Jack Latham – Sugar Paper Theories
An exhibition about The Guðmundur and Geirfinnur case which has become the biggest and most controversial murder investigation in Icelandic history.
The Guðmundur and Geirfinnur case has become the biggest and most controversial murder investigation in Icelandic history. British Photographer, Jack Latham, has immersed himself in all aspects of the case, meeting key protagonists, exploring and photographing key sites from the investigation. From police files to conspiracy theories, forensic science to the notion of Memory Distrust Syndrome, Latham’s project examines issues of evidence and truth, certainty and uncertainty, especially with regard to memory and the medium of photography.
Jack Latham is the recipient of the Bar Tur Photobook Award 2015. The book is co-published by Here Press and The Photographers’ Gallery.
Dr Mark Rawlinson
The Guðmundur and Geirfinnur case has become the biggest and most controversial murder investigation in Icelandic history. However, this exhibition does not seek to solve or present new facts relating to the case. In contrast, Latham’s project brings together original photographs with archival photography and other documentary materials to explore the fundamental nature of the medium of photography; questioning photography’s defining principles of truth and objectivity in light of the Guðmundur and Geirfinnur case.
The photograph as visual evidence remains a potent and persuasive concept. To make a photographic image in the sense of recording the existence of the external world and fix it on paper so that it might be viewed independently of the original scene or object is a founding principle of photography itself. The mechanistic nature of photography secured for the medium its ongoing association with objectivity. Machines are unburdened by emotion, and disinterested in what the photographer frames in the viewfinder, the camera-as-a-machine simply records. This fact, combined with the indexicality of the photograph itself, secured its status as a document and a form of evidence. It accounts for the authoritative power of photography since its invention. It also highlights its crucial role in the creation of the archive, a living ‘memory’ of stored knowledge: accessible, legible, and not subject to human ‘forgetting’.
Police investigations, conspiracy theories, Icelandic anxieties of the 1970s, retribution and justice, detection and closure, mystery and uncertainty, guilt and innocence, loss and isolation, and the role of photography in the case are writ large across Sugar Paper Theories. Drawing on Gísli Guðjónsson’s notion of ‘memory distrust syndrome (MDS)’ (developed from case studies relating to false confessions), Latham’s work actively displaces our faith in photography’s truthfulness. According to Guðjónsson MDS is a condition ‘where people develop profound distrust of their memory and become susceptible to relying on external cues and suggestions from others.’ Following this definition, Latham’s photographs ask us to reconsider the function of photography as a form of evidence and reliable truth; how can we trust what they tell us? How can we be sure of their meaning?
Images of sites of disappearance, portraits, street scenes, interiors and landscapes only complicate our engagement with the case. Latham’s project highlights profound dialectical tensions, such as the troubled relationship between the documentary image and aesthetic photography. Latham’s large-format photographs are composed and printed to be admired as objects in and of themselves; they are complete with aesthetic qualities that can be divorced from the specifics of the case, and yet they exist because of the case. Likewise, the archival photographs from police files possess an arresting aesthetic dimension despite the origins of their making (as factual recordings of crime scenes for forensic purposes). These evidential images reveal themselves, like the archive itself, as an active rather than passive participant in the construction of meaning.
Latham’s project is a challenge to authoritative, or official, state-sanctioned photographic narratives, and by extension, documentary photography, itself. Sugar Paper Theories offers narratives of uncertainty: a photography of doubt. Here the photograph is not an endpoint – a visual evidentiary footnote to prove a point – but a beginning to a new set of questions:a recognition of photography’s instability.
Dr Mark Rawlinson
Jack Latham is the recipient of the Bar Tur Photobook Award 2016. The book is co-published by Here Press and The Photographers’ Gallery.