Why talk about protest photo books?

Luciano Zuccaccia


I have been dealing with photographic books for several years in a continuous research and study and I believe that talking about protesting is truly important because it is a part of our society and an ever-current topic. 

Indisputably, just as society has changed, so too the concerned demonstrations and revolts publications, from the sixties onwards, have changed and they evolved in language, graphics and content. 

My proposal on this platform, protestinphotobook.com, focuses on these aspects. Thinking about the discarded magazine’s mission, I believe it would be interesting to be able to see the images scraps not used in the many protest books, things that could have been insignificant in the sixties, today, revisiting them with all the occurred changes, could have another communicative value and perhaps compose different stories. The current trend tells us of family stories that appear from their grandparents’ trunks, but my attention shifts to what could be in the reporters’ proofs of the seventies, certainly something interesting. 

In any case, my research on protest books is an activity in progress. Obviously, I started with the best-known books such as È il ’77 of Tano D’amico , Telex Iran of Gilless Peress – Minamata of Eugene and Aileen Smith, and then continue in search of unknown publications or publications that were relevant or linked to protesting such as books on resilience, biographies of revolutionaries. For example Fidel Castro, or the Urban Guerrilla Minimanual by Carlos Marighella.

Telex Iran by Gilless Peres
Fidel Castro by Thomas Mießgang
È il '77 by Tano d'Amico

But let’s go specifically, I’ll show you some examples of books that have caught my attention including: A flicker of hope after the uncertainty published in Argentina in 1977 by the government of the dictator Videla. The book talks about the revolt in the Tucuman Region in Argentina. I consider this book interesting despite the drama of the event for various reasons, for example; as you can see from the images published on the site, the book has an important narrative structure and equally curious graphics with a strong hold on the public which combined with the use of the English language alone make it a document between protest and propaganda to reflect on. If we analyse the book, we immediately understand what the purpose of this publication was: first of all the use of the English language, certainly not used to speak to the Argentine people, as we are in 1977, but rather for a foreign public, which is quite different for the ‘very basic graphic layout that grants an accessible understanding for the masses and the use of various colours that are easy to understand, not to mention the choice of toning the final black and white photos in gold, a sugar-coating of the places that nowadays, as we know what dictatorship to the prisoners, appears even more macabre. I was lucky enough to find this book in Argentina and discovering that it was unknown even there, resulted incomprehensible to me given its validity both as a historical document and as a mystifier of reality.

By going through the many books that are part of my collection, I realize that we have moved from the simple black and white documentation books of the sixties to the modern conceptual colour books for example: Poetics of Resistance by Marcelo Brodsky or 88 Pedazos by Federico Paladino. It’s a new way of talking about protests, shifting attention from familiar images to new languages where the images are used not only as a document but also as a vehicle for further reasoning.

Poetics of Resistance by Marcelo Brodsky is a deeply interesting book as this new language is what the author offers us. Brodsky has acquired the rights to some pictures of the ‘68 protests around the world so that he can intervene by colouring them with markers. His work is aimed at telling new stories, with the addition of handwritten texts around and in the prints, mostly the slogans that were shouted at demonstrations or street claims. By highlighting some details, the author shifts the attention and focus of the image by bringing out hidden objects, a stone, or the use of cameras by the demonstrators, expanding the communication of that shot. A new language and new reflections that can give a glimpse of different paths in the communication of protest books. One thing that always intrigued me in the books of the ’70s was the addition of small discs to books, both with popular songs and with slogans, this way the communication was not only visual but expanded, enriched with details, gave a voice . In Brodsky’s work, I find this intention, this desire to add something; I almost seem to hear a voice from outside protesting for his rights.

In Federico Paladino’s 88 Pedazos we are in full conceptualism, the praise of the stone, true symbol of the protest rises as the leading and central element of the riots, in the specific case of Argentina in 2017. However, the author has not only presented us with the object, but he has made it unique in its narrative methodology, an expression applicable to the work of the Becher couple, who turned their silos into artistic objects. In the images of Paladino the reference to the Beakers’ pictures is strong, granaries, silos and water towers, and it is certainly the repetitiveness of the gesture that allows us to focus on the stone element.

Luciano Zuccaccia

His life is within photo books and now he is protesting.
Curator of protestinphotobook.com