Anja Manfredi – Gesture and Analog Photography

Review by Gerhard Clausing

Here’s a question you may not have considered until now: What’s the connection between the social conventions of human gestures and the storing and reemergence of images, both in our minds as well as on film and analog photographic paper?

Anja Manfredi has been the director of the Friedl Kubelka School of Artistic Photography in Vienna since 2010. A glance at the school’s offerings indicates a multi-faceted approach that integrates theory and practice. This photobook presents a cross-section of philosophical questions and practical applications with which Anja Manfredi has concerned herself in her own professional practice, questions about the relationship between human gesture and image retention and re-emergence that have certainly also influenced her work at the school.

Some of the major questions I saw addressed in this work are: What patterns of gestures and motions do we see in our past and what happens when the modeled behaviors are replicated? What is the relationship between human gestures and performances on the one hand and the storing of photographs as latent memories on film and photographic paper? Can a comparison be drawn between the reception of experiences and recalling them later in other forms, such as visual and spatial experiences being expressed in language and other modes at subsequent moments?

The book starts with a project investigating patterns that relate to landscapes: fabrics and hides are laid out by workmen to receive treatment; they form similar ‘scapes’ waiting for human tools to act upon them. The transition to photograms that make use of light-sensitive materials – analog photo paper to memorialize plant shapes and patterns seems a related process that references photography, including the recording of rocks with photographic tools to relate a variety of ‘gestures’ or patterns of the natural world.

Manfredi provides a text that describes human movements as an extension of thoughts. The camera is seen as a tool that can be connected to a gesture arising from a thought. “A gesture is fragmentary and appears as the snapshot of a movement … and is at some point transposed into materiality.” (p. 70)

Some of the interesting definitions and insights provided in Manfredi’s work are: The steps of the analog photographic act cut through space and time as they lock in a specific moment. Our bodies resemble light-sensitive surfaces on which time etches its moments, while it also leaves records internally in the form of thoughts and memories. Our body thus is like a long-time photographic exposure. A human gesture is something that jumps out of a scene and touches the viewer in a specific way (Roland Barthes), a moment of fixed time (Judith Butler), a freeze frame, a completed act. Furthermore, a photograph robs us of its time context – we don’t know what happened right before and right after it was created.

The book provides photographs and captions for a number of additional projects that further illustrate these concepts:

The reenactment of dancer Isadora Duncan’s dance movements, shown in multifaceted collages

Gestures and dance movements derived and printed from 16mm and Super-8 film segments

Bowing to applause after a performance as well as a performer’s facial gestures

The use of arrangements and rearrangements of red beams to create ‘gestures’ that cause impressions that are related to educator Maria Montessori’s concept of later recall of early childhood impressions (explanation by Jürgen Tabor)

The layout and sequencing of the book, as well as its typography, reflect the multifaceted nature of the artist’s projects; there are many twists and turns that surprise us.

In considering all of these exemplifications of gestures, tools, and recall, I couldn’t help but also think of another parallel photographic process, the processing of the raw file of an image in digital photography – it is a record of a moment that is subject to later reinterpretation with a variety of tools to prepare it for its reemergence. A tribute to this work – it makes us look for additional parallels.

Anja Manfredi’s ambitious and rigorous work is a significant contribution to the theory and practice of photography. She combines a number of thoughts as she tries to help us understand the interplay between performance and its recall in a context of conventions. I recommend this photobook highly to all photographers who want to start thinking about these various implications of what we do and recall.

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Anja Manfredi – Gesture and Analog Photography / Geste und analoge Photographie

Photographer:   Anja Manfredi (born in Lienz, Austria; lives in Vienna, Austria)

Publisher:   Fotohof edition, Salzburg, Austria; © 2020

Texts:  Anja Manfredi, Jürgen Tabor

Languages:  German and English

Paperback with illustrated cover; 128 pages, paginated; 15.5 x 21 cm (6 x 8.25 inches); printed in Austria by Print Alliance HAV Produktions GmbH; ISBN:  978-3-903334-12-0 (Fotohof edition Vol. 312)

Photobook Design:  Atelier Liska Wesle

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Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).

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