter, and reduced these images to pixels before blowing the new, tweaked images back up. The result is a highly abstract -and strangely beautiful- grid of color blocks with no discernible relation to the original images of atrocity from which they sprung. Raoul then transferred these abstract images to t-shirts, pillow cases and coffee mugs, creating a sort of boutique emporium within the gallery in which these various commodities could be bought and sold. (Quite literally: the mugs were sold for six euros, the shirts for seventeen, and the pillowcases for fifteen.) Small tags on the commodities displayed the original, gruesome picture from which each image sprung; additionally, a video display of shifting colors could be transformed, by pushing a prominent red button, into video footage of streetside carnage in Libya and elsewhere. The result is a shockingly literal enactment of the means through which revolutionary violence from “somewhere else” is mediatized and disseminated on a global scale as, essentially, a shock commodity.
The original run of Raoul’s show has now closed, but the exhibition will be repeated from September 3rd through October 30th at the Netherlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam. Meanwhile, the video portion of the instillation will be included in an exhibition at the Vrije Academia in the Hague, on the subject of “War photography and conflict ten years after 9/11,” which will run from September 10th through October 30th. I encourage anyone in the Netherlands to check it out. Meanwhile, further stills from Raoul’s show, along with the text of a short review article which I composed about it, are available after the jump. Continue reading