Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, who live and work in London, have developed their own style of conceptual photo books. While they are both photographers, they often use found photos for their art projects. Their most recent book is Holy Bible, a book which seems at first to be a real copy of the bible… until you open it. The actual King James Version of the bible is printed inside, but is interrupted by photos printed on top of the text, as though they're being used as placeholders. Yet, many of the photos depict violence, creating a visual asynchrony with the otherwise peaceful looking bible.
The idea was born while Broomberg and Chanarin were working on another book, a project on the theatre director and playwright Bertolt Brecht's collection of press photos and his writings about them. They came across Brecht's personal bible, in which he had stuck photos. In Holy Bible, the artists pay homage to Brecht and his bible: they too added photos to the pages. Given Broomberg and Chanarin's choice of images, the context of both the biblical text and the photos changes. With these particular images sitting inside the bible, the photos seem to mock the text. The duo even underlined certain passages in the text that often correspond quite literally to the image.
The photos were pulled from The Archive of Modern Conflict, a collection of unofficial photography from the First and Second World Wars. There are potentially innocent photos: two drunk men next to a Jukebox, a photo of the full moon, three sofas on top of each other in front of a furniture store. But then there are the unmistakably violent ones: A cut off head, blood trails on the ground. A woman held down and kicked by men in uniform with helmets and sticks, her light blue bra showing. A man with a Hitler mask penetrating a naked woman. Piles of thin dead bodies. Why should we see these photos?
Broomberg and Chanarin seem to want us to know about violence. They argue through these images, just as the philosopher Adi Opher does in text in the epilogue to the book, that the violence in the bible has a strong parallel to contemporary state violence. And so we see a black and white photo of swastika-uniformed boys attentively listening to a soldier, with the words underneath underlined: 'speak [that which is] good' from the second book of Kings. Or we see a photo of a rocket horizontally chasing over the page, with the underlined words 'to consume and to destroy [it] unto the end' from the book of Daniel.
Apart from violence in words transformed into image, there's another mechanism at work, too. Because we're looking at so many photos, some of which appear to be random, others too horrible to look at, we wonder how and why the photos were selected. And that's exactly what the duo wants people to wonder about. As they said in a recent interview: "The important thing is to realise that even though so many [photos] are made, they are still so carefully controlled, by newspapers, by news agencies, by the state. We see very little of what's really going on unless we look hard."
Holy Bible is published by MACK. The first edition is already sold out, but a reprint is available from September 2nd.