Life On Mars, Part I

A Photo-Critique of America

Artist's Statement by Jean-Christian Rostagni

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I believe that my mission as a photographer is to show people what they cannot or do not want to see.

While I immigrated to this country with perfectly good intentions, out of professional integrity I could not avoid photographing what seemed to need to be revealed, and the result is here. This work actually started in France in 1993, the day I observed my wife (who is American), disgusted after seeing some dead deer heads at a butcher shop in a Parisian market. I have to say that the scene was a little unusual, even for a Frenchman. The heads had been skinned, the eyes were expressionless, yet very present; the blood still fresh. Yet I doubt that any French citizen would really pay too much attention, other than to wonder, “what kind of paté can this become?”

Seeing my wife’s reaction, I understood the cultural implications and photographed the scene, which I titled “Dans les Moments de Vérité” (In the Moments of Truth). I dedicated the shot to the American people -- whom I like a lot, but nevertheless suspect, as a whole, have a hard time facing reality and taking responsibility for their actions. The post 9-11 era has so far exemplified that, and this photograph is a good introduction to what I want to tell them.

The title “Life on Mars,” is because a number of Western Europeans wonder if Americans are really from planet Earth? There are some apparent incompatibilities between the America that we see as a place of advanced technology and a laboratory for progress, and the America that is home of the death penalty, war mongering, religious fundamentalism, and so on. A possible explanation is that Americans actually come from another planet, and Mars, also known as the God of War, seems to be the best candidate.

I am a “photographe sur la ligne de front” (frontline photographer). My battle is both an ideological and a technical one. My mission is to capture photographs of reality and coerce them into revealing depth, thoughtfulness, beauty, and poetry. All this through somewhat alternative techniques -- always on the edge, but never outside of the essential conventions, human communication. My strategy is to build an armada of visual bombs that will break the defenses of the “sleepwalking through life” consensus.

I’d like to leave you on what follows. Gandhi: “Wars are not won by bullets but by bleeding hearts”, Ché Guevara: “It is because we are realists that we ask for the impossible”, and John Lennon: “They’ll say that I am a dreamer, but I am not the only one.”

JEAN-CHRISTIAN ROSTAGNI

 

 


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