Btihal Remli par Sumeja Tulic
Après l’interview de Sumeja Tulic, auteure et photographe libyenne d’origine bosniaque, publiée dans la semaine, nous vous offrons son analyse personnelle d’une autre photographe, dont nous vous avions déjà parlé, Btihal Remli. Son écrit et sa vision sur la série intitulée ‘Inside’ de Btihal Remli sont en anglais. Nous avons voulu vous laisser apprécier sa parole originale, sans toucher au texte, sans le traduire.
The way in is in between
Remli’s storytelling can be easily perceived as a negation of the documentary process. Perhaps it is, but, in dwelling on that one may ignore its more substantial and defining quality: its commitment to truth.
Some readings of photographs necessitate little or no additional context. They presume that looking is guided by an informed interest in the photographed topic, subject, and event. Like most presumptions, these benevolent presumptions fall on its own sword: the uncertainty of the premise. What if the idea used as the basis for the expectation is not accurate or sufficient?
In her work, Btihal Remli, the German-born photographer of Moroccan origin, circumvents the dangers of uncertainty with the elegance and respect of an observant, critical, and pragmatic mind. Remli is unwilling to waste time on considerations that take away from the intimacy or urgency of the situation developing before the lens of her camera.
Instead of treading the learned path of documentary photography, often choreography of objectivity and didactics for the gaze of the outsider, without fear of being « vague » or « unclear » Remli is on a different path. Along that path, her process prioritizes intricacies of her stories–be it ones about dark magic, identity, religion or gender.
Remli’s storytelling can be easily perceived as a negation of the documentary process. Perhaps it is, but in dwelling on that one may ignore its more substantial and defining quality: its commitment to truth.
Remli wants the viewer of her work to know that despite her proximity to the subject and although not in need of translation to understand what is happening, in telling the story, she will remain the outsider she, as a storyteller, ultimately is. Remli’s position outside the parameters of the narrative creates the rhythm of the photographic sequence and sets its genre. Take her series « Inside » in which she documents how salaat (prayer) transforms the everyday and secular places that facilitate trade, transport, and family life into religious spaces. Although the title of the series justifies the expectation of a photographer embedded with her subjects, photographing from the prayer carpet beneath those who bow and prostrate to God in the direction of the Kaaba at Mecca, that is not the case. « Inside, » actually, is a look from the outside onto a ritual that, although performative, is not a performance. To consciously perform prayer in front of a camera is antithetical to its raison d’etre: transcendence into the realm of the otherworldly and holly. So, if one is to document it without explicit permission, one ought to be like Remli: stand behind the curtain, point the camera from the opening between walls or in passing, and without flash. The frame that comes out may not be clear. It may have motion in it as a double-exposure-like effect may catch the body. What is seen won’t be clarified, but it also won’t be mystified.
What one sees in Remli’s « Inside » transcendences the particulars of the topic. It is a material artifact of immateriality. Unlike reckless and nonchalant voyeurism, Remli’s work creates a solid ground between two antonymous realms: the secular and sacral. The in-between is not a stand-in for contradiction, but a stance for reflection and inquiry. It is not a way out of a conundrum but a way in.
Sumeja Tulic is Libyan-born Bosnian writer and photographer currently based in New York City.