BAOUMMM, ratatatata, viiuuu. The sounds of air raids on Kobe, Japan. In the last seven months of the Second World War, half of the city was destroyed. Incendiary and cluster bombs wreaked untold damage and claimed thousands of civilian lives. Food, water, and energy supplies dwindled and social life collapsed. After the war, and for the decades that followed, there was collective silence: the past was buried, the suffering repressed, and discussion closed off entirely. But couldn’t the memories of individual and collective catastrophe be preserved instead? How could experiences that have been passed on through oral traditions be kept as part of cultural memory? And can one borrow the memories of others to define and solidify one’s own identity? In the cycle of photographs Hikari, photographer David Favrod retraces the experiences of his grandparents in Kobe. He explores and processes his family’s history, which he knows only from the stories that unconsciously shaped him as he was growing up. In his photographs, Favrod recreates memories of events that he never experienced, and in this act of artistic appropriation, he tests the fine line between fiction and reality.
Favrod’s photographs are not realistically staged re-enactments of historic events. Instead, they explore how the memories of events have been handed down and interpreted. To approach his grandparents’ non-linear narratives, he uses found images and visual materials derived from different sources, which he then rearranges into new narratives—as idiosyncratic, fictive memory-images. He does not rely on the medium of photography alone but uses a combination of visual techniques such as superimposition, collage, and drawing to create an artistic whole. Another unique feature of Favrod’s work is his use of onomatopoetic words—the sounds of fighter planes, falling bombs, machine gun fire, and (radioactive) rain—as a genuine compositional element. He writes them in acrylic paint, Manga-style, across the surface of his pictures. Their unrepresentability points to the intensity and importance of acoustic stimuli for perception and memory.
Favrod’s approach gives rise to new visual structures that transcend the limits of photography and open up new dimensions of the image and new possibilities for narrative. His intentionally ambiguous pictures undermine the medium of photography and the belief inherent in it that “this is how it was.” His works contain experiences of discontinuity, the fragmentary, ambivalence, and multiple perspectives, and thus reveal remembering to be an associative act. David Favrod understands individual and collective memory not as a clearly defined foundation, but as a fluid and ongoing process of self-discovery and constant creation of new meanings. Memory is always being renegotiated as social construct and cultural creation. It is through the combination of photographic and non-photographic elements that new dream-images and memory fragments are created; past events are woven together with fantasies and associations into new stories. Here, the boundaries between reality and fiction are intentionally blurred as a means to ultimately approach “truth.”
Interestingly, similar processes are underway in other types of visual media as well. A new documentary film form has been seen increasingly in recent years in which filmmakers use an innovative, hybrid combination of animation and documentation—for instance, in Last Hijack by Femke Wolting and Tommy Pallotta, which recently won the International Emmy Award 2015, or in Bitter Lake by Adam Curtis, also from 2015, to give just two examples. By consciously experimenting with fictive elements and mixing fiction, raw material, and classic documentary in a wild crossover, they tell stories that are based on historic fact but that also play with the impression of being fictional—and thus blur the boundaries of traditional documentary film.
David Favrod stands as a representative of this emerging movement of artists and filmmakers who, since the advent of digital technology, have been consciously challenging and breaking traditions as a means to transcend established boundaries and work toward hybrid visual and narrative structures, radically changing the ways that stories are told.
David Favrod was born in 1982 in Kobe, Japan. He completed his master’s degree in art direction and his bachelor’s in photography at the ÉCAL in Lausanne. Favrod is the recipient of the 2013 Lens Culture Exposure Award and of the Aperture Portfolio Prize and Swiss Design Award, both in 2010. His works are part of numerous public collections, among them Rome’s Museo d’ Arte Contemporanea di Roma, the Elysee Museum in Switzerland, and the collection of the city of Winterthur, also in Switzerland. His works have been shown internationally in both solo and group exhibitions at the Aperture Foundation in New York, the Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe, the Houston Center for Photography, the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art in Toronto, and Daegu photo Bi¬ennale in South Korea among others. David Favrod lives in Switzerland and Spain.
Julia Katharina Thiemann was born in 1981 in Hamburg, Germany. She studied German studies and sociology at the Leibniz Universität in Hannover and art history at the Städelschule and the Goethe-Universität in Frankfurt a.M., earning a master’s degree in curatorial studies and art criticism. She regularly writes analyses of artists’ works and essays on various topics for artists and publications. She is currently a curatorial scholarship holder at the Schloß Balmoral artists’ residence. Julia Katharina Thiemann lives in Ludwigshafen am Rhein.