PHOTOGRAPHY AND MEMORY IN MARCELO BRODSKY'S BUENA MEMORIA
David William Foster
Arizona State University
There is a measure of ambiguity about the title of Marcelo Brodsky's 1997 project, Buena memoria; un ensayo fotográfico. This volume brings together images of the Buena Memoria project, Brodsky's own commentary on it, and a series of texts by prominent Argentine writers of the generation of the 1976-83 neofascist dictatorship in Argentina, novelists Martín Caparrós and José Pablo Feinmann (also a prominent screenwriter), and poet Juan Gelman. The conjugation of all of these elements provides for a complex cultural product that involves much more than only photographs for exploring the persons of a group of disappeared individuals.
The Buena Memoria Project centers on the class photograph of students in the 1er Año, 6ta División, 1967 of the prestigious Colegio Nacional of Buenos Aires, Argentina's premier college preparatory institution and historically one of the best in Latin America. In 1967, the group of students in question was in its first year of studies, and the photograph is of those who belonged to the sixth class division (or what the British call form) that would basically completed classes together as a single coterie during all six years of the program of study. Argentina was, in 1967, in the second year of the military dictatorship that assumed power in 1966 and that would allow for elections in 1973. Between 1973 and 1976, Argentina experienced a transitional, basically weak and inept democracy, built around the legendary return in 1973 of Juan Domingo Perón from twenty years of exile; the aging and ailing Perón's inability to effectively govern Argentina upon his return and his death in 1974 precipitated the social dissolution that would lead to the unabashed neofascist tyranny of the 1976-83 period.
The students pictured in Buena memoria would have graduated in 1972, and many of them evidently became involved in a range of political and social activities that led to the disappearances recorded by the project; one of those so disappeared was Brodsky's brother Fernando. It is important to note that there is no necessary correlation between those involved in protest activities and those who were disappeared, in the sense that the complete lack of any form of institutional justice, constitutional guarantees, and the coherent administration of a penal system meant that one could end up arrested, tortured, imprisoned, and killed for the most tenuous of reasons, without any proof ever forthcoming--not then and not now--as to the exact circumstances surrounding the disappearance of any one individual. Although the Argentine Dirty War--the height of the repression and the disappearances in 1978 and 1978--has often been compared to the Jewish Holocaust at the hands of the Germans (see Ese infierno 296-300 for one such comparison). In the case of the latter, there was a concrete, albeit appalling, motivation: the fact of being Jewish (in addition, to be sure, of other categories that were also the object of the Final Solution). During the Argentine Dirty War, beyond the deliberately vague designation of "subversive," which could and did cover so many forms of social conduct, there never was a coherent way of understanding the basis for which any one individual might be disappeared. One often heard the affirmation "Por algo será" (There must be some reason), but the State never felt it needed to provide any (the place to begin to understand these issues is Nunca más, the report of the national commission on the disappeared).
Thus, it is imperative not to draw specific conclusions from the group of disappeared ex-students featured in Brodsky's project, at lest in terms of specific political action programs. This observation is important, because Fernando Brodsky, like many of his fellow students at the Colegio Nacional, was Jewish: the Colegio was one of the major Argentine institutions for Jews to gain social mobility in a society that still has some marked record of anti-Semitism. Moreover, this anti-Semitism was particularly pronounced during the periods of military dictatorship, and Jacobo Timerman and others (Feitlowitz 97-109, for example) have made the point that Jews were particularly singled out for persecution by the forces of repression: the intensely reactionary Catholicism that marked the military dictatorships led as a matter of course to an anti-Semitism that saw in the Jews of Argentina--the largest Jewish population in Latin America and one of the top sixth in the world--a direct threat to its concept of an appropriately Christian national reorganization. It is only on this basis that Jewish names, prominent at the Colegio Nacional, are also prominent in the inventory of the disappeared of the 1er Año, 6ta División group of students.
What is anbiguous about Brodsky's title is the conjugation of the adjective buena with the noun memoria. To be sure, there is nothing problematical in memories being good: good memories are one of the great defenses against the depredations of daily life. However, Buena memoria is clearly not about good memories: the cover of Brodsky's book includes a fragment from the Colegio Nacional class picture, with the photographer's superimposed annotations on the details of the disappearance and murder of class members. Buena memoria is an exercise in the recovery of memory, not necessarily a suppressed memory, but a member that has slipped away, in the way in which one asks as to the whereabouts of past friends with whom one has lost touch. There is a specific ideological weight attached to classmates, especially those that were part of the group with which one graduated from high school. High school graduation is concerned in most Western societies a major turning point in one's life, and the festivities and commemorations of high school graduation serve to monumentalize that event and to hypostatize the coterie of individuals associated with it. If there is a nostalgic return to youth associated with high school reunions, or, at least, with the contemplation of their evocative power, it is less as a return to an innocence perceived to have been lost under the weight of harsh and disappointing lived experiences.
