|“I’m not with the victims, but with those making amends,” says Raphaël Dallaporta. The photographer has set up his camera where it happened. He has tried to go beyond the suffering of individual fates, his only certainty being his documentary conviction. Dallaporta doesn’t photograph what’s happening. He doesn’t cover the event; he’s not the news reporter. He works in a different phase; his territory is the aftermath. The time when we try to understand, to explain and to recount, in different ways than we do, immediately after the event.|
“I’m not with the victims, but with those making amends,” says Raphaël Dallaporta. The photographer has set up his camera where it happened. He has tried to go beyond the suffering of individual fates, his only certainty being his documentary conviction.
Dallaporta doesn’t photograph what’s happening. He doesn’t cover the event; he’s not the news reporter. He works in a different phase; his territory is the aftermath. The time when we try to understand, to explain and to recount, in different ways than we do, immediately after the event.
Dallaporta places himself in the period of reflection. When the photographer chooses what to say and how to say it. Modern slavery is a sensitive subject, one that would be easy to get emotional about. Dallaporta intentionally steers clear of sensationalism. He attempts to document the subject, to bring it to our attention, but without lapsing into sentimentality.
His photographs are a direct record of the facade of a building, the home where it happened. “The way I work is a bit like the way the nightly news covers human interest stories. The team goes to the place and the reporter gives a tragic account of the event that starts, inevitably, with ‘I’m outside the building where it happened.’ But on the screen there’s nothing to see!”
If, at first sight, it seems that there’s little going on in Dallaporta’s photographs, that would be a result of the texts being forgotten. Because Domestic Slavery is a work that creates a resonance between text and photography, the result of a collaboration between a journalist, Ondine Millot, and a photographer. Dallaporta thus joins a documentary tradition in which the attempt to create a dialogue between words and images has long given food for thought. From Walker Evans (Let us now praise famous men, in collaboration with James Agee) and Dorothea Lange (An American Exodus, in collaboration with Paul Taylor), the contributions to the history of photography have been numerous.
But Dallaporta’s documentary technique may seem disconcerting. He has chosen a silent image. He places us outside; he leaves us alone with our capacity to think. The systematic dehumanization highlights the coldness of the shots; it contrasts with the texts. But this juxtaposition is the basis for Dallaporta’s singular approach. His photographs show the everyday; they emphasize a certain monotony, repetition, and regularity. Visual distractions have been taken out of the frame, the temptation of the anecdote carefully avoided. There’s nothing here to tell us a story other than in the text.
To divest it a little more of its meaning, the city has first been cleared of its inhabitants, as if the place had been sealed off. In the images, the architecture, like a block of stone, rises up, massive, turned in on itself, guarding its secret, dumb, silent. We aren’t told on what floor it happened, but are reminded that next door, downstairs, upstairs, other people are living in ignorance of the suffering inflicted.
The photographer himself calls this an “architectural portrait,” because the portrait partly defines itself in its relationship with the space, that between the camera and the subject, and that between the subject and the background. In the photographic treatment of Domestic Slavery, the place acts as the subject, which it undeniably is, and the background becomes the scenery, the frame and the context.
If Dallaporta had been able to transport his subject to the neutral ground of his studio, as he did for his series on anti-personnel mines, if he had been able to render it in a clinical manner, he clearly would have. But architectural structures are fixed, and Dallaporta, as a skilled professional, heightens his effects by meticulously setting the stage for his work. Working early in the morning, he is certain to find the streets still deserted. He reinforces the sense of isolation by choosing to work in August, when the apartments are empty, their curtains drawn and their shutters closed. In the harsh summer light he is able to illuminate his photographs with a punishing brightness. Dallaporta insists on a rigorous approach. He gathers information on each case, follows its development, and reads up on the rulings. Then, armed with an exact address, he sets up his equipment and makes a photographic portrait of the dwelling of the master, the place of imprisonment of the slave.
This strict working method only makes sense in the context of the relationship between the text and the images. Dallaporta’s documentary technique is based on juxtaposition and contrast. Involving us twice, as viewers and as readers, Dallaporta places us in a paradoxical position. While the severity of the texts plunges the reader into the heart of the subject, the coldness of the photographs keeps the viewer at a distance. We become witnesses after the event to the relationship between the torturer and the victim. We discover the point of perdition where one person is capable of subjugating another. People are reduced to things, made slaves, simply for another person’s satisfaction.
By accentuating the contrast, Dallaporta plays upon this double approach, this double viewing, this double reading. While the text confronts us with the gut-wrenching reality of the facts, the opposing image, too, brings us back to reality. While refusing to express the brutality of the facts, it situates them. The photograph puts a face on the text, not that of the torturer, nor that of the victim, but that of the place. Thus our perception of the images is subtly altered. Though, at first glance, we may ask ourselves whether the images are necessary; they seem overshadowed by the written accounts. Dallaporta’s photographs become more and more the anchor for the texts, making it possible to empathize, increasing the feeling of uneasiness. For, from this point in time, the reader is within and the viewer without.