Photography Against Reproduction: Željko Jerman’s My Year, 1977
As a young artist active in socialist Zagreb in the 1970s, Željko Jerman subjected photographic prints and negatives to destructive techniques such as scratching, scribbling, and intentionally poor development. Jerman’s work was heralded by curator Radoslav Putar as an attempt to “cross the boundaries and overcome the limitations of classical photography,” but also met with dismissal from less open-minded critics due to its rejection of traditional aesthetics. This article shows how through his destructive tactics, Jerman enacted a formal “death” of the photograph, while also taking death as a central philosophical and representational theme at the level of the image. His work ultimately rendered photographic development a performative act, which was intimately tied to his identity as an author and to questions about his own mortality. Via a close reading of Jerman’s magnus opus My Year, 1977, the essay moreover demonstrates how he didn’t dispense with notions of beauty but rather resituated them relative to questions about desire, masculinity, and the fallibility of artistic authorship. Closely connected to the New Art Practice yet more romantic and introspective in its mentality, Jerman’s art adds important nuance to understandings of the role of images for Yugoslavia’s famous conceptual generation.
ARTMargins Online, Volume 11, Issue 1-2, pp. 201-225.
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