Overview participating photographers
In STATE BUSINESS the photographer Mari Bastashevski focuses on organizations and individuals who profit from the commercial aspects of protracted armed conflicts. On the basis of examples – in this case, the shadowy weapons deliveries to Armenia and Azerbaijan, which are involved in the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh – one can demonstrate how commerce fuels these conflicts. An array of images, text and documents expose the underlying mechanisms and raise questions about the economic and ethical aspects of trade related to conflicts. In this, Bastashevski’s concerns include the grey area between legal and illegal trade, the culture of secrecy, perverse stimuli, the overlap between governments and commercial enterprises, and the rationalizations denying responsibility.
Complex trading, based on proprietary knowledge and communicated through a privileged visual language, underpins all aspects of our global economy informing decision making and influencing the most basic human needs: food, shelter, energy, water. This language of money, while hypnotic in its abstraction, color and form, remains indecipherable to the average person who is nevertheless affected by its daily practice. Only a fluent few, the subjects of Hedge and the vast financial systems they represent, lay claim to its power and meaning.
Carole Condé & Karl Beveridge
With these two monumental images, a combination of staged scenes and collage, Karl Beveridge and Carole Condé illuminate both sides of the financial crisis and its aftermath: the haves and have-nots, the 1% and the 99%. THE PLAGUE links the environmental crisis and the economic crisis in an airport scene populated by contemporary and historic figures, representatives of a number of great financial crises since 1500, as well as economists and biologists. SCENE OTHERWISE is intended as a counterpoint, and is based on the Occupy camp which was set up in October and November, 2011, in Toronto. In this collage the issues that fed the Occupy movement are brought together and placed in an historical context.
Inspired by the fall of Lehman Brothers, the commercial bank, as a consequence of the credit crisis, Mathieu Bernard-Reymond created graphic representations of the data from financial markets, including those from the final seven days when shares in Lehman Brothers were traded. TRADES reveals the intensity of the financial world, in which recurring patterns appear, caused by the algorithms which represent the largest proportion of financial decisions, today initiated by computer programmes. In addition Bernard-Reymond used historical tick by tick data – high-speed share trading oriented to producing a high volume of small profits.
Between 2005 and 2007, on the eve of the crisis, Hin Chua worked for a large investment bank in the financial district of London. Chua took his camera to work with him every day. Before, during and after office hours – to the extent that the 24/7 international financial world is so bounded – Chua investigated “The City”. The result was a vast number of photos of a world that believed itself unassailable and walked into a wall, with eyes wide open.
Forty thousand European bureaucrats shuttle back and forth among Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg, where they generate an incomprehensible volume of paperwork and regulations. They move in a quasi-futuristic world of luxury, privilege and secrecy. In part out of irritation, in part out of fascination, Wiktor Dabkowski travelled to the heart of European might, in an attempt to comprehend a culture of lobbyists and exchanges in the corridors of power. He found himself in a labyrinth that could only be navigated with knowledge and skills that outsiders lack.
Research by the IMF has revealed that the world’s financial elite have parked about 32 trillion (!) dollars in tax havens. Their purpose is to hide the money from the internal revenue authorities in the countries in which these firms and individuals operate. It is estimated that about 80% of all international financial transactions take place via offshore banking. Thus it is possible for banks in the relatively insignificant Cayman Islands – the subject of THE TREASURE ISLAND – to have 2.1 trillion dollars on their books. The bitter irony, says Federico Estol, is that all the problems of national debt and budget shortages could be solved if countries could collect tax on this hidden wealth of the elite.
In her much praised documentary THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES Lauren Greenfield follows the family of a billionaire who loses it all in the economic crisis. On the eve of the crisis the resort mogul David Siegel and his younger wife Jackie have plans to build the biggest house in America. But when the real estate bubble bursts it is a death blow for the Siegels’ empire. Its loss demanded vast changes in their lifestyle, character and world-view. Their incapacity to adapt – particularly on Jackie’s part – led to a tragedy of epic proportions. Greenfield recorded it with a sharp but compassionate eye.
In the diptychs of SECRETS & CRISES Zoe Hatzyannaki always shows a building in Athens which houses a public institution, alongside a bit of detail from the same image, massively enlarged. The vague details suggest that there is something obscure and hidden, or even dubious going on behind the doors, windows and walls. Enlargement does not provide more clarity, but underscores the lack of transparency. With this project Hatzyannaki touches on the dubious role that the state played in the present Greek malaise. Sparked by the frustration and confusion among the Greeks, anxious about their future, the role of public institutions is now being seriously questioned.
In their PHOTOMONTAGES the two artists comprising kennardphillipps offer razor-sharp commentary on political and financial elites, and the way in which the two are intertwined with one another at the expense of the majority of the population and the welfare of the planet. Both artists do not see their work as autonomous, but as the visual arm of a protest movement resisting the present political and economic order.
