Danaé Panchaud, museologist, curator and lecturer specialising in photography, based in Switzerland. Currently the director and curator of the Photoforum Pasquart, in Biel, writes about her participation (as curator) in the project “Au-delà/In Beyond”. More about the project here.
I do not believe in the power of a single image to change the world. I wish I did, in a certain way, but I do not. This, to me, would amount to a wild amount of wishful thinking, to denying the complexity of the world, but it would also be, simply, asking too much from photography.
I do believe, however, that images, or, more precisely maybe, that image making can be a very powerful tool, which can be harnessed for very different goals. On the one hand, it can make self expression and representation possible, or allow someone to reclaim and reframe history. On the other hand, it has been used from its inception to enforce power structures and impose certain narratives. Getting into more details is well beyond the scope of this statement, but I believe this offers some context for my position as a European curator in relation with this project.
My motivation to join and support this project as a photography curator is multifold. My main entry point to photography in North Africa and the Arab world was a photography festival organised in
Kerkennah, in Tunisia, in 2018. While I was aware of the work of many photographers in that area, it was there that I truly encountered this scene, and was confronted with its dynamism, its diversity, the
multifaceted visions of its artists, but also its urgency. I have since then continued to follow this scene and its artists, and completed a first large-scale project in 2020 with the photographer Abdo Shanan.
Together we curated a large exhibition with 40 contemporary Algerian photographers or photographers with strong ties to Algeria, which was presented at Photoforum Pasquart, in Switzerland (where I am the director until 30 November 2021). We did not attempt to make a ‘best-of’ or to focus on a handful of particular themes or photographers. Upon the contrary, we let the images and the visions of the photographers guide our choices, and intervene minimally in the editing of the images (over 800 were presented). We focused instead of offering relevant contextualisation to our primarily European audience. We included a historical section presenting 63 images and objects offering insights of the history of photography in Algeria, and how it was instrumentalised to support colonialism and craft certain narratives while obfuscating other voices. I currently have two other projects in development linked to contemporary Algerian photography.
I am particularly interested in the approach to photography proposed by the collectives for this project, which resonates deeply with me: it is photography as a tool for self-representation and self-expression; photography as an instrument to challenge and counter official narratives that do not serve every community; photography as a way to build understanding, trust, and a certain form of knowledge, without burdening the medium with excessive goals that would remain unattainable.
While I am not, by far, a specialist of the political issues and history between Algeria and Morocco, I think that I can bring another form of expertise to the project. I have a strong sense of how images work
in a certain context, of what they can say but also of what their limitations are. As a curator, I know how images can work together to craft a certain narrative, with complexity and nuance, and how it
interacts with its context, be it the space it is presented in or its larger social context. My years as a lecturer in photography schools have given me a solid experience in accompanying photographers in
the development of their projects. These are the main skills that I can bring to the project, first during the development of the projects, and then for the public presentations of the works. As the director of
one of the main Swiss photography institutions, I will also be a relay for the project in Europe, and support its presentation in Switzerland.
This collaboration with the collectives KOZ and Collective 220 is in many ways a logical development for me. It represents a significant opportunity for me to deepen my knowledge of this photography scene and its complex political context, as well as to deepen the ties with its artists and photographers, which I strongly believe need to develop over time and with shared experience and sustained exchanges.