Rather, one returns to a moment of the first fullness of personal identity: completing high school is usually taken to mean the first step in forging a personality, a routine of life, and a place in the world, themes that one recalls with satisfaction or despair as one actually progresses through the trajectory of one's life. Moreover, for these youths there was an exceptional promise: they were graduates of the best prep school in the country. As a channel of opportunity for youths of real and exceptional talent, the Colegio Nacional has also been important as an factor in social mobility, and it is important to note that the children of immigrant families, especially to be seen in the impressive statistics of students with Jewish names, are especially well represented in the 1967 roster.
Thus, indeed, the ambiguous nature of the title is grounded on a dramatic irony: one might expect the return to the class picture made sacred to be beneficent, but it cannot under the circumstances of the book. No amount of wishful thinking, no among of the nostalgic driven revision of the past can overcome the brutal facts of the fate of some of the membrs of the 1967 classmates. There is, therefore, less of a dynamic of an optional, occasional return to the emotional oasis of the past class pictures typically provide; rather, what is operant here is the imperative to return to that past and connect it to a historical trajectory that is part of a nightmare of history in which these individuals are frozen, with all of the sense of congealed human experience we have come to associate with the semiotics of photography. Brodsky's title resemanticizes the master photograph of this exposition, a photograph which, in fact, is not even his. And in the process of resemanticizing that photography, his project resemanticizes the sociocultural experience of the class photograph, building for it a historical meaning quite supplementary to its original intent. In this sense, this is a photography of found objects, but where the object is, rather than a material constituent of the world the photographer records, another photograph that the photographer can make his own by virtue of the way in which he inscribes political process, that of memory as a response to the destructive forces of a historical holocaust.
Another dimension of Brodsky's title is the vagueness of the word buena and the way in which such a vagueness slips toward the oxymoronic because of its imprecision of meaning. What might, in fact, constitute an appropriately "good memory"? Admittedly, a good memory is that of the consoling nostalgia of a past--and, likely, idealized--camaraderie; and, equally so, it is the recollection of the sense of fulfillment represented by the orderly completion of academic studies in a social context promising emotional and material rewards for such a completion. But, given Argentine history subsequent to the time of the photograph and the graduation of the classmates it portrays, which the repeated frustration of democratic government, the grim and increasingly appalling application of regimes of neofascist tyranny, the roller-coaster cycles of the Argentine economy, the circumstances of disappearance, death, exile, against the backdrop of something like a collective psychosis, the promise of a functioning society for which the Colegio Nacional could be taken as a dominant icon could no longer be immediately apparent. Since this photograph can no longer be a synecdoche of the icon of the Colegio Nacional, itself in turn an icon of national aspirations, the fact remains as regards to what system of meaning might it now be inserted.
My point is that there is an unstable calculus of meaning between buena and memoria, since it is neither clear what memory is to be evoked nor why it is to be considered a good one. While it is true that, from an immediate point of view, the title can be read oxymoronically--the memory to be evoked, the disappearance and death of young citizens, can never be a "good" one--the important matter is to address the construction of an appropriately "good memory." It is for this reason that Brodsky's project is much more than a collection of photographs. The material object of his book does not consist strictly of photographs that are arranged together under a global title to produce a reality effect in terms of their interpretation of a specific sociohistorical universe: it is not a book of photographs about something. It is, rather, a book about a photograph, one that Brodsky himself did not take, but one on which he has created an interpretational project and a produced a book about in order to further interpret it. As a consequence, Buena memoria functions on four levels: 1) it is the material reality that has been embedded in 2) a photograph (even if its is the staged reality of a class picture); 3) it is the project that inserts that photograph in an interpretive context; and 4) it is a book publication that raises the stakes on that interpretation by supplementing it with an array of ancillary cultural products--specifically, other photographs and literary texts--in order to widen its sphere of meaning.
The novelist Martín Caparrós, in his comments on this project, makes the stunningly brilliant observation that the missing young women and young men of the 1967 class photo have experienced a double disappearance. Certainly, they were victims of the apparatus of disappearance of the military tyranny, an apparatus that we could once again evoke in terms of the "processing of social subjects" that the system of persecution involved. So, then, let us evoke it just once more: arrest, torture, incarceration, death, disappearance of the remains, with clandestinity and exile between partial optional paths in the logic of this sequence. At any point in this sequential chain, the individual ceases to exist for his or her respective social spheres, the hypostatized school class being only one--and, at that, perhaps a particularly tangential--of them. Caparrós's point, however, is that the ignorance and denial of the circumstances of their lives constitutes another level of disappearance: we are as much distracted from contemplating the choices they made that led to their disappearance as we are from the disappearance itself:
Eso significaba algo: era muy difícil discutir aquella política--era muy difícil hablar desde la sacralización de la democracia sobre una época en que la democracia era, cuando mucho, un valor instrumental--y, para no hablar de ellos como sujetos que habían tomado una opción política, era mejor transformarlos en víctimas, en objeto de la decisión de otros--unos señores malos que los habían ido a buscar a sus casas porque los malos son así y hacen esas cosas--.
