The disease of exile and the power of photography

The source of the wonder in photography is linked with the unforeseeable capacity of a human designed device producing a picture that reproduces the real as it is; that is to say, it is possible to examine the fittingness between the image and the facts of the world. This amazement grows when we consider the limits of human experience, i.e., the regions related with suffering, loss, death and trauma. It is then that a strong disruption in the adequacy between the image and the world. They are images that suggest, evoke, excite, but they don’t have anything definite, nor do they designate the positive material of the real. The features they record and preserve become examples that condense and articulate experiences, meanings and significations – like metaphors or allegories.

Daniel Blaufuks’s book/film holds within this problem. His gesture is fundamentally that of identifying what corresponds to the condition of being exiled, and showing how being an exiled is a category of the world inhabitants. This is a gesture that unfolds progressively, revealing that this is not only about the displacement of the Jews in Nazi Germany, but also about Lisbon, about the artist’s family and about the complex relationship built between ourselves, our origins and our heritage.

It is difficult to classify Under Strange Skies, since it does not fit into the description of a specific object: it is a photography book, a film, a register and an archive. Its richness resides in that mixture. It is also a document that joins the subjective perception of nature and a strict collection of historical truth.

Historical truth isn’t a stranger to artistic creation, and resides in the objective knowledge of each work of art as its possibility. Confronted with the description of the atrocities suffered by the Jews in the concentration camps, during the Eichmann trial, in Israel, the judges “stated”, according to the words of Hannah Arendt, that "such degree of suffering was beyond the range of human comprehension, it was matter to be treated by great poets and writers, and not to be discussed at the House of Justice".

 The identification of what is beyond the range of human comprehension is the place we can settle down Under strange skies: it is through the possibility of understanding what it means to be left without land, without father, without mother language, that the books/films diverse movements develop. Blaufuks writes: "This I believe to be the disease of exile, the feeling of always being away from home, away from your mother tongue, from the books and the food of your childhood, from the culture of your parents."

Being witness to something that can not be testified is undertaken here as a video and photography project, that is, an aesthetical project. That is the only possibility, because only aesthetical representation can take into account the different shades and depths of human experience, which is to say, to try to find a sensible image to what, in principle, no picture could ever correspond. History of photography is itself a succession of sensitive tensions that are at the center of the issue of the image (photography or video) as representation and material proof of the real (consider Charcot and Salpêtrière, Lanzmann’s Shoah or Mikael Levin, etc).

To have something to say and not enough words is the closest experience to the abyss at stake: in vain, one looks for the words that better designate an inner state, and it feels like running towards the prison’s bars. To work in this threshold is to accept the prospect of one day finding the right word or image (Wittgenstein would say: the word that saves us).

Redemption, not with the theological meaning in this case, is operated through the reconciliation of the self with its own past, and discernment, which acts as the agent that operates this transformation. It takes place through photographic representation (which, no matter how indirect it may be, always corresponds to an act of cognition). Thus, the physiognomy of the disease of exile traced by this book/film is answered by the deliverance from that same condition, the cure for the disease.