Camera and Cult

Conflict and Cooperation / Camera and Cult

Camera and Cult

Dr. Dora Imhof, U5

Focusing on Maya Deren (1917-1961) and Leonore Mau (1916- 2013) / Hubert Fichte (1935-1986), the project “Camera and Cult” examines central positions from the US and German contexts of artistic engagement with ethnological topics in general and Haitian Vodou in particular. Fundamental questions of the project address the representability of religious practices through photography and film and the pictorial concepts with which the artists approached Vodou. The project will also question the positioning of the artists vis-à-vis their object of investigation and the historical and social context of their travels and research as well as the forms of publication they used (film, photo book, reportage).

The project focuses not only on Western artist’s representations of Vodou, but also on their cultural, institutional and artistic backgrounds. The archive as well as the tradition of artist’s travels will be examined, thereby reflecting both on the concepts of "homework" and "fieldwork." By using methodological approaches of art history and artistic research, our project also attempts to form a transdisciplinary collaboration inspired by the collaborative practices of Deren and Fichte/Mau.

The image on the landing page of our website is an artistic adaptation by U5 of a photo by Leonore Mau. 1) The photo was originally published in Mau’s photobook “Petersilie” (1980). It shows a scene from the Velación, which is part of the cult of María Lionza, a religious movement in Venezuela which combines African, indigenous, and Catholic elements.

2) U5 scanned the photo with a small document scanner, moving forward and backward over the image. This movement created a pattern, rhythms, repetitions, and mirrorings. While scanning you cannot see the outcome of the process, which becomes visible only after on the computer screen. The scanning process is a kind of blind machine reading or rereading of the image.

3) 4) and 5) show the original slide that Leonore Mau took. Found in the archives of the S. Fischer Foundation, bpk.

In his book “Petersilie” (1980) Mau’s partner, the writer Hubert Fichte, described the ceremonies and the circumstances, in which the photo was taken:

Buses park next to the altars.

In the river is a mannequin with the purple mantle of Queen Maria Lionza. Stones mark the way to her.

On the stones fruits, cut papayas and watermelons.

Between gas stoves, nylon covers, mattresses, hammocks -ceremonies. A community does nothing but rattle. Again, a man on the floor with arms outstretched. A priest asks:

- For whom do you make the pictures?

- For the Ministry of Information?

- These rites are secret.

- It is secret.

- Our trance school is forbidden.

A possessed Indian orders his students to line up.

He prompts them with the gestures they must perform during the ceremony.

A believer is bathed in the river.

- I prepare her for a velación - for a Verkerzung (candling). She lies down on the floor.

Candles are placed according to the outline of her body. She lies with her arms bent. Johnson's baby powder around her. Crosses made of gunpowder. The priest holds a match to it. It fizzes up.

Liquor is poured over the prone woman, flowers spread over her.

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bpk / S. Fischer Stiftung / Leonore Mau
1) Photo in Leonore Mau, “Petersilie. Die afroamerikanischen Religionen” (Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 1980).
2) U5, scan of Mau's photo from the book "Petersilie".
3) Series of original slides in the archive.
4) Photo of original slide (positive) in the archive.
5) Scan of the original slide.