Unwanted Images through the Prism of Counter-archive

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Unwanted Images through the Prism of Counter-archive

Photo-Printing of the Yugoslav People's Liberation Struggle


Autor: Gal Kirn

Introduction: "In a partisan way"

Immanuel Kant held that philosophy is Kampfplatz, that is, a battlefield of ideas, and as such it is eminently a partisan activity. Philosophers take sides on this battlefield, which is occupied by the dominant ideological worldview/philosophy of the day. At least until Marx, philosophy was perceived as an activity characterised by the courage to think and interpret the world, and by extension, as an activity of competing interpretations of that world. It was with Marx's famous 11th thesis on Feuerbach (Marx 1845) that the central shifting point urged that philosophical practise itself change, the point is namely to change the world, not just interpreting it. Neither Kant nor Marx were wrong, because critical partisan activity will always have to address and think about (social) change, so the challenge of any materialist approach will be in the manner how to grasp and act on that change, both in terms of theoretical analysis and (political and artistic) practice. Rather than measuring the gap between theory and practise, and understanding philosophy as an ever-delayed activity, much less has been said about how ideas themselves are enacted, how and what they do for each other and for the world, and also about how their images can overshadow or even silence other (counter)images, by placing other competing images outside the frame If philosophical activity seems like a site of eternally struggling ideas that always come too late, then partisan political activity has always been portrayed as an avant-garde activity that always comes before time and challenges the existing order of established (colonial) empires, states, and occupations.


Turning more concretely to Davor Konjikušić's project of unwanted images, we must focus on partisan photographic activity. If partisan photography not only captures, represents, and thus helps to interpret the world, how and in what ways can it contribute to changing it? What should we "un-learn" in our reading of the past, and especially the ways how national archives categorise the past - Ariella Aisha Azoulay's (2019) big questions - are here of central importance. Rather than instituting images for the eternity and immortality of humanity, partisan photography, succeeds in the moment it captures "contingency" (Doane 2002), for our purposes most important to highlight is a contingent character of People's Liberation Struggle. Liberation appears in retrospect as necessary-people had to rise up because of fascism, but in many places and at many times they did not, or even collaborated with occupationist forces. So partisan liberation is not part of a teleological-historical necessity. I would like to argue that also with the help of partisan photography, because partisan "photo-eye" captures the fleeting moment of the partisan present, its "deteritorialising" and ever-changing territory, the way how partisan men and women organised their struggle, their way of life, their symbolic networks of resistance, and not only their military actions/fights. 

However, in a broader review and in art historical studies, scholars have mostly focused on and focused on two other predominant media-art formats: partisan graphics and poems/songs. Partisan photography received some museum attention, but was usually categorised under the genre of war "documents," war-partisan reportage/journalism, and then anything that carried stronger aesthetic elements (for a critique of such a view, see Kirn 2020). In this regard, Davor Konjikušić's ongoing work with partisan photography (see his book Konjikušić 2020) and his current project "Unwanted Images" is a unique online site that not only provides more access and visibility for Yugoslav partisan photography, but also offers a view on a strong political aesthetics carried by multiple photos. Some may see this project as an updated and more visually focused archival attempt to znači.net, while I believe that unwanted photography raises a number of serious epistemic questions: not only what, how, and why are we returning to, but also whether such a treatment of emancipatory past offers a way to imagine and create a different future? How can partisan, unwanted photographic material be staged, framed, exhibited, and, most importantly, reused and "remediated" in emancipatory ways? If, on the one hand, the specific modality of partisan photography grasps the liberating and ephemeral past, on the other hand, the question arises of how we can mobilise, frame and break the image of the emancipated future that is not yet here? 
PF-P-011-04, UNWANTED IMAGES. Girls from the village of Vrlika. Second regional conference of United Alliance of Anti-Fascist Youth of Croatia (UAAYC). Hvar, november 1944.

Such a future-oriented partisan photo archive openly opposes any idea of reconciliation of partisan past and nationalist present. In the post-Yugoslav context, from nationalist to liberal discourses, we can recognise the trope that all wars are bad, that all sides are equal, and thus the victims are equal. Partisan photo archive opposes such reconciliation of memory, which in reality serves to appease contradictions and forget the historical context. Worse than reconciliation, a number of right-wing memorialisation projects highlight partisan crimes while relativizing fascist crimes and openly rehabilitating fascism-which was the hegemonic politico-military force in both World War II and the 1990s (for details on the context and degree of revisionism see Buden 2020). On the other side of the spectrum, one finds a Yugonostalgic view that romanticises everything associated with the socialist, partisan, and Yugoslav past and its emblematic leader Josip Broz Tito.