“Ownership of the properties.”


“When Fareed Armaly took up elements of “rephotography” in the late 1980s, he integrated their different traditions. The aesthetics of the individual photographs, for example in “Properties” (1988), remained linked to the commodity aesthetics favored by Richard Prince with isolated objects immersed in shining light; however, the methodical approach can be compared more with [Ken] Jacob’s approach, namely as an attempt to “penetrate the space of representation.” While Jacobs was concerned with the “essence” of filmic representation, Armaly was more interested in the design and presentation methods of commercial products, as they appear in advertising photography. The space of representation here is not necessarily the photographic space itself, but a space staged by means of photographic means, which is intended to shed a special light on the object of desire. The selection of objects, the way they are taken, the sequence of images and the labels assigned to them create a complex field of relationships whose aesthetic strategy can no longer be reduced to the repetition effect that ultimately has its roots in the ready-made.

In “Properties,” as with Prince, the work in the photo laboratory was in the foreground, only not existing photographs or excerpts from them were reproduced, but individual objects were taken in the style of advertising photography and processed with the retouching methods that were still analog at the time, i.e. provided with particularly vivid light and gloss effects. Only one of the resulting pictures, which shows an open auction catalogue for modern and postmodern photography, is a classical “rephotography,” more in the sense of [Robert] Frank, however, since it contextualizes photography itself as a commodity and sought-after art object and presents the catalogue as a shining object. Three other pictures each show an isolated object, an open cigarette box strongly reminiscent of the Marlboro design but without the brand name and with a cigarette remaining inside, a wristwatch for the blind that can be operated by touch and a screwed-on mascara bottle. The objects offer themselves or their reference; they already symbolize desire, status or appearance and the laboratory processing supports this effect even more. In the fifth and last image of the series, the pure light effects of the arrangement were now superimposed, giving the impression of a typical 1920s rayogram or even Moholy–Nagy’s light-space modulator.

“Properties” in English means both properties and property, thus in turn both in its abstract and in its concrete form in particular as possession. Fareed Armaly’s work plays with these different facets of meaning; in particular, it addresses the characteristics of the objects that make them coveted property beyond their concrete utility values. A “use value” is assigned to each of the four object-related images as the caption, but an “exchange value” is assigned to the abstract fifth image. At first glance, this seems to suggest that the properties that make the objects seem so desirable, as well as the lighting direction, could be detached from the pictures. But the lighting effects merely support the character of the objects, which already offer themselves for use. That is, they are not directly needed, but their current “use” lies precisely in offering themselves. It is precisely this “utility value” of the objects that has long since transformed itself into an “exchange value”. Usage presents itself as a symbolic communication and interaction with those desiring customers/viewers who are offered an appearance, a setting themselves in scene and making themselves into a medium, for which in turn photography is the medium of the media. Conversely, the pure exchange value is not on the surface of the appearance, even if it undoubtedly has to do with it. The isolation of the various, pure light templates with which the first four images were “treated” further exacerbates this paradox in the fifth image. For the “abstract” painting could itself appear in the auction catalogue as an auratically charged promise of an early avant-garde. Object design, presentation form, lighting direction and viewer addressing therefore ensure the “circulation,” a smooth transition from the usage to the exchange values. This distinction dissolves within capitalist commodity worlds and the corresponding social forms of relationship anyway. The labels “use value” or “exchange value” should therefore not be understood as didactic instructions or as titles for the pictures; rather, images, frames, arrangement and the texts running under the pictures create a field of tension in which “abstraction” (the title of another work from the same year) describes more an operating mode than the style of a finished product.”