Featuring a selection of works by Paraguayan artist Fredi Casco, mor charpentier explores the material dimension of photography as an artifact in which history is written and also questioned
Fredi Casco: Los fantasmas de la imagen
Photographs are not merely snapshots frozen in time, they are potent documents that grant us insight into the past. Understanding these visual artifacts as historical records, we can grasp their profound significance, as they intertwine the perspectives of the photographer, subject, and archivist in a narrative web. Over time, these images can be reexamined through fresh visual and discursive tools, inviting us to question and reinterpret their stories.
Fredi Casco, an artist with a keen eye for historical exploration, often draws inspiration from photography, whether discovered at flea markets or captured with his own camera. Rather than accepting photographs as static representations, Casco brings new life into them, transforming the medium through pencil sketches, digital enhancements, and subtle highlighting of the images’ backs. In this transformative process, he uncovers alternative stories concealed within the frames.
His thought-provoking artworks challenge viewers to reconsider how they approach photographs, transcending the conventional conceptual confines. Each piece becomes a vessel for a fresh discourse on history, where the past converges with the present in unexpected ways.
Our survey begins with Foto Zombie, a series that delves into the political life of Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner. By drawing silhouettes on the back of each print, Casco bridges historical images with a contemporary context, an approach reminiscent of Roland Barthes’ concept of the ‘spectrum.’ The figures, now spectral, haunt the present with their conceptual impact, urging us to confront their visual presence anew.
Similarly, El retorno de los brujos unveils scenes from Stroessner’s political gatherings during the tense Cold War era. Employing digital techniques, Casco intervenes in these photographs, adding intricate details that beckon the viewer to delve deeper, enticing us to question the purpose and implications of each alteration and how it reshapes the original intent.
In the second part of his series, Casco introduces text as a significant element. He explores the connections between isolated events from his own life and the experiences of British author Graham Greene in Paraguay. Here, the line between fiction and reality blurs, prompting us to contemplate the subtleties that define visual representation and the multifaceted ways we interpret images.
The third and final chapter of this series becomes a daring experiment in narrative potential. Casco appropriates the story of Josef Mengele, a notorious Nazi criminal hiding in Paraguay. The resulting photographic register is evocative of investigative documents, weaving a “false trail” that magnifies the legends surrounding the disappearance of Nazi criminals. The phantoms that once haunted Stroessner’s dictatorship are resurrected through Casco’s art, inviting us to confront this collective history.
In Los fantasmas de la imagen, Casco’s work examines how these photographs and their circulation, enriched by manual or digital enhancement, pave the way for the creation of new narratives. Acting as both an archivist and artist, Casco compels us to question what is conventionally regarded as self-evident. His artworks become a mirror reflecting the complexities of storytelling, urging us to reevaluate the official histories we often accept without question. By thoughtfully considering what lies within the frame and what remains outside, we are encouraged to critically analyze historical images, especially in an age of relentless visual consumption.
In Foto Zombie, Fredi Casco again appeals to images of Paraguay’s political life produced during Stroessner’s dictatorship, found by the artist in flea markets in Asunción. This time Casco studies not only the image’s dimensions but also the document as an artifact: on the back of each photograph, Casco has drawn with a pencil the silhouettes of figures that appear in the image, bestowing the document with new dimensions. Captions on the back of several photos are linked with specific political events, stimulating their potential narrative.
Thanks to the photographic medium, the presence of the subject photographed, that Barthes calls the Spectrum survives embalmed in the instant. The photograph preserves these appearances in the amber of historical temporality so that they coexist with us in the present: it is the repeated return of the deceased. In Foto Zombie appearances exceed the limits of the image, appropriating the back of the document. Ghosts from this obscure period appear to be spectral shapes, the living- dead that have escaped over time. Reflecting the current political panorama in Paraguay, these ghosts seem to be terrifying figures that threaten an eternal return.
Foto Zombie (X)
Foto Zombie (VII)
Foto Zombie (IX)
Foto Zombie (XV)
Foto Zombie (XVII)
El retorno de los brujos Vol. I
The series El retorno de los brujos comprises three volumes in which Casco explores the relationship between the photographic image, fiction, and official and individual accounts pronounced during the dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner in Paraguay. Literature-style chapters lend a rhythm to these oscillations between reality and fiction.
The photographs presented in this first chapter, “Cold War Disasters,” were found in several flea markets in Asunción. The images unveil scenes from the political life of Stroessner, who organized many diplomatic meetings during the most intense period of the Cold War. This period still represents today the peak of Paraguay’s international relations.
El retorno de los brujos vol. 1 (5)
El retorno de los brujos vol. 1 (6)
El retorno de los brujos vol. 1 (11)
El retorno de los brujos vol. 1 (12)
El retorno de los brujos Vol. II
The starting point of the second chapter of El retorno de los brujos series is the haphazard connection between isolated events in the artist’s life and the life of the British author Graham Greene.
At a young age, Fredi Casco recalls hearing his parents describe the time they met the famous writer in Asunción in 1969. Several years later, Casco questioned his father about its veracity and the details of the event. His father confirmed that he did indeed meet Greene at that time and added that this encounter consisted of a long conversation in which the writer disclosed that his camera had been confiscated the evening before by a group of policemen when he was trying to photograph the preparation of a military parade, in front of the Partido Colorado headquarters, of which Stroessner was a member.
The artist describes how, while carrying out research unconnected to this event in police archives, he came across an envelope containing several negatives, which was written “confiscated photos in front of the A.N.R. (National Republican Association). Funnily enough, the images he found corresponded with Greene’s descriptions of Paraguay in the novel Travels with My Aunt, the second part of which takes place in Asunción.
In this series of images, each photograph is associated by the artist with a corresponding section of the novel; in light of this association between fiction and archive images, the conscience inevitably takes the path of certainty: Greene’s account becomes a testimony, the photographs found by Casco, evidence. The artist becomes an investigator, and his deliberated actions, are the measured steps of his investigation.
El retorno de los brujos vol. 2
El retorno de los brujos Vol. III
In the third volume of this series, Casco continues to explore possibilities for photographic images, this time putting its narrative potential to the test. To create these photographs, the artist appropriates the story of Josef Mengele, a Nazi criminal hiding in Paraguay.
In 1964, Mengele was tracked down by the Mossad and by camp survivors (certain sources mention the ‘Committee of the Twelve’). Imagining they would find the former Nazi at the Hotel Tirol, in the south of Paraguay, they were disappointed to only find pyjamas in his room, forgotten during a rapid departure.
Interested in the stories about Nazis hidden by Stroessner, Casco set off in Mengele’s footsteps. The artist stayed in Hotel Tirol, in the same bedroom as Mengele. Casco devises a new scene, formed of objects found by the artist in flea markets: in room 26, in addition to the pyjamas, Israeli officials would have found a leather case containing a Dacora Dignette camera, an album of photographs taken in the Hohenau Colony and in the town of Encarnación, a few old German postcards from the 1930s-1940s addressed to several recipients, a commemorative medal bearing the image of Adolf Hitler, a key, a Latin‑German dictionary, and a Spanish-German dictionary.
The photographic register produced by Casco is evocative of the style of investigative documents. This “false trail” has helped to develop the legend around the disappearance of Nazi criminals and also updates this moment in Paraguay’s history: the work brings the phantoms that haunt Stroessner’s dictatorship to life.
Albertine de Galbert, Curator
El retorno de los brujos, vol. 3, 2012