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Shattered Portrait


Shattered Portrait: Electoral Protester, Mexico City, 2022


Walter Benjamin wrote in 1923 that one can never fully approach the true conceptual depth of a creative idea. One can only approximate, as assembled shards of a broken ceramic vessel can only partially resemble the original. The more shards we use, the closer we may come. But flawlessness—reserved in Benjamin's tale for the immortal divine—will always elude us.


For this piece I have generated dozens of images based on a news photograph. Instead of manually curating them, allowing my human eye to pick the "best"—aren't they all interesting in different ways?—I have allowed the computer to present them all, in the hope that, like Benjamin's theoretical broken vessel, we can arrive through myriad repeated variations at a central truth.


In 2022, thousands filled the streets of Mexico City to protest changes to Mexico's electoral law as proposed by President López Obrador (AMLO). I was struck in particular by the emotional expression of this fervent protester, captured photographically in a moment of visibly intense human feeling.


I present her software-modified images to you without comment. I don't know whose side she was on. I have no clue whether her motives were sincere, or whether one Mexican electoral proposal is better than any other. Nor am I interested. Politics is organized lying. I leave it to the liars.


I see in her the profundity and humanity of the expression with which she chooses to demonstrate the feelings bubbling within her—struggle mitigated by hope—mediated by my act of software re-analysis, and assembled like Benjamin's imaginary shards of a broken idea, into a composite concept that documents the simultaneous depth and simplicity of our existence.


P.S. It hasn't escaped my attention that this could be the digital bulletin board of a governmental surveillance organization. I'll leave that thought aside for the moment.

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