Fading into the Foreground

2006 -

 

Work in Progress (ca. 1,850 Photos)

 

Fading into the Foreground has been photographed in colour on negative film with an analog camera. 16 early negatives from the series have been scanned for installation presentation, and 6 photographs printed (A4: 21 x 29.7 cm) for exhibition presentation in wooden frames.

 

All the negatives are eventually to be scanned - the series as installation is to be presented as a digital projection.

 

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The photo series consists chiefly of portraits or snapshots taken internationally of civilians wearing camouflage design or other military-style fashion on the street, while going about their daily business. I have taken some 1,800 photographs for this series, since 2006.

 

For years it has been in vogue to wear the soldiers uniform as clothing, but the trend appeared to have become more in 2006; for this artwork I have taken photographs in places that I happened to be visiting – to exhibit, give lectures or on holiday:
Cologne city centre (D), Budapest (HU), London (GB) Jerusalem (IL), Berlin (D), Amsterdam (NL), Lublin, Warsaw (PL), Bochum (D), New York, Boston (USA), Munich (D), Paderborn (D), Kassel (during Documenta 12) (D), Glasgow (GB) Faro (P), Braunschweig (D), San Francisco (USA), Vienna (AT), Zurich (CH), Vancouver (CAN), New Orleans (USA), Sofia (BG), Biel/Bienne (CH), Montreux (CH), Lausanne (CH), Basel (CH), Strasbourg (FR), Liverpool (GB) Ljubljana (SL), Edinburgh (GB), Exeter (GB), Totnes (GB), Palma de Mallorca (ES), Valldemossa/Mallorca (ES), Deià/Mallorca (ES), Soller/Mallorca (ES), Cologne-Kalk (D), Norwich (UK), Lowestoft (UK), Southwold (UK) and Wrozlaw, Poland.

 

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’It is evident that a culture born 
out of and built around resistance to hegemonic domination would inevitably develop into a culture 
of camouflage. In repressing resistance, power only makes it stronger by forcing it to create more 
subtle and sophisticated strategies for survival.‘
Aarnoud Rommens, "C stands for Censorship", in AS Mediatijdschrift no 176 Winter 2005-06 
Peter Bürger, Theory of the Avant-Garde, Theory and History of Literature, Volume 4, Antwerpen: p. 68
All Our Tomorrows: The Culture of Camouflage
http://kunstraum.uni-lueneburg.de/projekte/e-allourtomorrows.html

For the first power point presentation, I selected 16 of the Fading into the Foreground images taken in Cologne and Jerusalem, of young Palestinians, Israelis and Germans civilians, but also of police or soldiers from Israel or Germany, wearing military-style clothing, as a commentary on the controversial stationing of German marines along the Lebanese coast functioning as a “peacekeeping” force with Unifil in the autumn of 2006; 6 of these (16) were shown as A3 photos in the exhibition “Politics” at the Künstlerhaus Dortmund (D) 15.2-30.3.2008

 

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In early summer 2006, even before the war in Lebanon had occurred, when I was invited to present work in Israel for the c.sides festival, I decided to embark on the photo series Fading into the Foreground, realising that because of the then and continuing ubiquitous military-look, a war zone might not appear to look so different from a peace zone, bar the casualties. Photographed in the series are also “real” military or police and military vehicles. It is not therefore necessarily always clear whether the illustrated people or cars are civilian, constabulary or martial.

 

A new consciousness has developed globally, towards the possibility of the symptoms of war breaking out arbitrarily and anywhere, in the form of attacks at bus stops, on trains, in cafés, on airplanes: these general anxieties are reflected in the ongoing development of a camouflage dress code. I started photographing mid June 2006 in Cologne, where I live. On 30th June, the day of the World Cup football quarterfinals between Germany and Argentina, in a manner unprecedented and very discomforting to me, coming from a family of German Jewish Holocaust survivors, crowds carried and wore German flags while singing the German National Anthem. The German press guaranteed what was echoed in television interviews with football fans at the time that this newly established self-assuredness was not nationalism but patriotism – for the first time since the war, Germans were allowing themselves to feel pride under the umbrella, the common ground of football, a competitive game but not war; and they called it a “summer fairytale”.

