Our latest page 23 comes courtesy of issue 12 of the German photography magazine Der Grief, which has been guest-edited by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin. The duo sent a callout for images that ‘are too private, too quiet, too violent, too political, too subversive or too explicit to share online.’ Subtitled ‘Blame the Algorithm’, the result is a magazine that is at times shocking.
Faced with the difficult task of sifting through a large amount of explicit imagery (though they did point out that they had plenty of quiet images submitted too), they turned to a ‘disgruntled former Facebook employee’ whose job was to act as a human arbitrator alongside algorithms to censor content. The content moderator in question remains anonymous, and extracts from their four hour interview appear throughout the magazine.
The content is separated into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ – and each one runs up the left hand side, passing each other in opposite directions like cars on a British street. Get to the middle and which page number meets itself in the middle? 23! On both centrefold pages! We could hardly pass up the opportunity to write about it.
On the ‘GOOD’ side, page 23 features one of the photographs you might categorise into the ‘too quiet’ taxonomy – a local supermarket, shelves laden and orderly with multicoloured bottles and packages, not a soul in sight. Except, that is, for the news anchor broadcasting to no-one in-between the ATM and frozen goods, the word ‘crisis’ visible in the broadcast. The photograph is by Michael Amato, part of a series entitled ‘Fear Culture, USA’ – in which TV news endlessly hyperbolises to different rooms full of stuff and air.
One of the excerpts from the interview with the anonymous Facebook content moderator appears underneath this image – but there is no particular relevance to the image that it shares space with.
Flip the magazine and the other page 23 – underneath BAD – looks like it’s been taken in the golden hour before the sun sets: long shadows and warm light falls over the still life of a penis resting on a nectarine. It calls to mind one of the most memorable scenes in the film ‘Call Me By Your Name’. Taken by Javier Silva, it’s a quietly explicit, humorous image, and not what I would describe at all as ‘bad’.
Elsewhere in the magazine, the images can occasionally be hard to look at, and I’m sure that we’re not seeing the most violent or explicit images that were submitted. If anything, the excerpts of the interview that run occasionally underneath are harder to read – they get across the hideousness and hopelessness of some human activity, and the toll on the people who repeatedly see the worst side of humanity. However a lot of the images that are shown are celebrations of the human body, and its activities, vices and excretions that are sanitised by mass media – the kind of images that we shouldn’t be scared of, as they teach us about ourselves.
Der Greif has always been a boundary-pushing magazine, but it shows a great leap of faith by the publishers to green light this idea, and challenge the censoring of images that we see online. Photography needs to have a space to test the limits of what it can represent, and here it seems the guest editors have used their platform to do so.
Guest editors: Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin
Founder & artistic director: Simon Karlstetter
Creative director: Gita Cooper-van Ingen
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