En esa acción de los malos, los nuestros se convertían en desaparecidos y nuestros relatos sin historia nosotros volvimos a desaparecerlos: les quitamos sus vidas. Hablamos de cómo fueron objeto de secuestro, tortura, asesinato y no hablamos casi de cómo era cuando fueron sujeto, cuando eligieron para sus vidas un destino que incluía el peligro de la muerte, porque creyeon que tenían que hacerlo. Aquellos versiones de la historia eran, entre otras cosas, una formar de volver a desaparecer a los desaparecidos. (10)
Attentive to the details of grammar, Caparrós demonstrates by implication how the neologism desaparecidos is built on a past particle that functions in an underlying passing syntagm: the missing are the patients of an action done to them by others, "porque los malos son así." The problem for Caparrós is the denial of social subjectivity that comes from ignoring these patients as agents of their own active syntagm, in the sense that there were those things that they forthrightly chose to do, "cuando eligieron...el peligro de la muerte." It is the restoration of the agentivity of these former classmates that is the point of Brodsky's memory project (an excellent collection of essays on the question of memory in conceporary Argentina is Dreizik).
Far from simply remember who these individuals were and reminding their classmates and subsequent generations of classmates who they were and they fact that they were disappeared, Buena memoria seeks to restore their social subjectivity. The issue of social subjectivity is particularly noteworthy in this context, since the sort of bourgeois life, a life of talent, application, study, determination, recognition, and material and symbolic success, is what the Colegio Nacional is all about and what, presumably, the bulk of the students were aspiring to by going through its rigorous, demanding academic programs. This training led for many to ancillary aspirations (one can argue in another context whether the political commitment of these graduates was of a whole with the sociopolitical parameters of the Colegio or was an exceptional alternative to it), but their were aspirations driven by the considered decisions and deliberate enterprise--that is, the calculated agentivity--one would assume to be associated with the students of an institution such as the Colegio Nacional.
The foregoing explains the ways in which Brodsky sets out to contextualize the found object of the class photograph: the annotations he makes on it, the texts with which he surrounds it, and the photographs of his own with which he supplements it. What I will now be calling the base photograph is presented reiteratively throughout, and it is accompanied by other photographs that are ancillary to it. Since Brodsky himself was a member of the 1967 6ta División class, and although the photograph was not taken by him, he figures prominently in it. In fact, the fragment of the photograph that appears on the cover of Buena memoria highlights two of the classmates, one of which (on the left) is Brodsky himself. The base photograph, which is repeated both in terms of its entirety, in terms of fragments like the cover image, and in terms of the framing of individual classmates whose lives and fates are subsequently analyzed, is complemented by other photographs. These ancillary photographs involve other school events of the period: the members of a science class or a soccer match (both page 11); a school camping excursion (13). They also involve Brodsky family images form the period: a group photograph of Brodsky and his brother (15); snaps taken a birthday parties (16, 17); the children during a family trip (17); brother Fernando sitting meditatively on his bed (14). And, finally, they involve photographs relating to Brodsky's memory project, the section entitled "Puente de la Memoria" (52-63) and other installations concerning students of the Colegio Nacional who were disappeared (10, 12). There are also three final appendixes to Buena memoria that I will comment on separately; they, too, constitute additional layers of meaning with reference to the base photograph.
Buena memoria is so complexly layered that it is difficult to speak of a central core. However, let us identify as such what is the central thrust of this collection of texts and images, which are the stories of disappeared Colegio Nacional students, with specific reference to those from Brodsky's own promoción or class. Thirty-two students appear in what I am calling the base photograph, eighteen of whom are boys. Brodsky describes his work with this photograph in the following fashion:
Cuandro regresé a la Argentina después de muchos años de vivir en España, acababa de cumplir cuarenta y quería trabajar sobre mi identidad. La fotografía, con su capacidad exacta de congelar un punto en el tiempo, fue mi herramienta para hacerlo.
Empecé a revisar mis fotos familiares, las de la juventud, las del Colegio. Encontré el retrato grupal de nuestra división en primer año, tomado en 1967, y sentí necesidad de saber qué había sido de la vida de cada uno.
Decidí convocar a una reunión de mis compañeros e división del Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires para reencontrarnos después de veinticinco años. Invité a mi casa a los que conseguí localizar, y les propuse hacer un retrato de cada uno. Amplié a un gran formato la foto del 67, la primera en que estábamos todos juntos, para que sirviera de fondo a los retratos y pedí a cada uno que llevara consigo para el retrato un elemento de su vida actual. [...]
