The Photography of Aftermath

On April 24, 2014 a lecture by Jason Francisco on "The Photography of Aftermath" was held in the Center for Urban History’s conference room.

Documentary is one photography’s most accessible and also most complex traditions. Its predicating idea is that photographic pictures - or more precisely, photographic illusions - can make the world present to us, and render it in the mode of presence before us. So doing, they present evidence, convene facts and tell stories, by turns describing things as they are, and persuading us of the ways they should and should not be. Critics of the documentary tradition have for decades insisted on a literate approach to such photographs, insisting that we read them as rhetorical and ideological constructs, whose conventions and purposes we must be careful not to naturalize. If documentary in its journalistic and popular forms has still largely failed to register such calls, this is not the case in the context of the artworld. 

This presentation was looking at the state of documentary photography as contemporary art. It will survey the efforts of contemporary photographers to reposition the documentary idiom in terms of an ontology of absence rather than presence, in order to grapple with specifically historical realities, and with those dimensions of social experience marked by rupture and unhealed collective trauma. Specifically, the talk was profile Jason Francisco’s ongoing project "Alive and Destroyed", which offers new visual terms for the remembrance of the Holocaust as an unfinished, only partially grasped historical inheritance. For the past four years, Francisco has been working assiduously on both sides of the Polish-Ukrainian border. His work looks into the mercurial geography of the genocide’s aftermath, both at the notorious, centrifugal sites of memory, and especially at small and comparatively overlooked locations - deportation routes, execution sites, town ghettos, labor and transit camps, discrete places of hiding and resistance. Extending the traditional concerns of documentary, Francisco’s "Alive and Destroyed" asks not just how remembrance occurs insofar as its subjects are seen, but how remembrance’s subjects are seen because of the ways they are pictured.

Jason Francisco is an acclaimed photographer, essayist, curator, and educator.  His numerous photoworks, essays, reviews and books include "Far from Zion: Jews, Diaspora, Memory" (Stanford University Press, 2006), "The Steerage and Alfred Stieglitz", co-authored with Anne McCauley (University of California Press, 2012), and several projects on Jewish historical memory, and the complications of American culture.  Widely exhibited nationally and internationally, Francisco is currently a Fulbright Scholar working on a new permanent exhibition for the Galicia Jewish Museum in Kraków on Jewish history and heritage in western Ukraine.  This is the second major project Francisco has done for the Galicia Jewish Museum, following the success of the 2012 exhibition, "On the Other Side of the Torah," for which he served as lead curator.  Francisco teaches photography, media and visual culture at Emory University and at Stanford University in the United States.  Born and raised in California, he was educated at Columbia University and Stanford University, as well as Kings College London, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley.