The Accumulation of Images: Excess and Release • • Antoine d'Agata • Magnum Photos

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Theory & Practice

The Accumulation of Images: Excess and Release

Multiplicity as a growing conceptual and technical approach in Antoine d’Agata’s work

Antoine d’Agata

Antoine d’Agata Exhibition view, Mexico DF, 2018 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos

Stepping away from the pretence of objectivity and sociological inquiry that often surrounds documentary photography, my images are generated through gestures and experiences that aim to expand the limits of visual representation, the norms surrounding the photographic act, and life itself.

– Antoine d’Agata

Antoine d’Agata has been refining an incisive visual technique over recent years. He has been using procedural methods in the production of his works, presenting them through gridded formations of a series of consecutive, almost-repeated images. Often beginning in a highly personal or everyday space, d’Agata’s image studies, when collated, construct a mode of resistance against wider structures. This serves as a statement of opposition to the social, psychological and political restrictions he sees as being enforced on individuals.

D’Agata first began exploring this approach in his 2018 book Acephale – a broad-ranging commentary on religion, art, genocide, global economies and addiction – which saw the method emerge through the collaging and sequencing of images spanning decades of d’Agata’s career. His more recent project, S.T.A.S.I.S. – which encompasses his series Paradigms – sees the methodology ambitiously expanded. “S.T.A.S.I.S. represents multiple interconnected typologies of violence,” explains d’Agata – “The atlas resulting from this dizzying accumulation of images provides an entry point to the political chaos that surrounds us through the sensorial rather than the intellectual.”

Sometimes composed of hundreds of individual images, d’Agata’s gridded works evoke the overwhelming turmoil of contemporary political landscapes. Made over two decades, S.T.A.S.I.S. includes several thousands of images taken in numerous locations throughout Europe, Africa and America. Through d’Agata’s process of compiling these photographs, the hyper-subjectivity of individual images is extrapolated, taking on a sense of universality. “Next steps could be the armed conflict in Donbass, Ukraine; the rise of nationalism in Russia; the discriminations faced by aboriginal people in Australia; violence and crime in Mexico; the economic sanctions against Iran; jihadism in Mali, China’s new silk road; migration in France; the urban decay destructive capitalism in the US.”

Text continues after the break

Warning: this article contains distressing images

Antoine d’Agata Love hotel, Tokyo, 2012 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos
Antoine d’Agata Hiroshima, Japan, 2017 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos
Antoine d’Agata Mosques, churches, synagogues, Paris, 201 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos
Antoine d’Agata Store fronts, Hebron, Cisjordania, 2019 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos
Antoine d’Agata Day of Rage, Jerusalem, October 6, 2000 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos
Antoine d’Agata Auschwitz, Poland, 2002 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos
Antoine d’Agata Stencil, Bethlehem, Cisjordania, 2019 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos
Antoine d’Agata Migrants, Janzur Port in Sidi Bilal,Libya, 2011 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos
Antoine d’Agata Mexico, 2017 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos
Antoine d’Agata Košice, Slovakia, 2013 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos
Antoine d’Agata Groningen, Netherlands, 2004 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos

Within this new format, D’Agata’s work continues to focus on the role morbidity plays in daily existence, as well as the existential freedom which is accessed through meditations on such morbidity. Of his preoccupation with the “death drive”, Mehdi Belhaj Kecem said the following:

“…the singularity, the absolute originality of Antoine d’Agata’s work compared to many of his predecessors, is not so much in his development of an aesthetic of the death drive, but a doctrine of the death drive. It is this doctrine that is so profoundly original and that, through a type of retroactive ricochet, renders all of his photography, and now films, utterly unique.”

The images in S.T.A.S.I.S., like the rest of d’Agata’s oeuvre, are uncompromising in their pursuit of a theoretical premise. In his words, they “follow the same inexhaustible protocol of my broader practice: traversing and being traversed by experiences whose common denominator is excess.”

Below, we publish Francois Cheval’s commentary on the procedural methodology at work in d’Agata’s project, Paradigms.