Resolví trabajar sobre la foto grande que me había servido para fotografiar a mis compañeros de división y escribir encima de la imagen una reflexión acerca de la vida de cada uno de ellos. La misma se completó posteriormente con un texto más extenso que acompaña los retratos. (21)
The effect of this creative process is very much of a series of carefuly composed images. In the first place, the idea of using the base photograph as a backdrop to the individual photographs Brodsky will take of each of those classmates who had been located and who had agreed to participate imposes a context of juxtaposition. It is not just the then-and-now of similar photograph exercises, such as one might compile to show the development of a child or to contrast a grounding event and its commemoration: a wedding and a fiftieth anniversary. The rather mechanical process of juxtaposition, in which one assumes as a matter of course there will be significant changes--with the nature and extent of those changes the whole point of the exercise--may produce interesting but not unexpected results. Where Brodsky's approach becomes both unique and exceptionally eloquent is in the absences that are recorded. Brodsky focuses on twenty-seven of the thirty-two students. However, two of those students are among the disappeared; no account is given of the other five. Now, it is not unexpected in realizing this sort of where-are-they-now? project to fail to contact everyone involved: the vagaries of life also result in old friends, long-lost relatives, former classmates being irretrievably lost (one notes the recurring offer of internet web sites that promises to help one find the individuals of one's past).
In the case of Brodsky's universe, the missing individuals are much more than the "normal" vagaries of life, since they involve the specific workings of Argentine society relating to the period of the Process of National Reorganization and the Dirty War: where the Dirty War did not contribute actively to the irretrievable disappearance of an individual, the general outlines of the Process forced many individuals into exile and a severance from their past roots. One of the arguments of the right against the documentation of the disappearances of the Dirty War is that the individuals registered as disappeared (as, for example, in the Anexo of Nunca más) were really self-imposed exiles awho are enjoying a new identity somewhere outside Argentina or, perhaps, even still within the country. Many individuals did, of course, choose exile rather than fall into the hands of the forces of repression, and Brodsky himself exemplifies a generation of Argentines who were able to live and work outside Argentina because of the danger and impossibility of doing so withint the country. Exile, therefore, becomes a directly pertinent reason in the case of this project for the absence of a follow-up record for individuals, and the known disappearance of other individuals--Claudio and Martín, to be specific--accounts for the significant impossibility of the complete coverage of the sort of project Brodsky set up.
The fact that the base photograph, used as the backdrop for the follow-up pictures, is an annotated photograph becomes another element in the staged representation of experience. One assumes that it is as customary in Argentina as it is in other countries for class photos to be anotated with the names of one's colleagues, with comments about them--serious, jocular, captious--and perhaps with slogans and dedications. Most photographs are social events, or integral to social events, and given what I have already said about the importance of class photographs, in the context of the monumentalization of the camaraderie of youthful academic experiences, what one might call the enhancement of a social photograph by written texts is not surprising. In this case, however, the written texts, rather than being contemporaneous with the photograph itself, are posterior to it and record the weight of the twenty-five years of transpired history between when the photograph was taken and when Brodsky inserts his annotations. In the case of Martín Bercovich, who, according to the legend of the fragment of the base photograph that focuses on him, "fue secuestrado y está desaparecido desde el 13 de mayo de 1976" (42). This comment belongs to the level of the published book. On the level of the base photography, Brodsky's text, written in red grease pencil to accompany the bisected red circle around Martín's face that indicates his disappearance--his "prohition" as part of the social realm of the living controlled by the apparatus of neofascist tyranny--reads: "Martín fue el primero que se llevaron. No llegó a conocer a su hijo, Pablo que hoy tiene 20 años. Era mi amigo, el mejor" (42). What Brodsky does in the case of Martín, as he does also in the case of Claudio Tisminetsky, the other classmate disappeared by the police (it is notewrothy that both have Jewish names), is to include additional photographs from the period, since he cannot resort to the procedure of juxtaposing the picture from then with the image of who/what they are now. What is particularly touching about this strategy in the case of Martín is that it is a picture taken by Brodsky of Martín taking a picture of the former, "con su Kodak justo igual a la mía" on what appears to be an outdoor excursion (43).
Brodsky was already taking pictures at that time, and thus his own pictures from the period, most notably of his disappeared brother Fernando, are part of a continuum with the pictures taken of former classmates in the early 1990s. In this way, a whole series of textual strategies, old and new photographs, photographs by Brodsky and others, texts by Brodsky and others, texts by Brodsky on the photographs from then to accompany photographs taken later become a dense network of spaces (the Colegio, Brodsky's home, the sites of the excursions and outings) and times (the moment of the original photograph, Brodsky's annotations, the events of twenty-five year--or less--in the lives of the classmates, the moment of the complementary photograph, the various expositions of this material, and, eventually, its publication in book form). Each of these axes of time and place produce new and intersecting contects or horizons of meaning, although there is always the mircocontext of the vast enterprise to recover and revalidate memory within the framework of the perceived devastations of the Argentine Holocaust (whether or not with direct reference to the lives of Jews in Argentine under the military). The restoration of meaning to a lost/disappeared generation, even as it is made up of those who survived the Dirty War and its operations, has been going on since the return to constitutional democracy in Argentina, as part of concepts such as the Redemocratization of Argentine Culture (see Foster), the Nunca más investigations, and a myriad of exhibits such as Cantos paralelos (which traveled internationally; Ramírez) and Arte y política de los años '60 (Giudice).
One could complile a huge bibliography of the diverse forms of cultural production--films, novels, theatrical works, essays--that have dealt with the issue of memory in Argentina, with the identification of the disappeared and, in Caparrós's terms, the integrity of their social subjectivity, in tandem with the passive nature of an emphasis on Human Rights abuses and the victimization of individuals. This is still an ongoing sociohistorical issue in Argentina, and Brodsky's work is an integral part of it.
An important semiotic element of Brodsky's follow-up pictures of his classmates is the request that their new, individual photos be taken with them holding some article that refers to their present life. The process of metonymy involved her signals many things. In the first place, it singlals what they are in their current life--not to mention the fact that they are something, since the disappeared classmates, not only because they cannot be present, but because they are disappeared, they cannot be present with something from a current life, which, obviously neither Claudio nor Martín, at the very least, no longer have. Moreover, these articles signal what they have become beyond and as a consequence of their training at the Colegio Nacional. They are signs of the profession, of the access to profession, that the Colegio Nacional training was meant to provide them with. It is not always obvious what the instruments they hold mean, and several do not have anything specific to show. For example, Juancho holds what looks like several pairs of scissors, but no explanation of his profession is given (51). By contrast, Pablo, on the same page, is shown in his office at the Rockefeller, where he works in the offices of an international press agency. Ethel holds a volume of the complete works in Spanish of Freud, but we are not told why (50); Liliana, who is a programmer, holds up a pocket calculator (39). And, not surprising, Brodsky's self-portrait (41) signifies his profession as a photographer (41); he directs an image agency.
The texts that accompany each follow-up photograph supplement and complement the grease-pencil annotations on the base photograph. Thus, in the case of Erik, the base photograph, the pertinent fragment of which is always repeated on the double-page layout, the hand-written annotation reads "Erik se hartó[.] Vive en Madrid" (40), while in the follow-up photograph, he holds the base picture (we cannot see the handwritten comments on this scale), while the text accompanying the latter photograph speaks of his work in Madrid in his studio making silkscreens and woodcuts. The result of these conjunctions is a world of both accomplishment and frustration, of aspirations and their interruptions by grim historical facts. In reality, given all that transpred in Argentina during the twenty-five years between graduation and the follow-up photographs (more, given the four-five years between the base photograph and graduation), that Brodsky was able to track down so many former classmates and get them to participate in the project indicates how much, after all, Buenos Aires is still very much of a self-contained world: one does not wander far from Buenos Aires, and even when one does choose exile, roads eventually lead back to Buenos Aires. This tight link is underscored in the photograph of Ethel, where the accompanying texts, both the one handwritten on the base photograph and the one accompanying the follow-up photograph, refer to how her children are now themselves students of the Colegio Nacinoal. The latter reads: "Siempre se sorprende de cómo pasa el tiempo. Se vio a sí misma en la puerta del Colegio esperando a sus hijos salir del examen de ingreso y sintió que era ella la que estaba bajando las escaleras tras la prueba..." (50).
The tight link between then and now, between the generation of the base photograph and the generation of the children of those former students represented in the photograph, is borne out by the participation of the Buena Memoria project in a series of installations on the disappeared on the Colegio and the way in which these installations count on the active interest of contemporary students in the images and texts they contain. The appendix "Muestra en el claustro" reports on the installation of the base photograph and its accompanying visual and written texts in the entrance foyer of the Colegio:
Como parte del acto [de memoria], se armó una exposición de fotos de la época [de la dictadura], para transmitir a los actuales alumnos del Colegio lo que había pasado. Las fotos eran algo que quedaba de los noventa y ocho compañeros [desaparecidos], una herramienta para convertirlos en personas concretas, próximas. Debíamos saber de qué y de quién estábamos hablando.
Decidí incluir en la muestra fotográfica la foto grupal de 1er Año, modificada con mis textos y los retratos actuales de is compañeros.
Las fotos permanecieron expuestas en el Colegio durante unos días.
La luz cenital del sol que atravesaba los enormes ventales del claustro daba en la cara de los estudiantes que se detenían a observar, y producía un reflejo sobre el vidrio que protegía la foto intervenida.
