A group of people, standing. Side by side in the good old days. Dressed up for a special occasion. They look into the camera, smile and pose for the photographer who is capturing this presumably important moment for eternity. Their faces are all turned towards the lens, presenting themselves; even the ones who stand in the second row move their heads into position so they can be seen.
Yet there is a harsh interruption in this seemingly happy image: a man dressed in dark colors holding a stick and another man in a bright suit with his hands behind his back are withdrawn from view. Someone has carefully ripped out a strip of the photograph from the top, at the level of their heads. Their faces are gone. All that remains is their posture between the smiling faces of the others, and the question about why those two have been omitted.
Again a group of people. This time on stage, surrounding a speaker in front of a microphone, focusing the viewer’s attention at the center of the image. In the foreground we see the backs of the heads of the crowd, who lean into the image to see what is happening on stage – onlookers like us. Yet they saw something back then that we cannot see today, since we have only the image as a document of that very moment. They saw the faces and expressions of the people on the stage.
In the photo the three central faces have been scratched away. Their expressions and identity have been erased.
An unusually high vertical photo-strip shows a man and a women of different ages, dressed formally in suits. Their friendly faces look towards the camera, posing with their staged posture and expression for a photo that was meant to capture an important moment in their lives. Yet again we encounter a void. The left side of the image is irregularly cut to remove another person who was standing next to the young man with his necktie. Again the question remains – who is missing, and why was that person torn out of the picture?
Over the last few years Fani Zguro has collected black and white images from the 1950s to the 1990s from Albania, images in which we see people posing for a photograph. A single person, a couple, a group, standing or sitting, or watching an event. The artist does not contextualize the images. We are offered no information about where, when or why these images were made, or about who the people are. What these images have in common is the void of a missing person who used to be in the picture. A ripped, cut, clipped, retouched, scratched scar on the image.
The series started with two pictures Zguro found of his father, in which other faces had been erased. Zguro started to collect images with similar traces of disappearance, of any origin. These charged ready-mades leave a bitter aftertaste, that of a moment that was once meant to last forever that has turned sour. People who loved, who celebrated, who were proud and cheerful, suddenly felt that one or more persons should no longer have a place in the image. Instead of destroying the whole picture, they destroyed a presence. The shouting void depicts an act of negation, indicating that one or more persons should no longer be part of that shared memory. Yet this negative act creates something new. It raises question about the history of the image, the story of the missing person, the story of the personal relationships. And of course of the destructive act itself.
Images of private events and intimate situations usually capture happy moments. Rarely do they record a troubling event. So what should be done with anger, if a former joyful occasion has gone bad, probably due to the actions of one person? Can we just cut out that person’s face, and with it the memory of his/her existence during that event? What should be done with the feeling of revenge, censorship and destruction?
The face represents of a person’s identity. Over the years a posture, a suit, a surrounding does not tell much about a person’s character. Even a motionless portrait reveals something about the person. Eyebrows, eyes, nose, cheeks, mouth and chin form a puzzle, assembling an image of a person that is the first thing we re- member about them. Before any gesture, smell, the sound of laughter, the way a persons moves. It culminates in the format of the passport picture. Facing the camera, still and without any sign of emotion, almost every person on the world has been photographed at least once, making this imaginary placeholder. By the act of annihilating only the face the identity gets questioned.
With the background of Albania’s censoring dictatorship, which lasted from the mid 1940s to the 1990s, another aspect comes to play: what if a certain presence puts you at risk? Do you want to destroy the person, or instead to make this person unrecognizable, so that you – at least - can conserve the memory of a certain moment? This turns the act towards a kind of positive censorship, if such a thing is possible: the photo still exists, the void as a presence reminds the viewer, every time, of the presence/absence of the missing person. Actually the person is not missing, but only his face. The story of the image is locked away in the memories of the people who were there. In that very moment.