In Amsterdam, Marcelo Brodsky has just unveiled images from his latest project PROVO, Seeds of New Ideas. The booth of the Rolf Art Gallery at the Unseen Photo Fair featured black-and-white archival images covered with notes and patches of color characteristic of the Argentine artist.
The photographer and activist Marcelo Brodsky first came across the images of the Provo movement in the Amsterdam city archives while serving as a judge for the World Press Photo contest in 2018. Although he had heard of the movement (he had discovered it during his research on the wave of 1968 uprisings worldwide for his previous project, 1968: The Fire of Ideas), he was struck by the archival photographs he found. He felt that he should do something with them, and began altering them to produce images that came to form the series PROVO, Seeds of New Ideas.
A class photo
The photographer has been working with archival images for a number of years. Born in Argentina into a family of immigrants (“like all Argentines,” as he is fond of saying), Marcelo Brodsky had to flee the military dictatorship in his country and in turn became an immigrant in Barcelona, which was his home for several years. The military dictatorship, which not only forced him into exile but also added his brother to the masses of the “disappeared,” had a profound impact on Brodsky’s life. Exile and migration, as well as popular protests and struggles conducted in the name of justice and human rights continue to be recurrent themes in his work.
The image La clase (The Class), which belongs to one of Brodsky’s early projects, Buena Memoria (Good Memory), brought him international recognition and probably remains emblematic of his work. Using an enlarged version of his 1967 class photo, Brodsky inscribed in color crayon any news of his classmates he was able to gather thirty years later. The dictatorship swept through here, turning the child-faced pupils into the disappeared, assassinated, exiled, or traumatized. The photograph is a subtle way of examining the impact of the dictatorship on the Argentine people and telling an extremely violent story through an aesthetic that contrasts with its rather unvarnished message.
Struggles that come back to life
In his new series of Provo movement images, the artist-activist employs the same, instantly recognizable graphic style, which consists in altering reproductions of black-and-white archival or news images using colored pencils and markers. Promoting libertarian and dissenting ideas, Provo was a socio-political movement active in the Netherlands between 1965 and 1967, and sometimes considered to be one of the forerunners of the 1968 revolutions around the world.
The images collected in PROVO, Seeds of New Ideas show protests; gatherings at printing houses publishing tracts, posters, and newspapers; and street assemblies—often framed by police force attempting to contain them. While the archival images, presented in a traditional way, might have seemed distant and unrelated to our current concerns, the photographer added splashes of color and handwritten phrases, bringing the struggles back to life. The smoke bombs and fires set in the streets seem to burn afresh, while slogans and words of protest are once again loud and clear on the protesters’ lips and banners.
By resurrecting past revolts and liberating them from their status of historical facts, Marcelo Brodsky captures our attention and manages to rekindle the power of the image. Going beyond a mere reprisal of these photographs, the activist breathes new life into them, letting the spirit of the revolt operate anew.
Resonance among a committed generation
The creator of Visual Action, an organization fighting with images for the respect of human rights, firmly believes in the power of photography and its capacity to inspire action. As he puts it: “archival photographs are key to transmitting History and conveying past experience to new audiences, because the stories they contain produce empathy and thus make it possible to touch and move younger generations.”
PROVO, Seeds of New Ideas brings together the power of image documents deployed by the photographer and a personal touch of the militant artist. It thus represents a body of work certain to find resonance among a generation already committed to social and ecological causes of their time.
By Elsa Leydier