Antoine d’Agata Angkor, Cambodia, 2006 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos
Antoine d’Agata Shelter for abused children, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 2005 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos
Antoine d’Agata Kolkata, India, 202018 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos
Antoine d’Agata Brothels, Phnom Penh, 2005 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos
Antoine d’Agata Found archive, Abu Salim jail, Libya, 2011 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos
Antoine d’Agata Hiroshima, Japan, 2017 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos
Antoine d’Agata Crystal meth, Mexico, 2017 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos
Antoine d’Agata Western wall, Jerusalem, 2019 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos
Antoine d’Agata Jenine, 2002 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos
Antoine d’Agata Khellet Ferjan massacre, Libya, 2011 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos
Antoine d’Agata Subsaharan prisoners, Tripoli, Libya, 2011 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos
Antoine d’Agata Young women, China, 2018 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos

A revised definition of photography genres? Of course! Antoine d’Agata is repositioning his earlier photographs in work that reflects new artistic intentions. “Paradigms” breaks with the notion of pure, obsolete documents and refuses to withdraw —even politely— from the domain of fine art. What one refers to as documentary photography, which expresses little pathos and has become outmoded, requires integrity, a good deal of courage and a sense of morality but hardly any poetry. Given the devastating nature of current events, Antoine d’Agata has chosen the arousal of the senses, and life itself.

A purveyor of sensitivity, he does not need to give in to violent criticism of a commonplace representation of reality, which he believes has an obligation to be useful. Taking into account all the phenomena habitually depicted in his work, with the exception of the death instinct, “Paradigms” thus takes us from the known to the unknown. By repeating, accumulating and deconstructing his motif, he makes each shift in modulation important and distinctive. The moment reveals its specificity, and avoids slipping into clichés and generalities. From sign to sign, with equal intensity, the substance of a subject is consistent with landscapes, intimate portraits and anonymous figures. Antoine d’Agata, the individual at the center of his own grid, finds himself defined by manifold characteristics.”

Antoine d’Agata Highway landscapes, France, 2014 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos
Antoine d’Agata Rohingyas, Cox's Bazar refugee camp, 2018 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos
Antoine d’Agata Shelters, Rohingyas refugee camp, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, 2018 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos
Antoine d’Agata Rohingyas, Cox's Bazar refugee camp, 2018 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos

His ‘being’ manifests itself as volatile, equipped with a set of behaviors, actions and reactions in a space that is both single and multiple. Bodies and objects float in a broken down perspective without, paradoxically, altering the sense of depth. The materiality of the subjects dissolves, fades away, in the multiplication of nine hundred contact sheets and thirty-six thousand pictures. All that remains is possibilities and points of view embedded in monochromatic backgrounds. The new prevalence of pixelated fragments is no longer unrelated to the original composition. This configuration renders his scenes unreal and diffuse, and fractures the representational space. The surprising juxtaposition of disunity and order definitively detaches the proposal from a sense of déjà vu. The event as such no longer exists. Life is divided and subdivided into a multitude of experiences that are neither observable nor quantifiable. The initial situation is re-evaluated through the image’s dematerialization and demystification. This device, dynamic and harmonious, introduces all situations that have been experienced and recorded into circulation. Antoine d’Agata presents them in cells in which nothing recurs in an identical manner. Any sense of stability is merely an illusion. That which superficially seems to repeat itself in fact contains countless insignificant differences that render each situation irrevocably unique.

By manipulating signs, Antoine d’Agata is taking a formidable risk. Subtle shifts operate a change on the work’s structure from one line to the next. Here, we evaluate the ‘photographer’s’ true nature, embracing accident and loss as a way of defining the essence of things.

To purchase a copy of S.T.A.S.I.S., visit Studio Vortex here.

Antoine d’Agata Forbidden zone, Fukushima, Japan, 2013 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos
Antoine d’Agata | 034 copy Chrystal meth, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 2009 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos
Antoine d’Agata Abu Salim jail, Libya, 2011 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos
Antoine d’Agata Crossing checkpoint, Bethlehem, Cisjordania, 2019 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos
Antoine d’Agata The wall, Bethlehem, Cisjordania, 2019 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos
Antoine d’Agata Contact sheets, Cambodia, 2005-2008 © Antoine d’Agata | Magnum Photos