FotoFest 2006











When it comes to political violence, we want witnesses and demand sacrifice, and sometimes the two come together. Every day, professional witnesses get into position to show us what is happening far away and out of sight. We want to see the broken bodies and sorrowful faces of those who do not have our privileges or protections. We want to be connected to these unfortunates through images. Why? Because we feel responsible to them, and we like feeling responsible for them. Their suffering gives us a context for our comforts and a distant focus for our empathy.

The rules for this exchange are remarkably inflexible. We want those who take on the work of witnessing to show us things in the right order and in a certain light, within strict rules or propriety. It is permissible to tease the edges of these proprieties in fact, we reward such flirtations with prizes but not to be too insistent about it. An excess of truth can be a dangerous thing. Or, as T.S. Eliot had it in a poem about redemption, “Human kind cannot bear very much reality.”

Alfredo Jaar’s The Sound of Silence is a threnody for South African photographer Kevin Carter, a committed witness who became a tragic sacrifice and a scapegoat for our guilty desire to see images of others’ suffering.

Blaming the photographer who makes these images is like blaming the soldier for what’s going on in Iraq. The photographer and the soldier are our representatives, our surrogates. We put them in position to do our bidding. The troops didn’t start the war and they don’t decide how it is prosecuted. Photojournalists take the kind of pictures that they know they can sell to news organizations, who sell them to us. Kevin Carter wouldn’t have gone to Sudan on his own. We put him there. We put him in front of that starving child, and then accused him od moral detachment for making the image we wanted him to make. Where is our moral engagement in this? Where is our complicity? And where is our forgiveness?  

David Levi Strauss
Excerpt from his essay in the FOTOFEST2006 Catalogue


The Sound of Silence

FotoFest International commissioned a new video installation, created by internationally known visual artist Alfredo Jaar for the FOTOFEST2006 Biennial and the theme Artists Responding to Violence. The installation, The Sound of Silence, is a work that Alfredo Jaar has wanted to do for several years. It is a penetrating and haunting work that confronts the question of the role of public media and private ethics, vis a vis social tragedy and human suffering. The Sound of Silence was a centerpiece of the FOTOFEST2006 Biennial.


Alfredo Jaar is an artist, architect, and filmmaker, who lives and works in New York. He was born in Santiago de Chile in 1956. His work has been shown extensively around the world.  Important individual exhibitions include the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York (1992), Whitechapel in London (1992), the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (1992), the Pergamon Museum in Berlin (1992), the Moderna Museet in Stockholm (1994), the Red Cross Museum in Geneva (2000), Museum of Fine Arts in Houston (2005) and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome (2005).  He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1985 and was named a MacArthur fellow in the year 2000. The artist’s Rwanda Project 1994-2000 has been seen around the world.  More than thirty publications have been published on his work.

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