D-Day, Prague Spring, the Islamic Revolution, Srebrenica, 9/11, the Battle of Verdun, the capitulation of Saigon—these historic events have left an indelible imprint on the collective memory of people worldwide. Every year, the memories of the past are kept alive on specific dates, often with celebrations and public rituals. But why? For nations, political communities, and ideological movements, the anniversaries of historic events serve as important monuments of an age and affirmations of a specific identity. They show what freedom, tyranny, oppression, and liberation mean. This form of commemoration unifies, stirs, and polarizes, evokes joy and sadness, hope and despair, and creates emotional spaces of memory.
Since 2004, photographer Marc Beckmann has been observing military parades, state ceremonies, public moments of silence, and demonstrations on selected anniversaries of historic events worldwide. But often he leaves choreographed event aside, which is defined by strict adherence to protocol, and turns his camera instead towards the quiet observation on the sidelines of the individual events. With this approach, he does not reproduce a prescribed viewpoint or interpretation but rather shows how those in power deal with, dramatize, and instrumentalize history in the present day.
Marc Beckmann’s long-term photographic study, with subject matter that is familiar across all cultures, raises numerous questions: Who is staging what in this scene, and why? What political decisions underlie the planning of this celebration? What speeches, gestures, and emotions were planned and which were spontaneous? Who was invited? And how did the photographs of these events created that became famous worldwide and thus engraved themselves into our cultural memory? The crucial historical moments that are remembered on these anniversaries are only the foil for modern-day theater of state and its media circus. In these events, that function as interfaces between individual and collective memory, history is reduced to mythic archetypes and always raises the question of conscious construction of memory—an ambiguity of events is hardly accepted. Only in striking simplification can the often traumatic experiences be channeled and memory and the current status quo be stabilized. Regular repetition lends meaning and provides a form of identification, and thus also gives future generations a stronger sense of cohesion.
By not producing the official images—politicians, stages, wreaths, victims, spectators—Marc Beckmann removes both himself and the viewer from the usual stereotypes. His work is an expression of a search for new visual strategies photo reporters and artists in light of the growing incapacity for neutral, independent reporting in recent years among. In the boundary zone between photojournalistic and artistic photography, there appear new possibilities to explore and challenge the mechanisms underlying the production and reception of modern media images.
Marc Beckmann . born in 1978, studied photography at the Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences and completed his studies in 2006 with a project on coca cultivation in Bolivia under Professor Roman Bezjak. He is represented by the agency Ostkreuz and works as a freelance photographer for magazines and corporate communications. He has been working since 2004 on the project Anniversaries dealing with the culture of remembrance surrounding historic events. Marc Beckmann lives and works in Berlin.
Sarah Alberti, born in 1989, studied communication and media studies as well as art history at the University of Leipzig, the University of Bourgogne (FR), and the Academy of Visual Arts Leipzig. As a freelance writer, she publishes articles in the magazine monopol – Das Magazin für Kunst und Leben, frieze d/e, Artmapp – Das Kunstmagazin für Entdecker, the daily newspaper Die Tageszeitung, and the weekly newspaper Der Freitag. From 2011 to 2014 she also worked as an editor for kreuzer – Das Leipzig Magazin. In 2013, she was recognized by the Landesverband Bildende Kunst Sachsen e.V. (state association for visual art in Saxony) for outstanding achievement in art criticism. Sarah Alberti lives and works in Leipzig.