Surfaces and Strategies – PhotoMonth 2017 – Divisive Moments and Lookout
Divisive Moments and Lookout – Ethnographic Museum, Krakow – 27th May 2017
Figure 1: Sutherst. 2017
A collection of American UFO photographs forms the Divisive Moments exhibition.
The Divisive Moments exhibition was a project curated for Krakow Photomonth 2017 by Gordon MacDonald. The images and accompanying documents were collected from the rich UFO Photo Archives. The exhibition was previously displayed in the Photographer’s Gallery in London in February 2017.
This exhibition showcases images from the moon landings to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Photography is often used to provide ‘proof’ of things. Throughout its history, photography has been used as ‘evidence’ to support conspiracy theories and the existence of extra-terrestrial beings and UFOs.
The Ethnographic Museum is housed in several buildings in Krakow, the Ethnographic Museum. The chosen building provided an interesting venue steeped in historical features which contrasted against the images. Alongside the photographs, the display included research documents, films and books.
Figures 2-4: Sutherst.2017
The display was challenging to the viewer and prompts consideration about what they believe. Are we visited by alien beings travelling the universe in strange looking craft? Or, have we been tricked by people who feel the need to make often complicated fiction about the existence of UFOs. These decisions are often life-changing and the creator believes the stories to be true. Are they delusional? Or, are we actually being visited by other beings? I, like many others, am still unconvinced. I believe that the conflict of beliefs and disagreement over the existence of aliens, is the reasoning behind the name of the exhibition – Divisive Moments.
Some of the photographs in the exhibition were familiar to me, whilst others appeared quite odd and unusual. Some images looked manipulated as the UFOs portrayed in them look awfully like the top of lamp posts etc. In other photographs it is hard to determine if the UFO shown is real or not.
Figures 5-8: Sutherst. 2017
But do these photographs prove or disprove the theories? The nature of photography and the ability we have to manipulate and stage images or take photographs to merely document and record what we see means that neither side can prove their case through the process or analysis of photographs. The photographs could be fact or fiction dependent on the intent of the photographer.
“The intervention of a machine gives photography the illusion of unbiased observation”
– Gordon MacDonald
We know that the saying the photograph never lies is not true. Whilst researching ufology in preparation for the exhibition, curator MacDonald noticed a trend: “Flying saucers tend to get spotted by white males in remote areas – the Swiss Alps, deserts in Nevada, rural Argentina, Mexico – rather than by masses in urban areas. There’s never been a claim that a spaceship was spotted by 10,000 people on Oxford Street, for instance – though perhaps there will be during our show.” (Sooke 2017). MacDonald has communicated that well within the exhibit.
Figure 9: Sutherst. 2017
The second part of this exhibition was the collection of Polish UFO photographs forming the Lookout exhibit. Set in the basement of the venue, the small prints on the white walls draw you in and make the experience quite intimate. The basement gave an almost secretive feel to the work. This exhibition was curated by Gordon MacDonald and Joanna Gorlach.
Figure 10: Sutherst. 2017
The exhibition material was taken from the archives of the ‘UFO-Video’ Warsaw UFO Research Society. The society has researched a wide range of paranormal topics and delivered talks and reports about unexplained phenomena.
Figures 11-20: Sutherst. 2017
The reports, documents and photographs in the exhibition were produced during the era of communist rule in Poland. It appeared to me when looking at the photographs that the notion of UFOs holds more interest to Polish people than to British people and I found this quite strange given the nature of communism. The Polish interest in UFOs appears to have begun in 1978. 71-year old Jan Wolski was reportedly abducted by aliens from the small farming community of Emilcin in eastern Poland on May 10, 1978. This was the first UFO abduction ever reported in Poland. (Source: Huneeus 2017). Wolski’s case was a useful benchmark that was used to study reports of an abduction. The case had very little, if any, media exposure that is normally associated with contemporary American abductions. After the encounter, Poland became the first communist country to develop UFO research which was both legal and independent of the state. The Polish ‘UFO-Video’ archive demonstrates how open and consistent this research was.
The staging of both of these exhibitions was cleverly constructed. The mix of images and other media drew me as a viewer into the content. Housing each part of the exhibition on different floors in such an historical building really emphasized how the research had developed in 2 separate parts of the world. The exhibits complement each other and reveal the true fascination we as a species have with the thought that we are not alone in the universe. Whilst I remain unconvinced about the existence of UFOs and aliens, I was fascinated how photography had been used as a key part of the evidence to ‘prove’ both sides of the argument.
HUNEEUS, ANTONIO. 2017. “Poland’s first abduction case is monumental | Openminds.tv”. Openminds.tv [online]. Available at: http://www.openminds.tv/polands-first-abduction-case-is-monumental/1619 [accessed 28 May 2017].
SOOKE, ALASTAIR. 2017. “The strange photographs used to ‘prove’ conspiracy theories”. Bbc.com [online]. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20170216-five-photographs-used-to-prove-conspiracy-theories [accessed 28 May 2017].