Photos en brochette
by Lev Kreft

Once, photography was nothing more than a simple snapshot. Its invention served the need of the burgher to see a reflected image of himself and his world captured in it, as if in a mirror. This distinctive child of modernity burst forth as a phenomenal, and for the destiny of human understanding of tangible facts, a crucial invention. It was instantly declared a property of the public domain in order for it to be freely used by anyone. This added democratic character to its modernist provenance. The invention of what had restlessly been sought since the initial cutting out of silhouettes was amazing. The novelty offered a fixed image of what the eye could see but not hold. The camera became an indispensable accessory and in even less time than it took the mechanical profile portrait to evolve into photography. This enthusiasm and the hasty eagerness that brought forth the first modern and industrial art technology have now been a thing of the past for a good two hundred years. So have the speculations that photography would bring about the decline of the fine arts. Meanwhile, one could rightfully have anticipated the end of photography; just as models from last year's series look outdated today, other media seem to be far better suited to performing its original functions. A relevant question today would be how is it possible that photography still exists. Whatever revolutionary qualities were attributed to it at its birth have passed over to film, video and other new technologies, but photography has not been reduced to becoming just another artistic technique, or graphic skill. "Have you brought your camera?" is a question we instantly pop to anyone, not something reserved for Bojan Štokelj and others like him. Everyone is entitled to their own view, and photography symbolically represents this right. Regardless of how much its social status and prestige have changed with the arrival of new inventions, photography has retained two distinctive qualities since its beginnings. Those who encountered photography for the first time in the environment of modern European democratic society instantly recognised it as a useful tool for science. To the scientific community, which demanded that the patent for photography be consigned to the general public, the fixed image represented solid evidence of the existence of reality. If reality, which our senses enable us to know as a diversity of impressions and experiences, did not exist, it would not have been possible to register it through a process altogether independent of the senses. Before long, new logical inferences were drawn from this: reality is that which can be captured by the camera, and a photo is proof of its existence. In contrast, people in pre-modern societies saw photography as a means of taking away the soul of the photographed object in a way somewhat similar to skimming the cream off milk. Having had one's picture taken meant losing something which one would never get back again, for the photographic image was not seen as anything other than the very soul of the photographed object.
The fixing of the meaning of the photograph is therefore possible only within a certain ideology, a fixed perception of reality - a world view. It is precisely this view of the world that has been recorded and fixed since photography's invention. But just as its initial significance, shaped by modernist ideology, lay in providing the proof of reality's existence, and just as it was seen, consistently with the pre-modernist view of the world, as proof of the danger it posed to the fundamental reality of pre-modern man and to his soul, photography now looks up, in its old age, towards new meanings. Photography as a snapshot is capable of making visible more than reality alone. A picture can unmask reality as ideological construction and reveal how a view of the world is no less a constructed reality than the camera itself. If, in the beginning, photography was expected to fix a scientific view of the world as a conclusive evidence of its reality, it can now fix ideology itself as that which establishes, for the curious eye, the given view as a reality. Consequently, this may also invert the significance of its fixed method of processing. The fixed image no longer depicts the nature of the world as a permanent and unchangeable foundation of the world in a flux of change; rather, it demonstrates its elusiveness and instability, a condensed diffusion of some sort. Photography is capable of pinning down this fleeting and diffused view of the world.
For Bojan Štokelj, photography is a multi-faceted tool - in terms of processing, the milieu, and the choice of topic. The common denominator that links his work, which goes back to 1984, into a distinguishable whole is his use of the photographic image and its fixation with the purpose of unmasking the hidden reality of objects. He makes the artificial, construed, ideological, and even the horrifying distortion of reality visible. Thus, we become aware of the world view inhabiting our vision, of that constant of the eye which determines the contents of our seeing, and also when do we see and when we do not. In his photographs, the natural state of things is stripped of just enough skin to show the complex underlying artificial mechanism, the driving force of nature; there is also just enough polished surface for us to see our own view of the world reflected as if in a mirror.
This specific approach to photography can develop only in an environment where the influences of post-modernism and post-socialism are grafted together: the view of the world becomes an inverted modernistic optimism of a long march to capitalism, which instantly transforms the horrifying images of human defeat and dying into its building blocks and a means of fuelling its own progress. Reality, this intangible play of the language transcends Baudrillard's simulacrum as an uninterrupted surrogate. The leading idea of these works, which speak of the author's commitment and sense of responsibility, is to make all this visible. And, regardless of aesthetic taboos placed on the idea of commitment, Bojan Štokelj evidently believes in the eventual possibility of leading some souls which have been sold to the devil back to light, even if only for the purpose of taking their picture and fixing the image. Anything else, as far as the soul is concerned, is your own business.