WHAT I WANT TO SAY
by Cornelia Mittendorfer
I understand my work about divided Cyprus as storytelling. It is not an encyclopedic evaluation of the situation, not a documentation, but a description of a journey with the imponderable which has pushed and pulled me here and there. A journey about the core questions of one of the longest and most complex conflicts in Europe, which began with a visit to friends.
Spaces and their role in the imaginary interest me, including their sociopolitical inheritance. What we remember has to have taken place somewhere. Especially significant are those spaces of memory whose sacred meaning has been violently purged or overlaid by changing hands. The charm that dwells even in these places is constantly shaken when the traces of their violent history become apparent.
REGISTER OF ABSENCE.
I feel the earlier presence through its absence. I feel the absence. It screams at me. I do not see myself as detached from what I am photographing but rather in the role of a participating interest. For “as much as we occupy places, they have the capacity to pre-occupy us.” (Jill Bennett, A Concept of Prepossession, 2005, Sidney, Ivan Dougherty Gallery).
ECHOES OF THE UNSPEAKABLE.
I believe traumatic events are essentially un-representable. They cannot be reduced to measurable elements of reality. Just as I am preoccupied by the nature of photography as a quotation of appearances (John Berger), my photographs are here also a kind of questioning of the ambivalence of photographic representation. I do not trust realities. I have doubts about the possibility and the appropriateness of making war, violence and power immediately visible.
I am deeply suspicious of the mere appearance of things; it is connected to the consciousness of other factors that are less visible, such as pain, shame, silence, loneliness or also happiness. I begin my work with an idea. I have to "listen in" to the place. Only in this engagement with the place and the people is the subject for my photography created.
I construct pictures, I want to show empty places, spaces of the imaginary, spaces for others, inner pictures, which makes space for deeper understanding and meditation. However, not for “meditations on internal darkness” (Lyle Rexer): “When the darkness and the light change places, time stops. And insight takes place.” It is meditations about recognition but also about hope for something that opposes destruction, such as peace and beauty.
I understand photography as a means of putting myself in a relationship to the world surrounding me, while doubting that I will ever find an answer to my questions. But I do this with the intention of continuing, as a possibility of connecting myself to the environment and feeling alive. I am fascinated by the secret of the people who are so deeply involved in this conflict and at the same time so ready for rapprochement and so capable of insight and generosity. In my internal ear I hear their stories, all their versions and truths, those heard and not heard, or not told, like a murmuring in the background while I look for the pictures. I find levels in them that give space to my own questions of existence.
Because the unconscious always returns. I ask myself: to what extent am I allowed to impose myself on these places of trauma and on the people with my photography? I consider a respectful distance from the places and the people to be appropriate. My way of interacting with the environment also means that light cannot be controlled and I must work with whatever light is available. What I am trying to do is find a way of photographing in relation to the object that is suitable for me and that contrasts to the established way of telling the story.
SILENT SHADOWS. AFTERLIFE.
The question of representability was of particular relevance during my work in the anthropological laboratories of the Committee on Missing Persons. Here the internal tension between the desire to lower my gaze and the desire to focus it was greatest. I decided to focus my gaze as well on the continuation of life, on the people working there whose daily activity consists in identifying the remains of other people (including members of their own family) decades after their violent ends, thereby bringing about an end to some of the uncertainty.
ONE POSSIBLE VIEW.
Photography is less about that which is represented per se than it is about seeing and allowing to see. Each photographic picture is a gesture of allowing to see, which at the same time contains the exclusion of other possibilities. This gesture of allowing to see was here subject to further conditions. The view was obscured by prohibitions, forgetting, denial.
The considerable exchange of population between the northern and southern parts of the island also means that people are not always familiar with the places of remembrance belonging to the other group, do not want to know about them, or deny them. Lack of communication between the generations exacerbates this lack of knowledge. Large military restricted zones, administrative and communicative conditions of a decades long cease-fire, insufficient cartographic information, overlapping and inconsistently used place names as the operative field of the conflict limit freedom of access and viewing or make it very difficult. Even in places where I did succeed in getting permission to photograph in the restricted zones (for example in the buffer zone and in a part of the Turkish military no-go zone) the areas where I was permitted to go were strictly defined and supervised.
I can only tell about what I have perceived. Even my view of all sides cannot be free from subjective coloring because it is too much determined by what is visible and can be experienced. This is true not only when it comes to how to represent the real per se, but increasingly also with reference to a „reality“ with manifold overlaps and entanglements, the ambiguity of which is an object of politics.