#photography & visual arts
Positives is a series of eight large-format staged photographs Zbigniew Libera: Workers, Residents, Cyclists, Che. Next Shot, Defeat in a Cross-Country Race, Miracle, Nepal, The Dream of Bush.
Positives are recreations of well-known documentary, reporters’ and press photographs presenting contemporary images of war, destruction and death. All of them have become famous and circulated the world and are seen as symbols of traumatic events from recent history. Zbigniew Libera called the originals ‘negatives’, stressing that he chose them from his own memory, going back to the days of his childhood.
The prototypes of Positives include photographs showing the breaking of the barrier at the border between the Free City of Gdańsk and Poland in 1939 by German soldiers, the escape of a Vietnamese girl from the village of Trang Bang after a napalm bombing in 1972, Che’s corpse photographed as evidence that the revolutionary was dead, and a group of concentration camp prisoners liberated by the Soviet army. Thanks to the media, these images are firmly anchored in the collective memory; they are iconic pictures reproduced in history books, encyclopedias, and the press. In his series Libera carried out far-reaching transformations and manipulated the photographs to completely reverse their meaning. The artist explained:
The Positives cycle is another attempt to play with trauma. We are always dealing with remembered images of things, not the things themselves. I wanted to use this mechanism of seeing and remembering, to touch on the phenomenon of afterimage. This is, in fact, how we perceive these photographs [Positives] – flashbacks of the cruel original images pierce through the innocent scenes.
contemporary polish photography
In Libera’s photographs, the negative view of history is turned into a positive story (hence the title of the series, which is also a reference to key photographic terms, negatives and positives). Horror is transformed into an idyll. The photos for Positives are based on staged, vivid images, in which the artist, with the help of extras, recreated as accurately as possible all the shots captured by the photographers of the dramatic events. The structure of the composition was preserved, yet the situations created by Libera present banal scenes set in our contemporary context. An exception to this is his recreation of the photo of the Bolivian photographer Freddy Alborta, depicting Che Guevara immediately after his execution. In Che. Next Shot Libera meticulously reconstructed the original scene, but his photo looks as if it were taken straight after the famous shot known from the original (hence the title of this work – Next Shot). It shows how the revolutionary lights a cigar relaxing after the end of the photo session, during which he only pretended to be dead.
In his works, Libera analyses the relationship between what we see and what we remember of media coverage. He identifies the mechanisms, which allow for photographic manipulation and the fabrication of any information, having a semblance of truth.
Author: Ewa Gorządek, March 2015, transl. Bozhana Nikolova, March 2015