Nick Hannes @ Foto Museum, Antwerp

This exhibition is called “Mediterranean: the continuity of man” and at the entrance there is a quote by Ernle Bradford, “The Pacific may have the most changeless ageless aspect of any ocean, but the Mediterranean Sea celebrates the continuity of man.” I do not understand the relevance of this quote. Maybe the exhibition will reveal it to me.

The work is all in colour and shows varied scenes from around the shores of the Mediterranean where in recent years there has been war as well as mass tourism. There are boats full of holiday makers as well as boats full of refugees searching for a better life.
Tourism features in many of these images; not just people having a good time but also the effect tourism has on the environment. Man constructed landscapes that often make exotic locations seem banal.
One image that is used in a poster advertising this exhibition, shows the rear view of an elderly naked white woman sitting on a subbed while a dark black man crouches by her, attempting to sell her bric a brac such as the bracelet he is tying around her wrist. It is from Saint-Tropez in France and made in 2013. The contrast here is striking and much of the exhibition is about contrast, the way in which pleasure seeking continues alongside more desperate scenes such as the mass grave of 300 anonymous migrants who drowned while trying to cross the Evros River on the border between Turkey and Greece.  Between these two extremes, there are images showing urban detritus, the cost of these ways of living.
The juxtaposition of images here is quite different here to the ordered sequence of the book. A large photograph of a crowd protesting in Cairo faces another large photograph of people partying in Ibiza. The walls that face each other reveal different worlds, that of an Arabian zone of conflict, where people demand change and a more northern coastline where people seem to live only for pleasure.
There are gasoline stations that recall Ed Ruscha’s 26 Gasoline Stations yet these are often disused gasoline stations, from Greece not California; it seems the economy has taken it’s toll here.
The photographs vary in size but almost all are framed in wood; one exception are smaller prints pinned to the wall at almost ground level. These seem to reflect on the subject of those above them. The larger framed prints vary in size and format.
The text introducing this exhibition seems to be advertising it. The cradle of civilisation, birthplace of three major religions (not sure exactly what these are other than Christianity and Judaism) and the world’s most popular tourist destination. Yet it also mentions the other side of the Arab Spring when protest was unleashed.
What is this exhibition saying? The write up seen on entry gives some clues yet the viewer is left to decide.
There are a lot of images to consider. One of the smaller images (these are about A3 in size) shows a man firing a gun into a night sky; one might ask what for and conclude that it is for the photographer because he is lined up to shoot into the moon that glimmers in the sky above! Most of these images do not appear to be setup though, rather catch glimpses of contemporary life.
Another image shows rolls of barbed wire in the street with an image of the colonel from Kentucky Fried Chicken pinned on them; further back, there are a line of armed police while in the foreground, a man talks on his mobile phone. The caption is simple “Cairo, Egypt, 2012”.
There really is an awful lot of information about the contemporary Mediterranean coastline contained within these images yet I am not sure that is what this exhibition is about. It is not really about the continuity of man either as the exhibition subtitle suggests rather it is concerned withe possessed and the dispossessed of the region.
The captions tell us little, nothing beyond place, yet the photos themselves have distinctive visual messages. Some photographs have no captions at all, a few have more extended text that does inform the viewer such as one that tells us the UNITED employs over 1,000 peacekeepers on the Lebanese-Israeli border.
There is a website www.continuityofman.com
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