El retrato de esos reflejos constituye una parte fundamental de este trabajo, ya que representa el momento de la transmisión de la experiencia entre generaciones. (54)
Aside from the emphasis on the intergenerational context of this photo--the former classmates become parents of the classmates who now study and comment on the exhibit--the placement of the exhibit in the Colegio Nacional adds new layers of meaning. In one sense, the classmates in the base photograph, particularly the missing ones, are returned to their lives prior to their disappearance, death, exile, and, in general, negatively affected lives produced by the events of the intervening years. The are converted into "personas concretas" via the reinsertion into the pre-Process/Dirty War history, which is a way of reconferring them with a full humanity. And it is this humanity that the current students of the Colegio Nacional contemplate, as they recognize in them and in the backgrounds, implied and explicit, their own current backgrounds in the halls of the Colegio Nacional. This is a circuit of meaning which those of us who see the exhibit, either as a physical installation or via the printed page, do not experience, but its presentation in Buena memoria, with the photographs of the current student-spectators and their accompanying written comments, is not difficult to grasp as another and particularly eloquent level of meaning. The implication is clear: these students are the new Argentine generation, one being raised within the relative parameters of constitutional democracy. It is less a question of remembering the best of the past or of vowing not to repeat the worst of it, but of creating a continuity of human society which is precisely what institutions like the Colegio Nacional exist to promote and deepened.
The photograph taken of the students examining the Puente de Memoria installation, which is the overall name of the various exhibits at the Colegio Nacional, not just Brodsky's, underscores the intergenerational relationship that the exhibit sought to establish. The camera is situated behind the current students, who are examining the base photograph, which is under glass. The camera captures a fragment of the base photograph (the first row of classmates). Because of the position of the camera, the age of the photograph, and the intervening class, the images of the children in 1967 are faded and fuzzy. But we do make out four of them, with the even fuzzier grease-pencil annotations accompanying each one. Sharper and in vivid color are the images of four contemporary students who are examining the photographs and their accompanying annotations. The look of concentration and concern--one has a wrinkled brow--are evident correlatives of the seriousness with which they are studied this material; in other images, the students can be seen interacting more actively with the base photograph, as, for example, on page 56, we can see one student's hand blurred in motion as she points out details to another. A nice touch is that the children in the photographs are wearing the formal school clothes of almost forty years ago (from, at least, the sort of clothes required for the division photograph). The modern students are wearing casual clothes, and one is sporting the sort of white T-shirt with assertive lettering that is part of everyday school wear today. Moreover, the lettering is in English and speaks the sort of in-your-face declaration that would never have been possible during the military dictatorship of the mid-1960s: "It's all about REAL attitude." On the one hand, the T-shirt, it's abrasive message, and the fact that it's in English signal the enormous distance between these youths and their peers of forty years ago, quite apart from the difference of circumstance: regular school day vs. formal class portrait.
On the other hand, the blending of the two generations in the single photograph underscores the continuity between human generations and the reverence for that continuity that the project seeks to promote. Of note in this regard is the image on page 57, where the face of one of the contemporary studies is captured being framed by the sign board that identifies the year and division being held by one of the young women of the base photograph. This detail is enhanced by the annotation, on the base photograph, that we read regarding to one of the 1967 students: "Silvia no quiere saber nada de nosotros. Por qué será?" It seems evident that the modern students, by contrast, do wish to want to have something to do with their classmates from the past. As one student writes in her text published along side this photograph, "Ellos eran más peligrosos que nosotros porque tenían ideas muy claras y solidarias y estaban más unidos que nosotros. Tratemos de lograr eso sin que nos vuelvan a reprimir de esa manera o de cualquier otra forma" (57). The hortatory here is a controlling predicate of the installation.
There is a second appendix to Buena memoria, "Martín, mi amigo," in which Brodsky returns to his disappeared classmate, Martín Bercovich," whom he had identified in the memory project as his best friend. Martín, like the young Marcelo, was also a photographer, and, as I have already commented, the impossible photograph of Martín twenty-five years later is replaced by one taken by Brodsky of Martín taking his, Brodsky's photograph; this photograph is repeated in an enlarged version on page 66 of Buena memoria; page 67 contains a photograph of Martín on an excursion, his own camera hanging from a strap around his neck. These two photographs are presented with the header "Podía ser fotógrafos." This header is ironic on at least two levels. First of all, the two boys were already photographers, even if only in an unfocused and untutored way. Yet even without knowing that these photographs would record a disappeared Martín, they were already taken with one of the major impulses of photography in mind: to provide a graphic memory of shared personal experiences, and they stand as monuments to the deep friendship between the two young men. Brodsky, in addition to the testimony of their friendship provided by the photographs, also includes a side-bar poem dedicated to Martín, which concludes with the statement "Seguí andando, solo / con tu presencia a cuestas." The second irony is, indeed, the fact not only that Brodsky continued to be able to live his life, but that he did, indeed, become a photographer in the fullest sense of the word and that he is able to recycle the photographs Martín and he took of each other within a formal cultural product to the memory of the disappeared. In this sense, the personal is most assuredly political, to the extent that the personal relationship between the two young men and the casual artistic production it generated, their shared photographs, is able to become part of a political statement made about the uses of cultural production and the use of a public cultural production to pursue the specific political objective of promoting a memory of the texture of human lives of the victims of neofascist (and, here, undoubtedly anti-Semitic) tyranny.
