|Go with peace by Maciej Stepinski
Why not? [...] the duller eye may often see a thing sooner than the keener.
Maciej Stepinski’s Go with peace series of photographs differs considerably from his previous projects. This dissimilarity lies in certain intended fuzziness: whereas in the former output of the artist individual photographs were characterized by normally precise rendering, impeccable optics and attention to detail, then in the case of his latest photographs we can observe consistent blurring of the picture. The aforementioned novelty mainly concerns, however, the aesthetic plane. In this thematic area one may notice the continuation of the problem of THE BORDER, which became apparent for instance in his nocturnal works from 2007 (Sans titre series). Fuzzy photographs from the Go with peace series were taken in the borderland of Israel, Palestine and Jordan. The effect of blurring forms a base for critical interpretation, as picture fuzziness corresponds to the unintelligibility of the borders of the Far East countries; borders which as a consequence of international conflicts undergo constant changes and shifts.
A few photographs from this series were taken from the inside of a car. Among them, the first work is remarkable, depicting the view of a road with a clear and sharp fragment of a windscreen wiper outlined along the bottom edge of the frame. The sharpness of this detail constitutes an exception in comparison with other photographs from the Go with peace series. Thanks to this, one can perceive both the “short-sightedness” of the lens and the clear separation of external and internal space. (…) However, the minimization of sharp details in this photograph refers to their marginal meaning: it is not the safe, perceptible and easily recognizable territory that is of interest to Stepinski; it is rather the blurred, insecure terrain in a way hazardous to life that becomes the subject of the artist’s photograph. The aforesaid danger is also visible in other works of the cycle. One of them was rendered through a window curtain, slightly parted near the central axis of the lens. Because of that the photographer is situated in the position of an alien who is observing the external reality from a safe distance, from a voyeuristic but also ‘sniper’ perspective.
Stepinski seems to be aware of that fact, deciding to depict the world seen by a "defective" eye of the lens. Although details become unintelligible, it does not belittle the clarity of symbolism of the whole photographs. In other words, instead of reading that deciphers concrete signs or the metaphorical dimension of various words, the stress is placed on the blurring, symbolic unsharpness and a lack of set boundaries between objects, spaces and the picture background. At the same time, Stepinski does not strive to achieve an illusion of the reality seen, instead offering the audience views presenting a world that is blurred and intangible. In respect for the Platonian philosophy, the surface reality was replaced with the idea of the whole. This idea of ‘crossing’ and ‘boundlessness’ applies to all the photographs of this series.
Many a time sharpness of photographs has become a subject of consideration for theoreticians of this medium. In 1929, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy published his debate with Hans Windisch on this issue. Windisch, as an adversary of Moholy-Nagy’s theory and practice, called for using the optics with deficiencies similar to the human vision. Meanwhile, views of this kind were alien to the Hungarian artist, an apologist of perfect optics, who in fuzziness saw a threat of photography turning back to pictorialism and impressionism. This dialogue proves to be symptomatic of views of other theoreticians and critics for whom fuzziness was associated with pictorial tendencies imitating the aesthetics of painting, while impeccable optics was usually identified with the document. Stepinski’s fuzzy photographs do not fall into any of the above genre categories, since the motifs at which the artist directs the eye of the lens appear in the practice of contemporary documentarists, whereas blurring becomes an indicator of the "anti-documentary" method of photographing, still far from pictorialistic practices. Furthermore, fuzziness helps Stepinski finish with the brand of a documentarist which was unjustly present in critical interpretations of his earlier cycles.
Stepinski found inspiration for his latest series in the inscription saying "Go with peace" which, written in three languages, can be seen on a beach in Tel-Aviv. In the context of the eponymous "peace", the fuzziness of photographs of this series opens the works for further interpretation. Becoming apparent in some photographs, the lack of differentiation between the earth and the sky, an object and its background or the inside and the outside reveals the intention of leveling tensions and oppositions. Eliminating conflicts and contrasts leads to harmony and balance, values necessary to achieve peace. After all, it is not the clearly demarcated borders but rather their lack that bears testimony to peaceful relations between countries.
Witold Kanicki, KWARTALNIK Fotografia, 05/2009
Plato, The Republic, Book X [translated by Benjamin Howett]
Moholy-Nagy, L. Sharp or unsharp: A reply to Hans Windisch, [in:] Photography in the modern era: European documents and critical writings, 1913-1940, ed. Christopher Phillips, New York 1989, pp. 132-139.