Rediscovering History

Rediscovering History

Photography as an artform is intrinsically concerned with time, memory and, through its ability to turn the lens upon itself, questions about the relationship of images to truth. Where Memory Remains is therefore a thought-provoking theme for the 15th edition of Photaumnales, especially in today’s world of fake news and media indiscrepancies. The exhibition involves Amiens, Beauvais, Clermont, Creil, Noyon and Douchy-les-Mines, as the Hauts-de-France region plays host to an international festival. A total of 27 photographers explore how traces of history are recorded in the landscape and in collective cultural memory: how they can be rediscovered.

A key example is Ambroise Tézenas’ investigation of “dark tourism” – the allure of visiting places which have been marked by tragedy, whether through natural disasters such as earthquakes or tsunamis, or through human error or intent. Tézenas selected a dozen locations and registered with tour operators to be immersed in the same experience as any other tourist, photographing only what an ordinary visitor would see. From the site of the Nazi massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane, France, in 1944, where the ruins of the village still stand as a memorial, to the remaining traces of the devastation of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake in China, and from Cambodia to Rwanda, Ukraine and Lebanon, Tézenas turns his camera on the 20th century’s most harrowing corners. The physical stigmata of history are also the subject of Patrick Tourneboeuf’s Stèles, which highlights monuments from WWI, following on from his previous series on the Berlin Wall and the remnants of the D-Day landings. These physical objects preserve both the memory of the dead and the trauma of contemporary conflicts in distinctly human and archival presentations.

As well as solo exhibitions, the curators have created group and joint shows. In one such juxtaposition, the threads of connection between Emilie Vialet – whose subject is zoos around Europe, and Christoph Sillem – who photographs the urban surroundings of Disneyland Paris, are revealed; both capture a sense of absence in what seem optimistic, celebratory landscapes, yet which are places of control and surveillance.

Growing up in communist east Germany, Sibylle Bergemann led a revival in photography before and after reunification. Known for employing absurdity and a sense of melancholy to reassert the individual in a controlling society, Das Denkmal (The Monument) charts the construction of the Marx- Engels Forum in the Mitte district of Berlin between 1975 and 1986. At the centre of the construction are the bronze statues of the two political theorists whose work came to shape much of the 20th century. In Bergemann’s images, the sculptures by Ludwig Engelhardt become the characters of the series as they undergo the construction process, sometimes suspended in the air or packed for transportation, creating images that are surreal, humorous, dreamlike and poetic.

Various venues, Hauts-de-France. Until 31 December. Find out more here.

1. © Christoph Sillem / Courtesy Peter Sillem Galerie Frankfurt.