For STUDIES FOR A HEAD portraits of David Cameron, the former PR man who became the prime minister of Britain, were printed on pages of the Financial Times. The paper is torn to pieces to expose the underlying story of the poverty of the many and the wealth of the few. The violent images echo the way the Conservative Party deals with the welfare state, the handicapped, the unemployed and the poor. kennardphillips answer destruction with destruction.
Three quarters of the income of the Nigerian government derives from the natural resources that are extracted from the Niger Delta. It is, quite literally, a dirty game: since the late 1950s about nine million barrels of raw oil have been spilled into the delta. The average life expectancy in the delta is 40 years, and 90% of the Nigerian population live in bitter poverty. In TROPICAL GIFT Lutz exposes the shadowy oil game with its losers and winners – to the extent there can be winners in this repellent game. Handshakes are exchanged among expats and local oilmen in the name of trade, and the soul and the country are betrayed for a quick profit.
In PROTOKOLL Lutz uses irony to analyse the environment in which political office-holders and other officials do their work. For three years he followed the official visits of a member of the Swiss Federal Council, in a world full of strictly prescribed protocols. The work shows how hierarchy and the theatre of power structure politics.
In America, unlike for instance in Europe, charity is largely an individual affair, and not institutionalized. During the economic heyday of the dot.com boom, in a city like New York there were almost non-stop banquets and parties for good causes. Although they were supposed to be about the homeless and poor, they primarily offered the givers a chance to be seen, to eat, to drink, to make contacts and enjoy themselves. It makes charity – such evenings still exist in the shrinking economy – into an ambiguous activity. Who are these evenings really for?
In 2008, the crisis had just started, Louis Porter came into the possession of the photographic archive of a financial newspaper from the early 1980s. The archive comprised 4000 photos and other sorts of visual material with regard to financial institutions, businessmen and business news. Porter used the images as a starting point for a second series, made in the same places but thirty years later, in a changed financial world. The result is a sampler of “gestures” and motifs that form the heart of the photographic vocabulary in which the world of high finance and international trade is captured.
We are inclined to think that institutions are driven by reason and collective interests of society. This era, Francisco Reina says, has shown how much of an illusion that idea is, certainly in Spain. Institutions, whether in the public or private sector, are to an increasing degree in the grip of small but very powerful political and economic groups, which have scarcely any contact with the society. Reina has digitally manipulated their bulwarks to make the inaccessibility and opacity of power visually perceptible.
In LITTLE ADULTS Anna Skladmann investigates what it must be like to grow up as a priviledged child in Russia – a country where there are enormous social and economic differences, and a whole class of the wealthy and powerful arose from the fall of communism. Skladmann penetrated that world, and like a court painter recorded the children in a way that reflects both the past and future of Russia.
Three decades of deregulation and growing income discrepancies in the United States have led to a middle class that is financially powerless. The complete DOWN THESE MEAN STREETS includes an over 50-metre-long collage in which the story of the deconstruction of the American dream is told on the basis of images, clippings and text, as seen through the eyes of those who have been left behind in the dust of the Great Recession. DOWN THESE MEAN STREETS investigates the years of the crisis within the broader context of the century which preceded them: post-war economic growth, deregulation, privatization and budget cuts (for everyone except the military) during and after the Reagan years, and the fatal blow to the idea of American invincibility and the culture of fear after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
For decades Germans knew they could avoid taxes by parking their money in bank accounts in Austria and Switzerland. Much of this money was carried across the borders physically, through the Customs posts that Jan Stradtmann has recorded. Now Germany has concluded a tax treaty with Switzerland which requires that Swiss banks turn over information on suspected clandestine accounts to Germany tax authorities. Since the treaty increased amounts of money and documents have surfaced in customs checks, as nervous tax dodgers try to get their cash and papers back into Germany, to once again stay ahead of the tax man.
BLAMEWORTHY arose as a response to an article that appeared in TIME in 2009: ‘25 People to Blame for the Financial Crisis’. The selection that TIME made included an eclectic company of politicians and CEOs, but also pointed an accusing finger at the public, who had eagerly participated in risky financial transactions like mortgages they could not really afford. From diverse websites Straight collected low resolution portraits of the main culprits, framed them uniformly and made them so dark that the faces can barely be seen through the blackness. The darkness reflects the shadowy nature of the actions of those involved. But, paradoxically enough, it also forces us to look more carefully, to see the guilty more clearly.
In his visual representation of the present economic crisis in America, Devin Yalkin lets the world of the political and financial elite collide with that of activists and demonstrators. How do hearings in the House of Representatives and the Senate in Washington relate to the large groups of people who took to the streets of New York to stand up for ideals, justice and human values? In gritty black and white Yalkin captures the chaotic, confused and tense state of the country.
Economic, political and social power is concentrated in the hands of relatively few people, who operate in a world quite distant from everyday reality. The public rituals that accompany their decision making take place locations that should be symbolic of the power of the people. Luca Zanier recorded the halls, in all their magnificence, at moments when they were devoid of human activity.