Everard Read Gallery Johannesburg
Greg Marinovich won a Pulitzer Prize for spot news in 1991, for a photograph of a mob brutally stabbing and setting alight a man dragged from a train in Soweto, and was the runner-up for the same award in the following two years. In 2000, with Joao Silva, he authored The Bang Bang Club: Snapshots from a Hidden War. It is a harrowing account of a group of four photographers – Ken Oosterbroek and Kevin Carter, in addition to the authors – who risked life and limb to visualise the prelude to democracy in South Africa in the early 1990s. There is no doubt that Marinovich’s oeuvre from the early 1990s is one that subjects viewers and readers to an emotional journey at the edges of human intensity. Which is probably why his new exhibition is an absorbing surprise (although not entirely unpredictable given the clubby surroundings of the Everard Read Gallery). The 30 large photographs in Scars were taken between in 1996 and 1997, while Marinovich was chief photographer for Associated Press in Jerusalem. With varying degrees of intimacy, distance and scale, the photographs on show encompass aspects of Jerusalem, Nablus, the Jalazoun refugee camp, and more generally the West Bank, Golan Heights, and the Judean desert. At first it might seem curious that this exhibition chooses to showcase a ten-year-old body of work from an award-winning photojournalist photographing a deeply entwined and ever-shifting contemporary crisis. But by the end of viewing this body of work, it becomes clear that Marinovich has put together a version of the subject in which the visual power and impact of the exhibition resides in it being a self-conscious photographic commentary on the distance of time itself.These are almost entirely unpeopled landscapes that Marinovich has composed. Humans are variously absent because military position has been abandoned or overrun, missing because a curfew is rigidly enforced, displaced through removal and eviction, or waiting for a new settlement to become inhabitable. Where people do feature, it is as fragments of whole beings, in the background, framed half outside of photographs. It makes for a set of quiet images, unshouting in their focus on the thickly laid and deeply entrenched scars of social and political shifts. The sense of silence is doubled by the austerity of the natural geography, and by the scale of their bleached reproduction in the exhibition. Sometimes it feels like looking at Ansel Adams at work in the middle of a drought cycle. Of course, like Adams, the human hand is evidenced everywhere in Marinovich’s photographs, constantly marking the landscape in an array of methodical repetitions and forgotten impulses: graffiti-strewn walls, discarded refrigerators and trucks, make-shift barricades, interlaced sheep and goat trails, bullet-ridden objects of target practice.One of the reasons why Marinovich’s exhibition is a successful and significant is that it has few of the conventions of a tightly worked photo-essay. The Middle East conflict is horribly fractured by overstated narratives that bend into ideological rigidity, and yet another set on adamant photographic documents would only have added to the archival paralysis. Rather, Scars is a particularly fine example of how the production of stand-alone photographs – of the sort that are so often tailored for news media – can be held together in an exhibition that repeats a single, geographically defined subject. Such is the strength of the images themselves, and their collation for display. It is no surprise, therefore, to know that Marinovich is currently picture editor at the Sunday Times.Marinovich’s exhibition is a contribution is to an archive rather than a narrative order. The photographs are a particular constitution of the archive that is derelict and worn by paths of acquaintance and hostility that identifiably date back to at least 1967. But rather than an archaeological cross-section of sedimentation, the photographs archive what is on the surface (for now at least). And only the ongoing enlargement of this archive will contextualise and reveal the place of these important photographs in the archaeological layers of the future.