Holes in the Ground

If only it were possible to say, with reasonable accuracy, that the photographs show graves. Armed with pertinent quotations (from Barthes, Blanchot or Belting) and with volumes, whole libraries almost, of theoretical reflections (from theology to psychoanalysis), we could spin one of those tales about the relations of death and images, two phenomena so often, and so convincingly, presented as twinned. Focusing on the medium of photography: a death mask, a grave – or on the image as such: a crypt, a tombstone, an empty grave, a mark of death, an absence – we could hunt for the meanings of the works from the Holes in the Ground series. Which, by the way, are physically large enough to suggest to the viewer that a premature try-out of a suitable hole in the ground may actually be an option. In the worst case, therefore, we would see the series as a suggestive memento mori. It would not have to be at odds with the automatic associations rooted in Polish culture, in which the earth and the grave, even mentioned separately, constitute a sort of interpretative filter or visual complex that are most difficult to eliminate (all those graves in various places, scattered on foreign soil or dug in native soil, anonymous graves etc.).
In the best case, it is not impossible that the act of identifying an image-grave would turn our attention to the most basic self-referential character of these photographs, to the fact that they could be called meta-images. After all, in such an equation death is usually considered the key to understanding the status of the image as non-familiar. In this arrangement, an image about death or an image in the place of death is the most literal representative of this status; paradoxically, it is also a story about this status, at least in some cases. Thus, they are images about images.
(…)
Dug exclusively for the needs of producing an image and then immediately abandoned, these holes in the ground even more seriously disturb this sequential relationship, the one that tells us what came first and what can be cognised on the basis of what. The object is preceded by the image, also in the literal sense. The holes are ten times larger than the negatives that would later serve to produce the image; but this is the phase we do not get to see. This is because the photographic film is then used to produce further enlargements, this time not numbered with full numbers. We are thus faced with images for which “reality” – understood in the traditional manner, that is, as the source or beginning of an image, especially a photographic image – does not constitute a point of reference, but rather is only a stage (and not the first stage, either). These stages are subjected to entirely arbitrary transforming operations, the effect of which is finally viewed by us.
These operations, even though mathematical, are not precise. Yet they do not aim at making the images fully unreal. The strokes of a spade, the leaves and grains of sand are still discernible, and the graves – or, more generally and in keeping with the declaration in title: holes in the ground – can be distinguished. Thus, these operations do not lead to abstraction understood as departure from figuration. They evidently break with the understanding of representation as a reference to reality existing outside the image and prior to the image. First and foremost, however, they take naturalness away from the very procedure of producing the image, making it subject to entirely different, unclear and arbitrary rules. It is those procedures – ones which perhaps ring with a distant echo of the seemingly transparent principles of economics – that abstraction, ever present in images, is sought.
Excerpt from „Holes in the Ground” by Łukasz Zaremba.
Translated form Polish by Klaudyna Michałowicz.