The focus on Martín is complemented by the third appendix, "Nando, mi hermano," in which Brodsky returns to the figure of his brother Fernando. Also Fernando was not a photographer, although their mother was, and her photographs are included, including one that won a local prize. Although some of these photographs are presumably Brodsky's from when he was just beginning to handle the camera, the source is not always identified. Thus, they are presence here does not speak directly to Brodsky the adult as photographer, in the way that the follow-up pictures I have discussed above do. Rather, they are part of the overall project that results in Buena memoria as such a complex cultural projection the Colegio Nacional students. In this sense, the photographs relating to Fernando constitute the most extensive record in Buena memoria as to the texture of a human life that was snuffed out my the practices of the military tyranny in the late 1970s.
If Brodsky's insistent point, articulated by Caparrós's transcribed above at the outset of this essay, is the imperative to replace the victimhood of these individuals with a reaffirmation of their personhood, then the intimate family photographs--and it is an intimacy confirmed on the multiple levels of the personal relationship of the subject to Brodsky, the importance of family life in Argentina, and the uniquely solid ties of Jewish family life--are integral to Fernando's recovered human life. In this context, the pathos of the family snap on page 74 is intense. It is a full-page photograph that bleeds off the page on all four margins of the three Brodsky children in a rowboat on the river at the Club Náutico Hacoaj, one of the social clubs that dot the Río de la Plata Delta as it stretches out into the suburbs northwest of the city of Buenos Aires; note that in this case it is a Jewish club. In the fashion of such photographs, the three Brodsky children are hamming it up for the camera; as the accompanying text states: "Salir en bote juntos era la actividad familiar por exelencia" (75). The joy of these children in each other's company and the immediacy with which that joy is captured by the camera is evident on their faces. Fernando is in the foreground, and his smile and the roguish look in his eyes are tremendously captivating. The look on the faces of the other two children are also equally enchanting, but it is, of course, Fernando on whom we are meant to focus: since the dossier of photographs is about him, one assumes that this one was chosen over others because of his foregrounded presence in it.
The theme of the dark waters of the Río de la Plata occurs twice in this dossier, and it is picked up again for the book's last page. The river is characteristically dark and muddy because of the continental silt that flows into it. The Río de la Plata is really not a river, but a delta that brings together the affluence of many rivers that come down across the continent from the highlands. As it empties into the ocean, the river deposits enormous quantities of silt, which necessitates the constant dredging of the port area of Buenos Aires. The silt content of the river means the waters are always murky, and there is the constant danger of submerged objects that cannot be seen. As Brodsky remarks in his note accompany the photograph in the rowboat, "Nos acostumbramos a sus aguas oscuras, a no zambullirnos de cabeza porque podía haber un tronco flotando bajo el agua." The river contains much debris that comes down off the continent, and this is the reference to the tronco in Brodsky's comment.
However, the river, during the height of the Dirty War in the late 1970s also carried other debris: the bodies of political prisoners who were dumped off the coast of the city from military aircraft, many of them still alive and heavily sedated. Brodsky refers directly to this detail of the repression by the double page 86-87 image, the right-hand panel of which is repeated as the last page of the book: "Al río los tiraron. Se convirtió en su tumba inexistente." The practice summarized here can seen elaborated on in Marcelo Bechi's 1999 film Garage Olimpo, in which the overflight of the river is a recurring motif, although only at the end of the film do those spectators unfamiliar with the dumping practice of the military discover what the connection is between the overflights and the detention and torture center that gives its name to the film (it is a reconditioned automotive garage; hence the name). In turn, the double image of pp. 86-87 and the image from page 87 that becomes the last page (88) are meant to tie in to the images on pages 84-85. Page 84 is a picture of the Brodsky's uncle Salomón, who arrived at the turn of the twentieth century as a European immigrant; these immigrants arrived in the promised land of Argentina exclusively by boat, and for many their first photographs in the New World were related to the circumstances of their arrival: "Su imagen desafía el futuro, su postura lo espera todo" (84). This affirmation is the sort of paean one finds associated with the aspirations of immigrants, and it becomes pathetically frustrated by the sorts of violence many of them and their descendants found in the new country.
In the case of the Jewish immigrants, although Brodsky does not make specific reference to this fact, that violence often included anti-Semitism, which was a fundamental part of the neofascist tyranny. Brodsky juxtaposes to the photograph of his uncle one of him and Fernando, also taken aboard a ship traversing the waters of the river. This photograph falls into the category of the cutely staged, as they are standing next to a sign that clearly says "Prohibido permanecer en este lugar." There are many meanings available here, beyond that of the innocent joke of specifically taking a picture standing next to a sign saying that one could not be in that spot. "Este lugar" could also refer to the frustrated promise of Argentina: for those who suffered anti-Semitic violence, the point was that they were there were someone, institutionally or otherwise, was forbidding them to be, and the subsequent exile of many immigrant children meant a return to the Europe from which their ancestors had departed with so much hope almost a century before. But it can also mean the way in which the bodies dumped into the river were "forbidden to remain" there, like dead tree trunks that floated up against vessels out on the river or along the shore. This is the sense of the phrase "tumba inexistente": many individuals died by being thrown from planes into the river, and some may have found a final resting place in the depths of the river. But many washed ashore, and there hangs over this entire account the question, was Fernando among them?
