The last decades of the 20th century witnessed the erosion of the idea of veracity, originally attributed to the photographic image since its very early days. This was due, among other reasons, to the arrival and expansion of digital technology. However, in recent years, this same digital technology appears to be striking back. Since the emergence of social networks and the overwhelming democratization of image-making devices, photography has regained its ability to bear witness, to show and share with the world — 'I was there'.
Below is an edited transcript of an interview that assistant editor Alexander Strecker had with Daniel Mayrit regarding his series "You Haven't Seen Their Faces."
The title of my project is a twist from “You Have Seen Their Faces,” an anthological book by Margaret Bourke-White from the 1930s. That book was a documentary project, much in the style of “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” which captured the life of American southerners battling poverty during the Great Depression.
Now that we are in a similar (or even deeper?) recession, I wanted to play around with the idea in today’s context. For my project, I wanted to flip the subject matter: I decided to portray power and the people who were responsible for creating the current situation, rather those who are suffering its consequences.
Months after the 2011 London Riots, the Metropolitan Police handed out leaflets depicting youngsters that presumably took part in the riots. Images of very low quality, almost amateur, were embedded with unquestioned authority due both to the device used for taking the photographs (surveillance cameras) and to the institution distributing those images. But in reality, what do we actually know about these people? The images offer no context or explanation of the facts. Still, the spectator seems to almost inadvertently assume the subjects' guilt because they were 'caught on CCTV'.
I started thinking about another section of the population which was considered guilty for a very different kind of crime: the financial meltdown. But while CCTV and the police can easily produce and hand out thousands of images of a certain kind of (alleged) criminal, many of these financial criminals live in comfortable anonymity. We have an exact image of a youngster in a hoodie who looted some shoes but we have no idea what some powerful people, partially responsible for the loss hundreds of billions of dollars, look like.
It’s not about implying that these powerful people are all guilty, necessarily, but more to raise questions. Who are they these people? What do they look like? What are their jobs? We cannot possibly know if the youngsters portrayed by the police are actually criminals and likewise, we cannot assume that the individuals featured here are dishonest or have any involvement at all in the ongoing global financial crisis.
My list of subjects was based on a list published by Square Mile magazine (something like GQ) of the 100 most powerful people in London. I then went online and found images of all these people. I manipulated these images to look like they came from surveillance cameras, in order to make the parallel with the CCTV images even stronger. Normally, CCTV image-making is exclusively in the hands of those in power. I wanted to turn around the cameras back on their controllers.
I managed to find all 100 people from the list except one. At first, I was pretty upset and I thought the project was ruined. But then I realized it was quite telling in itself — one person on the list had the power to remove their image and presence from the internet completely, something that a normal person would struggle to do.
Editor's Note: Daniel Mayrit's work is part of "Photography 2.0" and "P2P", two fantastic exhibitions among many in the program of PHotoEspana 2014. The festival is running in locations all over Madrid from June 4 - July 27, 2014.