FORMAT Festival, Derby: Amateur Unconcern, A Photo-Literary Fantasia
2014-18 marks the centenary of the First World War. The commemorative avalanche of the tragic and unnecessary conflict continues worldwide. Departing from the ‘bellicose mood’, The Photocaptionist presented Amateur Unconcern: A Photo-Literary Fantasia, its first online-only exhibition, as part of the 2015 edition of FORMAT International Photography Festival.
Performed in five acts, this theatrical photo-fiction explored notions of frivolity, privilege, moralism and political disengagement of cultured, leisured Europe just before, during and immediately after the Great War.
Excerpts from George Bernard Shaw’s play Heartbreak House (1919) were enacted against sound and clips selected from Aleksandr Sokurov’s film adaptation, Mournful Unconcern (1983-1987).
Shaw’s play and Sokurov’s film described the ‘moral vacuum’ of the upper and middle classes towards WW1 and its consequences. As the war rumbles, the characters languidly refuse to interrupt their privileged normality.
This literary framework set the stage for an irreverent performance of amateur photographs of leisure and relaxation, made between 1913 and 1919, and selected from the private collections of the Archive of Modern Conflict.
In the autochromes and photo albums of these early 20th century European amateurs we can identify moments of seeming unconcern in their lives and in the lives of their subjects. Photography is, in this instance, as fragile as the glass plates it is carried on; a precarious provider of tangible evidence for those intangible aspects of life; states of mind and feelings.
As ever photography only reveals a partial story. It would be problematic to accuse these photographers of absolute indifference, as we ignore what they had been up to before and after the images were taken. In a way, their unconcern, like their photography, can only be described as naïve, amateur.
View the full exhibition here.