* * *
In 2001 Brodsky published Nexo; un ensayo fotográfico, which takes up again many of the same theme of Buena memoria. Especially prominent is the space he once again devotes to his brother. But there is more of a general concern with the topic of memory, no longer tied specifically to the base photograph of the early volume. There is a concern for the recovery of items associated with the repression and exile and the utilization of various strategies of photomontage to record those items and to place them in meaningful contexts. Of particular interest is the utilization of such photographs in an exposition like the base photograph of Buena memoria in installations at the Feria del Libro in Buenos Aires, along with photographs that record viewers reactions to the installations. These installations were made up of found books, books that had been buried in the ground to hide them from the raids of the forces of the tyranny, who considered many specific titles as prima facie evidence that those who had them in their possession were legitimately eliminatable enemies of the state (see Un golpe a los libros for a study of print censorship during the tyranny).
Also of extreme interest are the photographs that record the utilization of the remains from the 1994 bombing of the AMIA (Asociación Mutualista Israelí-Argentina) in the creation of the landfill along the waterfront of the Río de la Plata in the northern area of the city close to the Ciudad Universitaria, an area developed as a memorial to the disappeared of the Dirty War. The tie-in here is evident: since the river played such an important role in the disappearance of an unknown number of victims of the repression, it is also significant that it became the dumping ground of yet another manifestation of the country history of political violence, the bombing, during democracy, of the AMIA (and in 1991 the Israeli Embassy, too, was bombed, also after the return to democracy).
If the military repression of the late 1970s had a strong strain of anti-Semitism, these two bombings were specifically anti-Semitic acts, and it is fitting that there is also at that site, alongside the memorial to the victims of the disappearances, a memorial to the victims of the AMIA blast. Nexo is a complex essay that deserves a wholly separate analysis.
Brodsky, Marcelo. Buena memoria; un ensayo fotográfico / Good memory; a photographic essay. Con textos de / with texts by Martín Caparrós, José Pablo Feinmann [and] Juan Gelman. Buenos Aires: La Marca Fotografía, 1997.
Brodsky, Marcelo. Nexo, un ensayo fotográfico de Marcelo Brodsky. A photographic essay. Buenos Aires: La Marca; Centro Cultural Recoleta, 2001.
Dreizik, Pablo M., comp. La memoria de las cenizas. Buenos Aires: Dirección Nacional de Patrimonio, Museos y Artes, 2001.
Ese inferno; conversaciones con cinco mujeres sobrevivientes de la ESMA. Munú Actis et al. Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 2001.
Feitlowitz, Marguerite. A Lexicon of Terror; Argentina and the Legacies of Torture. New York: Oxford UP, 1998.
Foster, David William, ed. The Redemocratization of Argentine Culture, 1983 and Beyond; An International Research Symposium at Arizona State University, February 16-17, 1987. Tempe: Center for Latin American Studies, Arizona State University, 1989.
Giudice, Alberto, cuidador. Arte y política en los '60. Buenos Aires: Fundación Banco Ciudad [2002?].
Invernizzi, Hernán, and Judtih Gociol. Un golpe a los libros: represión a la cultura durante la última dictadura militar. Buenos Aires: EUDEBA, 2002. See also the exhibit catalog Un golpe a los libros 1976-1983; una producción de la Dirección General del Libro y Producción de la Lectura. Buenos Aires: DG Libro, Secretaría de Cultura, Gobierno de Buenos Aires, 2002.
Nunca más; informe de la Comisión Nacional sobre la Desaparición de Personas. Buenos Aires: EUDEBA, 1984. Translated into English as Nunca más, the report of the Argentine National Commission on the Disappeared. With an introduction by Ronald Dworkin. New York, Farrar Straus Giroux, in association with Index on Censorship, London, 1986].
Ramírez, Mari Carmen. Cantos paralelos: la parodia plástica en el arte argentino contemporáneo/Visual Parody in Contemporary Argentinean Art. Con textos de/with texts by Marcelo E. Pacheco [and] Andrea Giunta. Austin: Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas at Austin; Buenos Aires: Fondo Nacional de las Argentinas, Argentina, 1999.
Timerman, Jacobo. Preso sin nombre, celda sin número. Barcelona, El Cid Editor, c1980, 1981. Cover title: El caso Camps, punto inicial. Translated into English as Prisoner without a Name, Cell without a Number. Trans. from the Spanish by Toby Talbot. New York: Knopf, 1981.