The Writing Of Snapshots

A Scientific and Literary Friendship, An Unfinished Story, Banal Story, A Sense of Reality, Dream of a Strange Land, A Distant Episode. These are some of the titles of the diptychs included in these Collected Short Stories, and I evoke them because they are adequate expression of the nature and extension of the work Daniel Blaufuks has developed since the mid 90s, particularly having in mind his London Diaries. A peculiar sense of fiction that dispenses any statutory truth to compose a field of narratives in which the intra-remissive experience of everyday life is a criss-cross between private (perceptions, memories, fantasies, obsessions) and public domains (daily meetings, literary and cinematography narratives, historical facts).

Ensuing an early inception in the groundbreaking weekly newspaper O Independente, Daniel Blaufuks quickly deferred the more conventional photography in favour of an errant and hyper-subjective experience in which photography is intentionally used as a way to simultaneously, capture and reconvert reality. Since My Tangier (1991), and continuing with The earth is blue as an orange (1992), London Diaries (1995), A Journey to Saint Petersburg (1998) and Andorra (2000), just to mention a few, Blaufuks has developed an uncommonly personal and intimate system of references. This much is evident not only in his concern for the precise condition and moment of capturing the image, but also in the possibilities and experiences deriving from its the processing and printing. The whole amounts to nothing less than a “visual programme” defined by the tension between the free registering (and apparently without any kind of method) and a deliberately intense aesthetic expression. One that should not be understood as some sort of formal investigation, but rather as the means liable to rescue the memory of an emotional and poetic significance from daily life, awoken by the circumstances of places, of people (occasionally of his circle, often anonymous), of objects, and of situations he seems to stumble upon.

Evading a specific category or stereotype of photography, Blaufuks combines the exercise of recollection with a photographic language of evidently symbolic and fictional resonance, where the dense images in dark shades and saturated colours stand out. The small black-and-white prints of his early pieces gave way, from 1994 onwards, to an obvious expansion in his work processes (Polaroid, books mixing images and text, video, film, digital processing, etc). Blaufuks inflection towards a contemporary culture of photography, cannot be understood as a disciplinary compliance to specific technical procedures, but rather as an opening to a vast field of negotiation with multiple modes and image devices.

At the beginning of this book, the author clarifies that these Short Stories were written in nine different countries, between 2000 and 2002. This data is quite significant as it marks two types of fundamental experiences for Daniel Blaufuks. Firstly, the journey, or if you prefer the travel photography, that right from the beginning, grabs our attention to a theme that criss-crosses most of his work; the condition of exile. The tendency to take photographs en route or in periods of absence from Portugal, the recurrent use of a subject-matter suggested by his own family history (his grandparents’ escape from Nazi Germany to Portugal), blended with exile experiences vaguely traced by his admiration for photographers such as Robert Frank or by his literary memory of authors such as Paul Bowles, Joseph Conrad and Graham Greene.

Secondly, his (photographic) writing is a clear sign of his tendency for a kind of snapshot prose, a speech based on visual fragments that give indication of private stories on their way to become public. In a certain sense, this type of photography highlights one of the aspects of the intimate relationship that photography has established with literature within the context of modern culture. The other refers to the development by various writers of a fictional logic that incorporates the breadth and specificity of the photographic imagination.

Blaufuks’ literary motivations are also proved by his interest in books and catalogues. In the last fourteen years, the author has made thirteen independent publications. One may say that his relationship with photography is far from being satisfied by the traditional rationale of art exhibitions. But more than that, the book, and its printed image, represents a continuously undisclosed investment, namely in the permanent renovation implied in the potential relationship with the images themselves.

In these Collected Short Stories, thirty-one stories are presented in the shape of diptychs. Take a look at Berlin, Blue Film, Travelling Light in which human presences and urban scenarios (one of the most frequent combinations) are represented. Links that make reference to more or less fleeting events and feelings, from which we are only allowed to have access to an isolated suspension, in a representation that denies any type of more credible flow. In this lack of discernment, these photographs push us to a certain fictional game (no matter how short it might be), this being the only possibility of solving an enormous distance. An insoluble distance, that binds the photographs with a certain experience of loss. A void that opens, parallel to time, through an oddly fixed and preserved past and that in these diptychs tends to be doubly emphasised by the (semiotic) distance that connects the pairs of photographs and these, in turn, with the title. One of these photogenic effects obtaining from this series, is the conveyance of an (un)probable “continuation” of what is displayed, placing us under the impression that we ourselves have become one of those unknown characters, surrounding us by a photographic story to which we do not belong and in which we only intervene accidentally, succumbing in a labyrinth of narratives with different names, chapters and unknown questions.

When confronted with many of these Thirty-One Stories, it is easy to understand that the irresistible strength of the image stems also from the fact that its action motives are free from the need of value and legitimacy, since all reality can be converted into relevant matter. This emphasis is not, however, exclusive to the universe of photography, being a symptom of the type of fiction that has become strong in modern culture. In literature, in photography and in painting, and later on in cinema, aspects of daily life have acquired, in an amazing way, an unprecedented importance, constituting one of the bases from which the subject elaborates its fictions.

One of the more stimulating qualities of photography is its ability to casually gather odd elements that trigger unforeseen experiences and senses. This is quite obvious in these photographs, as these diptychs (often dissonant) intervene in a relatively abstract space-time frame, moreover when crossed with enigmatic titles that, in a certain sense, have a relevant visual weight (leading us to think whether we are in front of diptychs or triptychs). We are close to the notion of palimpsest, in which, instead of an explicit interpretation, the photographer prefers to remit us to a picture with infinite possibilities, in which the original image (done by the photographer) is not more than an invitation (to us and to himself) to prow into the configuration of other images, stories and emotions. That is, these photographs do not really have one time only, by forcing us to think not only of the instant the camera clicked, but also of the time that (unpredictably) sticks to the images, transforming and redoubling them. Surely this also happens with other forms of art, however, its effect is more intense in the case of a creation in which the essence is so closely bonded with the experience of time.

I dare to recognize a Proustian feeling in most of the works of Daniel Blaufuks, not only in the way they express an enormous desire of experience, but also in the way they stimulate the involuntary scope of memory, in a reconstitution that transcends and goes beyond what one has actually lived. As a matter of fact, and despite his pretension in sanctioning a certain autobiographic dimension, I believe that Daniel Blaufuks’ photographs, even those from the London Diaries or A Journey to S. Petersburg, should not be seen in the logic of a diary, because they do not narrate, clarify or put into order.

Despite the influence (and practice) of cinema, the fictional suggestion in the photography of Daniel Blaufuks is not really cinematographic (here understood as a plot resulting from the sum of elements that make sense in their sequential order and which has more to do with voluntary memory, because it builds and articulates). These photos, in their precariousness, generate a mute narrative. They can, sometimes, raise a meaning, albeit never an exclusive one, and often incomprehensible. But most of the times, what they affirm is a condemnation to silence. With Blaufuks, the camera does not create situations, gestures or objects, unless through a type of framework that forces them to exist again and, thus, to mean, without any doubt, something completely different from what they meant before emerging from the seizing device.

This implies recognizing that photography does not give us reality but the semblance of reality, promoting an imaginary that takes form in this multiple, inter-crossed and threaded web. Free from the usual realistic expectations in photographic representation, Blaufuks suggests that not only the author is incapable of describing, but also that his main purpose is the enlivening. To enliven the urgency of a thought-emotion on something that already exists in us –a labyrinth of images, memories and narratives.


Sérgio Mah