The Core Concept of Identity
Barry Salzman is an award winning contemporary artist who works in photography, videography and mixed media. His work explores social, political and economic narratives, often focusing on the core concept of identity. Born in Zimbabwe and schooled in South Africa, Salzman migrated to the United States when he was 21. The artist took an interest in photography during his teenage years, when he was moved to photograph racially segregated areas under Apartheid, in an effort to understand the inequalities that surrounded him. He received his Master of Fine Arts degree in photography, video and related media from the School of Visual Arts in New York City, his Bachelor of Business Science degree from the University of Cape Town, and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
“That place, could be any place’”
Since 2014, Salzman has worked primarily on projects that address the ideas of trauma and memory, often related to genocide and its recurrence. He is especially drawn to loss and the brutality that surrounds the genocide narrative, and is particularly interested in our roles as public witnesses to these tragic acts. Salzman applies visual tools of abstraction to landscape images shot at locations around the world where acts of genocide were carried out. His method of abstraction, stripping the location from its characteristics, lends the feeling that “that place, could be any place’.” On utilizing such tools of abstraction Salzman says;
“I try to expose the layered landscape; its complexities, varied interpretations, and the memories it evokes.”
Reflecting on Trauma and Healing
Salzman’s works represent the landscapes from sites of genocide in literal and metaphorical ways to reflect both the trauma and healing. According to the artist,
“The landscape witnesses all. It sheds its leaves in cover up and complicity. But through its rebirth, so it rejuvenates. It carries with it traces of the past and promises of the future. It triumphs over trauma. It is inextricably intertwined with our darkest moments and brightest days.”
By exposing the genocide sites, although abstract, Salzman presents a willingness to confront the tragedies and brutalities that have surround us, making us public witnesses to the memories of these barbarous acts.
Beyond the Pictorial Dimension
Beyond the Pictorial Dimension is drawn from Salzman’s series titled, How We See The World. The picture shows a forest site with hints of rose plants in Nyamure, Rwanda, home to one of the most savage genocide tragedies in human history. In 1994, one million people were killed in a hundred days, making it the most violent killing rampage of the 20th century. According to Salzman,
“…(In Rwanda) the metaphoric idea of landscape as witness is particularly fitting — there is virtually no landscape in that small and beautiful country that did not bear witness to the atrocities of genocide.”
Tools of Abstraction
Like all of his landscape works, Beyond the Pictorial Dimension is created using a single exposure without any compositing or layering in post production. The tools of abstraction come into play in the moment — by moving the camera during the exposure to give the image its layered, almost ephemeral feeling, with the viewer continually searching for that hidden content within the picture frame. His layering serves as a metaphor for “a need to expose what cannot be seen, but that must be seen.” Salzman leaves a level of natural beauty in an obviously distorted interpretation of the landscape. An apparent play between surface and depth, as well as absence and presence is challenged within the photograph. He intentionally tries to keep the spectator alert to the violence which humankind has witnessed and continues to witness around the world.
“What we see when we look”
Currently living between New York and Cape Town, Barry Salzman continues to produce work that revolves around the ethics of seeing through landscape photography. Over the last decade, he has focused on the “recurrence of genocide and our collective responsibility as public witnesses.” Salzman hopes that his intentionally abstract images provide for moments of reflection around the genocide narrative, and the trauma it has left behind. A compassionate photographer, his work always comes down to the core theme of “what we see when we look,” pushing the viewer to review our role in society as public witnesses to humanity’s darkest moments.