From Ukraine to Afghanistan via Romania, the Berlin gallery presents several series by the young German photographer produced in recent years. Behind the precision of the topics covered and the eloquence of certain images, the ambivalence of our time pierces.
The tired look of this enlisted firefighter, drowned in the shades of khaki uniforms, reminds us how indifferent war is of everyone’s identities. As soon as Russia invaded in February 2022, Johanna-Maria Fritz, like many journalists and photographers of her generation, traveled to Ukraine to assiduously document the effects of this conflict on the population. From these deep and silent scenes, captured with pale colors, a permanent state of floating seems to emerge. Fritz captures fears, losses and migrations while managing to stay in her place in this over-hyped war.
Before that, in October 2021, Johanna-Maria Fritz was among the few to photograph the Taliban, shortly after the resumption of power in Afghanistan. The delicate aesthetic of these portraits made on a pastel background in medium format contrasts with the brutal reality that reigns beyond these shots. If we are led to think about the intention, the fact remains that Fritz manages to tell something of these men, however terrible.
But what further defines Johanna-Maria Fritz’s photographic practice is this ability to show something else. In Afghanistan, the photographer took an interest in young women for whom weaving became an ultimate refuge in this country where, not so long ago, they still had access to school benches. Images, both intimate and soft, which pay homage to their subjects without revealing them.
Also among her landmark series, Daughters of Magic, produced between 2019 and 2020 on a group of witches in Romania. Fritz joined this community of sorceresses in their castle to document their life marked by mysticism, where witchcraft embellishes daily life. This work echoes in particular the reports that Fritz has been conducting for more than ten years on the unique world of the circus. From Sirkus Islands, on the one and only circus in Iceland, Fritz let herself be guided by her passion for these clowns and acrobats. By going to meet them in countries where their presence is most unsuspected – Afghanistan, Dagestan, India, Indonesia, Iran, Senegal or Palestine, Fritz pushes the door here again of marvelous microcosms on a background often made up of misery and injustice. Gathered under the title Like a bird – in reference to the phrase of a young acrobat in Gaza to describe his feelings during a performance, the solar photographs of these tightrope walkers embody a particular freedom, perhaps because this is a freedom that is permanently threatened.
The juxtaposition of these works, with all the resulting contrasts, seems to illustrate a time rhythmed by dramas but also subtly embraced by magic, sometimes.
Noémie de Bellaigue
Johanna-Maria Fritz à ARTCO until April 14, 2023.
Galerie ARTCO Berlin