In Greek mythology, Philoctetes is a companion of Ulysses. Wounded in combat, he lies agonizing for days, and as his laments are undermining the morale of the rest of the army, his companions eventually decides to abandon him alone on an island.
Someone else´s pain always cause uneasiness for the spectator, as it cruelly reminds him of his own fragility. Furthermore, the spectator’s reaction is also conditioned by the moral standards of his own society. For instance, it is good form to protest when being shown pictures of famine in the third world on television; simply turning our eyes away from them is not socially acceptable. On the other hand, to give in to fascination in front of David Nebreda´s self-harm art can be seen as a morbid pleasure at best, and as perverse voyeurism at worst.
How could we explain these differences of treatment? In his “On the Genealogy of Morality”, Nietzsche suggests the idea that humans are ready to suffer themselves and to stand for the sufferings of others as long as these sufferings makes sense. The grimacing face of an athlete going beyond his limits will be much more accepted than the grimacing face of an adept of body-modification.
The fact that body-modification is in fashion at the moment is undeniable. It would nevertheless be a major error of judgment to see nothing else than a simple anti-system expression, a quest for identity or self-mutilation beyond this phenomenon. The pain that is represented in these pictures is not a “good” pain. It cannot provoke sympathy to the spectators. It is therefore extremely difficult to represent and promote.
Even today, photography still struggles to be fully recognized as an art. One proof for this is that the representation of terrifying scenes in painting (piles of corpses for Delacroix, agonizing Christ for Grünewald…) will always be better accepted thanks to the distance allowed by plastic reinterpretation.
One of the purposes of this work is to try to question this notion by using the tools that photography has at its disposal: focusing, framing, lighting, use of black and white, slides…
The majority of these pictures have been realized in reportage conditions. Some others are more produced with for example a special lighting or mise-en-scène, in order to experiment will all the possibilities that photography has to offer.
All images and text © Quentin Caffier
By Quentin Caffier
Edge of Humanity Magazine is an independent nondiscriminatory platform that has no religious, political, financial, or social affiliations.
We are committed to publishing the human condition, the raw diverse global entanglement, with total impartiality.
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