Vinca Petersen in El País

'The eternal photogenicy of rebellious youth' by Gloria Crespo Maclennan

12 June 2021 During the eighties and nineties, photographers Jim Goldberg and Vinca Petersen became cult authors through two books that reflected the lives of young people who had made the decision to live outside the system.


Vinca Petersen, No Sytem, 2020


"The city is made to get lost in it," writes Jim Goldberg (New Haven, Connecticut, United States, 1953) on the website of the agency Magnum. “Some disappear on purpose, seduced by the freedom of anonymity, the opportunity for reinvention. Others - often without resources or privileges - arrive in search of a new life and find themselves on the margins, trapped, for innumerable reasons, in a cycle of poverty that can hardly be reversed ”. For a whole decade, from 1985 to 1995, the photographer toured San Francisco and Los Angeles, delving into the intimacy of the young homeless teenagers who roamed the streets. Thus he shaped a masterful account: Raised by Wolves, described by The Washington Post as "a heartbreaking novel with photographs" and by Nan Goldin as "one of the best photography books of my life."


The author built his ambitious document through a collage made up of photographs, drawings, handwritten notes, excerpts from conversations, and materials found by chance (complemented by videos and installations in its expository version). An amalgam of elements that constitute a narrative, deep and powerful, about those who remain invisible within society, by the hand of Tweeky Dave and Echo, whose short but intense life passes by stumbling blocks in an environment defined by addiction, violence and oppression.


Goldberg defines his style within a space that runs between documentary photography and fictional narrative. It is "a completely true work of fiction," he stresses. The project began with the purpose of documenting an issue hitherto overlooked in the United States. The result would be a reversal of the practice of photojournalism through a much more personal approach, which unceremoniously shortened the distance between the author and his subjects and revealed their positioning. A tender and compassionate look at a dark and murky world populated by outsiders, young runaways, parents, police officers, social workers, pimps and brothel clients.


Published by Scalo in 1995, the monograph quickly sold out. Today it is a cult book, whose price exceeds 400 euros in the second-hand market. In 2016 Goldberg reissued himself a pirated version, slightly modified and made on a Xerox copier, which is still practically impossible to find. In this way, Stanley/Barker Books publishes Fingerprint, which brings together 45 facsimiles of the unpublished Polaroids that the author used as sketches for his photographs or as gifts with which to entertain his nonconformist subjects. The first edition was sold out in five days.


The work is presented inside a screen-printed box, the cover of which bears the photographer's fingerprint stamped with white paint. Any introductory essay or text in the series has been omitted. The annotations made by the protagonists, with their own calligraphy, directly on the images prevail. "The protagonists were real and their circumstances, heartbreaking, but their stories contained half-truths and falsehoods constructed to reflect what they wanted or needed to believe," explains the author. “The stories that led them to write these annotations and the synthesis of their words pose a challenge: discerning what is real from what is not,” he pointed out in conversation with the writer and curator David Campany during Paris Photo 2019. “They give rise to more questions than answers”.


Outside the system.


Vinca Petersen (Seoul, Korea, 1973) was seventeen years old when she left her parents' home and became part of the sound system culture. She hit the road with a collective called Alien Pulse, a self-managed group of young English and German people who put on raves, illegal electronic music parties organised in any suitable place to deploy their powerful sound equipment. They aspired to be free by living by their own rules. "It wasn't so much about a rebellion as it was about living outside the system," Petersen recalls. Thus, she spent four years living with that sound system, capable of attracting thousands of young people seduced by the promise of entire nights of delirium, techno and free ecstasy. What started out as a musical and hedonistic movement turned into a form of contempt and civil disobedience.


When the first legal measures were taken in the UK in 1994 against such celebrations, Petersen continued her tours of Europe. For 14 years she adopted a nomadic life that she documented through her camera and her writings. From there came No System, a book originally intended to be a family album, designed to be given to its protagonists, composed of their diaries, different annotations and the images of those who accompanied her on her journey. “I was shooting instinctively, and quickly with the sole purpose of retaining and documenting the moment,” recalls the photographer, who at no time could have imagined that all that material would fall into the hands of the publishing priest Gerhard Steidl. Petersen would become the youngest author of the prestigious Steidl quarry in 1999, and she is now reissuing the book with which she gained fame.


Part of that series of blurry, saturated and frantic images can be seen in the exhibition Raves and Riots, which takes place at the Edel Assanti gallery in London. Not only do they make up an exceptional archive of a countercultural and little documented movement - due to the illegal nature of the events there were not many cameras - but they transcend the euphoria of the moment through the proximity and empathy that the artist achieves with her subjects. "I always think about what can impact or make the audience reflect," highlights the photographer. “In that which can broaden your search and annihilate fear. Fear is the greatest enemy of freedom ”. In her work the struggle of those who aspire to an existence beyond the traditional systems of organisation, control and hierarchy is palpable. "The tribal heartbeat has reverberated on our planet for years," wrote Petersen in her journal. “Technology is our way of joining this continuous rhythm. No matter the age, the context is irrelevant. We exist now and in the future. Welcome to our way of life”.


12 June 2021
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