A astrid jansen he likes to buy documents and old photographs. In 2013, she bought a pack of negatives from the 1950s on an online sales site and, based on the images he positiveized, began to reconstruct the history of a working-class neighborhood in Rímac.
Following the same logic, some time later he bought a box with what was left of the belongings of the Peruvian chess player Felipe Pinzón Sánchez (1917-2015). In it there was a collection of 82 handcrafted booklets. They were typed and stapled erotic stories, illustrated here and there with porn pictures from who knows where. We do not know if Pinzón wrote them, but it is clear that he treasured them.
Shortly before this discovery, Astrid had begun photographing encyclopedia photographs with a macro lens, looking for the women who inadvertently appeared in them. That lens allowed Astrid to amplify details and reveal the dot matrix that printed images were made of. And that worked as a metaphor for the way Astrid revealed the ideological plot of the images by drawing attention to the gender biases of those repositories of universal knowledge.
The same method served him to approach those erotic books and their photographs. This is how On Knees (the title quotes from one of the texts) arose. “Behind the speeches there is always a voice, a situation, an age, a gender and a time that have the power to influence the life of societyAstrid says about the masculine gaze in those photos. “But the past can always be reinvented if we see it in a different way”, keep going. And he adds: “I want to change history”. Thus, rephotographing these images, blurring parts and pointing out certain details, is like restoring the dignity of these women used by pornography.
Franziska Kunze, the photography curator at the Pinakothek der Moderne (the museum for art, architecture and design in Bavaria, Germany) met Astrid at a portfolio review and was impressed. Shortly after their first meeting, she informed him that the museum was proposing to buy the De Knees project from her to exhibit it and incorporate it into her permanent collection. And last Thursday, May 19, the exhibition “On Your Knees” (the English version of “On Knees”) was inaugurated in one of the rooms of the Pinakothek.
Franziska is interested in the way Astrid reworks the images she finds. “It’s so interesting the way she takes that footage and ‘just’ (I say that like it’s not enough, but it’s not) changing focus and framing brings up all these questions… who’s behind the camera? What does her gaze imply? Is the camera a device that confers power? what happens if we change the focus? Shall we change those power relations? It is an apparently very simple device, but it reveals many of the complexities inherent in photography”Explain.
It is almost inevitable to ask him how the museum became interested in buying not only Astrid’s photographs, but also the little books that Astrid photographed, especially when it comes to pornographic material.
“I actually only started to think about it when we did the first guided tour of Astrid’s show here at the Pinkothek (laughs). Maybe it’s because I work so much with photography that I’m used to erotic images being a constant throughout the entire history of the medium. When you look back in the history of art, the naked body has always been present. It is a constant. That’s why I don’t think we should close our eyes when we come across pornographic images, just because they are too explicit.”
As part of the exhibition, the museum has published a photobook that collects Astrid’s images, reproduces some of the covers of the booklets and an interview between Franziska and Astrid about the project. And, as an outstanding piece, a text by Georges Didi Huberman, without a doubt the most important art historian alive today, on the images of Astrid.
For Didi Huberman, Astrid’s images are compelling in two ways. First, because they show us these women trapped in the plot of male desire and its representation in images and texts. And second, because Astrid’s images are captivating, they “fascinate the eye” and open up a critical perspective from which to understand them and, by doing so, symbolically liberate the women who star in them.
One of the images particularly caught the attention of the French scholar. In it we see a woman with a particular look. “What strikes me immediately about those strangely languid eyes is the fact that physical abandonment to another’s desire confers an infinite sadness on them. Her gaze, at once somber and dreamy, makes us think of the way this woman, in the voyeuristic and sexual tumult in which she was caught up, mentally keeps herself apart from her, to project herself away from there ”Explain.
In line with Didi Huberman’s reading of Astrid’s work, the photography curator at the Pinakothek de Moderne, considers that, in addition to being a reflection on photography, Astrid Jahnsen’s work is important for its position. “Every time Astrid has been asked if she is a feminist she has said no. Now it is very common that many women do not like that term and do not associate it with themselves. But we must not forget that if it weren’t for all those strong women who started the struggles for women’s rights in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, we wouldn’t be here. Neither Astrid with her work nor I with mine. That is why I think it is an excellent joint venture, between her work and what I do in this collection, to join this story of the rise of women ”, concludes.
“On Your Knees”
The sample will be on display in Munich until September 25 and then it is expected that it can be presented in other European museums.