Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin have been the stars of conceptual photography for a few years now. Dodo is their latest foray into photography’s part in the machinery and technology of war, and for Broomberg and Chanarin it is a melancholy truth that photography continues to persuade itself that it can stand at a distance from the conflicts it tries to record.
Dodo’s premise is a layered, literal and metaphoric uncovering of the 1970 movie version of Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22. A key scene in the movie, simultaneously spectacular and understated, is when Colonel Cathcart walks the runway with Milo Minderbender, while Minderbender explains his plan to make a profit on the sale of eggs. As they talk a B-25 comes in to land, tilts and passes them, crashing off-screen. Minderbender and Cathcart ignore it. And from this point on Minderbender’s entrepreneurial schemes escalate. At the centre of Dodo is the archaeology of this scene and of the film set on which it was made.
Dodo is, in the main, composed of split pages, the upper parts of which appear to be made from images extracted from footage that was unused in Mike Nichols’ film. The lower parts of the pages are images of items extracted from the ground in San Carlos, a Mexican island where the film was shot, some of them probably parts of the B-25 which was crashed in that ‘egg’ scene. And as the book progresses those items, photographed as if they were specimens in a museum, grow uncanny and corporeal, shifting from metal to fabric to wood and then to unidentifiable items resembling bones. The effect is to replicate the novel/film, fictional setting/film-setting, ‘real’/‘unreal’ set of relationships which have an originary, one-follows-another logic that is called into question by Broomberg and Chanarin’s practice. Just as Heller’s characters are caught in a loop of illogical logic controlled by malign authority, so Broomberg and Chanarin see photography as being caught in a repetitive trap in its visualization of conflict. And they are clever enough to know that, since the film offers only one way out of Catch-22 – Minderbender’s ruthless capitalism – then their own work has to tread an analogous path. Broomberg and Chanarin’s work is always self-aware, intelligent, tricksy. Dodo is one of their most poised and rewarding projects.
Dodo by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin can be purchased here.
Colin Graham’s most recent book is Northern Ireland: 30 Years of Photography.