...he records without speaking and can be resolute and uncompromising if necessary...
Titel: Koen Wessing / [foto's: Koen Wessing ; onder red. van Flip Bool ... et al. ; tekst Pauline Terreehorst ... et al. ; fotored. Dick Breebaart ; Engelse tekst vert. uit het Nederlands door Karen Gamester] Auteur: Koen Wessing 1942- Medewerker: Flip Bool 1947-; Pauline Terreehorst 1952-; Dick Breebaart; Karen Gamester
Nueva York Een fotoreportage van Koen Wessing Vrij Nederland 30 september 1989
Titel: De bergen, de vogels en Sandino : cultuur in Nicaragua / samengest. door Klaas Wellinga ; [foto's Koen Wessing ; vert. uit het Spaans Hermien Gaikhorst ... et al. ; Stichting Kultuur Kollektief Latijns-Amerika]
see for more documentary photobooks ...
The photographs of Koen Wessing (b.1942) conjure up stories. His images tell tales about Ireland, Chile, Guinea-Bissau, Nicaragua, El Salvador, China, Berlin, & Amsterdam. Wessing is always moving on, ever seeking places of conflict which he does not fully understand, his experienced eye scouting for situations full of tension for him to visualise. He is not a voyeur, not someone who stops off for a few fleeting news shots, but a person with eyes that notice and a heart that responds. He records without speaking and can be resolute and uncompromising if necessary
It is this publication Nicaragua '78 that was very instrumental for Roland Barthes (in Camera Lucida)to define, what he called 'the punctum" in photography. Here is how Barthes describes his 'discovering' of Wessing's photography:
"I was glancing through an illustrated magazine. A photograph made me pause. Nothing very extraordinary: the (photographic) banality of a rebellion in Nicaragua: a ruined street, two helmeted soldiers on patrol; behind them, two nuns. Did this photograph please me? Interest me? Intrigue me? Not even. Simply, it existed (for me). I understood at once that its existence (its"adventure") derived from the co-presence of two discontinuous elements, heterogeneous in that they did not belong to the same world (no need to proceed to the point of contrast): the soldiers and the nuns. I foresaw a structural rule (conforming to my own observation), and I immediately tried to verify it by inspecting other photographs by the same reporter (the Dutchman Koen Wessing): many of them attracted me because they included this kind of duality which I had just become aware of. Here a mother and daughter sob over the father's arrest (Baudelaire: "the emphatic truth of gesture in the great circumstances of life"), and this happens out in the countryside (where could they have learned the news? For whom are these gestures?). Here, on a torn-up pavement, a child's corpse under a white sheet; parents and friends stand around it, desolate: a banal enough scene, unfortunately, but I noted certain interferences: the corpse's one bare foot, the sheet carried by the weeping mother (why this sheet?), a woman in the background, probably a friend, holding a handkerchief to her nose. Here again, in a bombed-out apartment, the huge eyes of two little boys, one's shirt raised over his little belly (the excess of those eyes disturb the scene). And here, finally, leaning against the wall of a house, three Sandinists, the lower part of their faces covered by a rag (stench? secrecy? I have no idea, knowing nothing of the realities of guerrilla warfare); one of them holds a gun that rests on his thigh (I can see his nails); but his other hand is stretched out, open, as if he were explaining and demonstrating something".
Martin Parr and Gerry Badger: The Photobook A History volume I: Memory and reconstruction: The Postwar European Photobook
Koen Wessing Chili, September 1973
The book begins with a double-page spread of a pile of burning papers. On the top a face can be glimpsed: President Salvador Allende of Chile, overthrown by a military revolt. Allende had been democratically elected, but the United States, in one of the most disputable episodes in its recent history, deemed his socialist government a Marxist threat to American interests in South America. The CIA actively worked to destabilize the country and supported the military junta of General Augusto Pinochet, who seized power in September 1973. The far-from-bloodless coup leaves today's Chile still trying to come to terms with the damage done to its democratic institutions over three dacades ago.
The Dutch photographer Koen Wessing was on the streets of Santiago immediately after the coup happened. His gritty documentary pictures were quicly published in this no-frills, extremely elegant photobooks by De Bezige Bij, publisher of so many of the best Dutch photographic books.
There are not many images in the book, but each is carefully considered, modest and succinct, spread across a double page in graphic gravure. Despite the difficulties of taking photographs in such a tense and difficult situation, Wessing never forgets the value of composition and lighting control. The main thrust of the book is the coup's immediate aftermath, the shock and grief of the people, the rounding up of Allende's supporters ( or suspected supporters) by the army, and their herding into the now notorious National Stadium in Santiago, where many would be tortured and killed. Wessing vividly captures one of these executions, in a two-page sequence that forms the book's climax.