 

14th August 2006, the ceasefire in Israel was confirmed after 33 days of war with Lebanon. At this time I photographed camouflage being worn by civilians on the streets of Budapest and London. I photographed the same in Jerusalem from 30.8.-5.9.2006.

 

This photo series grew out of the research and artwork that I have made on the fascist history of the fashion house Hugo Boss that made Nazi uniforms during World War 2. Boss has become one of the world’s largest fashion companies but now creates only fashion accessories. In denial of its own history, Hugo Boss AG refused to publish the completed research that they authorised from Elisabeth Timm in 1997 (www.metzingen-zwangsarbeit.de). These days, contrariwise, even if not produced by Boss, the military look has become a commonplace and conspicuous mode.

 

Some years after 9.11. and the USA’s over-aggressive answer to these terrorist attacks, the war in Iraq is still raging - millions of refugees are fleeing the civil war in Syria, leaving house, home and culture, taking only the clothes on their backs, on the run for their lives from Isis, the Islamic State. The attack on Paris’s satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which resulted in 12 deaths and 11 injured was perpetrated by an Islamist terrorist group - Al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen. “Michael Morell, former deputy director of the CIA, suggested that the motive of the attackers was "absolutely clear: trying to shut down a media organisation that lampooned the Prophet Muhammad".”1 In November 2015 further terrorist attacks in Paris the name of Isis, left 129 dead and 350 wounded and in Beirut 43 people were killed and 200 more were injured during a series of coordinated suicide bombings.

 

There has been an escalation in unrest and war internationally. The Revolution of 2011 in Egypt; and the uprising in Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park, that took place in 2013 – these had been peaceful demonstrations, which were quashed by state authority. The Syrian Civil War began with unrest in the early spring of 2011 within the context of the Arab Spring protests against their government, which responded with a crackdown that developed into an armed rebellion; and that consequently resulted in millions of Syrians seeking refuge in other countries from 2014 onwards2. From 2014 unrest was also to be seen in the Ukraine – what started out as anti-government and Russian separatist demonstrations in the aftermath of the Ukrainian revolution then developed into a war.

 

We do not have a world war but the wars that we see waged daily on our television screens, whether by armies or individual terrorists is echoed in a universal street wear of urban war-fashion. The title Fading into the Foreground describes what camouflage as army uniform that has been designed to look like foliage and blend into a landscape background doesn’t do in the city. Civilians who wear camouflage or khaki are visibly demonstrating their readiness for action, or an act of aggression.

One of the protagonists in “Falling Man” comments thus 10 days after 9/11:
‘A dozen people were grouped around a guide near the staircase to the east balcony, gazing at the sky ceiling, the gold-leaf constellations, with a guardsman and his dog standing alongside, and her mother could not help commenting on the man’s uniform, the question of jungle camouflage in mid-town Manhattan.
”People are leaving, you’re coming back.”’
“Falling Man” (p 34,) by Don DeLillo 2007, Picador ISBN 978-0-330-45618-0

 

1 Bilefsky, Dan (7 January 2015). "Terrorists Strike Charlie Hebdo Newspaper in Paris, Leaving 12 Dead". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 January 2015. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Hebdo_shooting#cite_note-nytimes2-69

2 The severity of the humanitarian disaster in Syria has been outlined by the UN and many international organizations. More than 7.6 million Syrians have been displaced, more than 5 million have fled the country to nearby countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, and Kuwait, and a few hundred thousand have fled to more distant countries like Germany and Greece and have become refugees. Millions more have been left in poor living conditions with shortages of food and drinking water. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syrian_Civil_War