Adam Broomberg "Glitter in My Wounds" @ Signs and Symbols
A new exhibition at signs and symbols gallery presents a selection of hand printed, photographic portraits of the trans activist and actress Gersande Spelsberg taken by Adam Broomberg, accompanied by a sound piece featuring Gersande Spelsberg’s voice and CAConrad’s poetics. Spelsberg’s story of transitioning reflects on and questions the many toxic pre-existing conditions that shape contemporary gender roles, further informed by CAConrad’s poetry on confronting identities that had previously felt fixed and immutable.
Adam Broomberg has long been fascinated by the binary positions of two photographers from the 20th Century — the famous Weimar Republic photographer, August Sander, and his lesser-known contemporary, Helmar Lerski. Sander’s work has come to embody the humanist notion in photographic portraiture — the ability to sum up one's character in the exquisite, well-timed and well-framed chosen moment. Lerski’s approach to photography was radically in contrast with that of Sander’s — he believed that photography was nothing more than a rendering of light on skin on bone — a very materialistic reading of the medium. It should come as no surprise that Lerski’s radical stance has resulted in an almost complete erasure from the photographic history canon.
In 1936, Lerski made ‘Metamorphosis Through Light,’ a series of 140 sculptural photographs of one man on the balcony of an apartment block in Palestine, where all he used as his light source was a series of mirrors and sunlight. Broomberg notes, “I got infatuated with Lerski’s work, particularly for its lack of sentimentality and nostalgia. And when I think of the way that Sanders’ work slipped very easily into the eugenic narrative of the Nazi regime (since his typology starts with the nobleman and ends with the vagabond), I was more impressed by Lerski’s resistance to classification or claims of any kind. For years the idea of reenacting this one day was in the back of my head; it was only when I met Gigi that it all fell in place.”
Ritualistic and reciprocal, Broomberg’s new body of work was shot in one day in Berlin over a duration of 9 hours, and together they made 100 photographs, shot on 5”x4” negative and lit using the same distinctive lighting technique employed by Lerski. The series highlights the mechanics of repetition itself without slipping away from subjectivity. Which image is the decisive moment that captures the soul? Which one gives you the truest sense of who this person is? How much is that an accident or performed? In his fascination with the binary positions of Lerski and Sander, Broomberg presents us with what's missing — the complexity of character — a person in all their vulnerability but still ultimately protected by the limitations of what photography can possibly expose. Broomberg reflects, “My skepticism of photography which has been the subtext of all my work for 30 years lifted, this is the first time I picked up a camera with purpose and fell in love with the process again.”
A prismatic reflection on identity and encounter formed by the chance meeting of three uncompromising artists, Glitter in My Wounds reflects on the ways convention can be confronted and dismantled through art and writing. In the fall of 2021, these three artists previously collaborated on a book of the same name, Glitter in My Wounds, published by MACK. The book features a selection of the portraits Spelsberg made by Broomberg, alongside the titular poem by CAConrad.