In response to a commission to 'document' Gabon, Broomberg & Chanarin made several trips to the West African country to photograph a series of rare initiation rituals, using only Kodak film stock that had expired in the 1960's. In the late 1970's the French-Swiss filmdirector Jean Luc Godard famously claimed that this early colour film was inherently racist, because it was better at depicting white rather than black skin. Using outdated chemical processes Broomberg & Chanarin salvaged just a single frame from the many rolls of expired film they exposed during these trips. This piece called Ektachrome 78 serves as a starting point for the exhibition.
Another key work in the exhibition is a billboard-sized photograph of Shirley, a 1950's model for the Kodak Eastman Company. Her portrait was distributed to photography labs all over the world as a visual reference for correct exposure. Shirley became a benchmark for 'normal' Caucasian skin. In the eighties, Kodak eventually developed a colour film that was capable of rendering darker tones. The company director described this film as being able to "photograph the details of a dark horse in low light."
ABOUT THE EXHIBITION
Kodak Ektachrome 78 and Shirley are presented alongside works whose parameters were dictated to Broomberg & Chanarin by archival material of their deceased family friend, amateur photographer and anatomist, Dr. Rosenberg. After their trips to West Africa they inherited his darkroom equipment. Some of his notes were about making photographic test strips to determine the correct exposure time. Broomberg & Chanarin followed these instructions to produce a series of oversized darkroom experiments they call Strip Tests.
The connection between photography and racism is further explored in the Polaroid Revolutionary Workers Movement series. In 1970, Caroline Hunter, a young chemist working for the Polaroid Corporation based in the United States, stumbled upon evidence that her company indirectly supported the apartheid regime in South Africa. Polaroid was able to provide their ID-2 camera system to the South African state, to efficiently produce images for the infamous passbooks, which the black population was required to carry with them. The camera included a boost button designed to increase the flash when photographing subjects with dark skin, and two lenses which allowed for the production of a portrait and profile image on the same sheet of film. Hunter and her partner Ken Williams formed the Polaroid Workers Revolutionary Movement, and successfully campaigned for a boycott of the apartheid government. Broomberg & Chanarin's series of Polaroids, made with a renovated Polaroid ID camera, considers the proposition that prejudice might be inherent in the medium of photography itself.
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin recently won the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize and the ICP Infinity Award. They have published nine monographs and have had numerous international exhibitions including the Museum of Modern Art (New York), Tate (London), Gwagnju Biennale, Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam), the International Center of Photography (New York), KW Institute for Contemporary Art (Berlin), The Photographers' Gallery (London), Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art (Doha) and the Shanghai Bienale. Broomberg & Chanarin are Visiting Fellows at the University of the Arts London. Their work is represented in major public and private collections including The Museum of Modern Art, Tate Modern, the Stedelijk Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, Musee de l'Elysee and the International Center of Photography. They are represented by Lisson Gallery, London and Goodman Gallery, South Africa.
Foam is sponsored by the BankGiro Loterij, De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek, Delta Lloyd, Gemeente Amsterdam, Olympus and the VandenEnde Foundation.