28 June 2016

Images Do Not Exist

28 June 2016 - Written by IC Visual Lab

In her photobook, The Swamp, Sofia Borges questions the act of seeing, presenting a seemingly random sequence of images whose abstract forms disrupt the logical processes of comprehension.

© Sofia Borges, spread from the book The Swamp

In a world run by and flooded with images, it seems pretty subversive to state that "IMAGES DO NOT EXIST" - how many people would even give this a second thought? But if for one second of your life you would like to exercise this idea further, then you should read, The Swamp, a photobook by the Brazilian artist, Sofia Borges.

Appearing on the book's front cover, the statement "IMAGES DO NOT EXIST" suggests her work is not about a personal story, nor the documentation of a particular event in her life, rather it is an attempt to understand the existence of a physical world around her. Ideas around resemblance, mimesis, symbols and depictions are often put into question, blurring the lines of reality.

The Swamp is a metaphor to describe the places (geographically but also philosophically speaking) where she has been wandering around for more than seven years. The Swamp of comprehension, of representation, of abstraction. Nowadays in photography there is a certain trend - your work has to be "about something." Even when the "aboutness" becomes the only excuse to gather a collection of pictures, often with a pretty lame concept behind them. As an antidote, Sofia appears to be a refreshing voice with a powerful and well considered body of work; her images seem empty receptacles where we pour over our experiences.

© Sofia Borges, spread from the book The Swamp

It’s unavoidable to link this book with Plato’s ideas in the The Allegory of the Cave where he reflects on how far people may claim to be enlightened or unenlightened. The Swamp is an open dialogue between the author and her images, as a language to understand the world. Fragments of text suddenly appear steering the reader's view into a sea of thoughts. Without the intention of imposing an extra layer over the images' surface, Sofia invites us to dive deeper into the things she actually sees:

"Solid white, solid white,

Solid Sound,

Absent light as existence

and all things being unequivocally thick.

Image is a substance of meaning. Forcibly. Inevitably. Absolutely and without exception.

Objects are a distinguishable nothing."

© Sofia Borges, spread from the book The Swamp

Sofia has been roaming around museums, zoos and study centres where objects are preserved and displayed to help us understand our history, to represent how our ancestors were living, the objects they created and used, the existing fauna and flora… but how much of this is possible? How much of this is a conviction? How much of this is real?

Sofia says that the final grasp of that happened not inside museums but by the experience of entering and photographing the walls of the most ancient and prehistoric caves. "Looking at the complex layering of time and of meaning over the drawings and over the formation of those caves led me to better comprehend something related to vision, which is: we cannot signify reality. Something that we have tried forever."

Sofia's world is conformed by a fascinating series of images, from figurative forms to abstraction, from documentation to experimentation. Museum objects, portraits, illustrations, rocks, fake rocks, paintings, animals representing animals, collages or even images of her studio are sequenced, suggesting her ideas are driven by instincts: human instincts. There is a moment when "what you look at" is not important anymore and it is the "how you look at it" that matters. She uses a variety of visual strategies to achieve this. For example, images of the same mineral in different states (solid and liquid) or with different characteristics (rough and polished) showing us the vulnerability of these inconceivable representations. All the images seem to be coated with a dark, wet, melted substance. These images are presenting nothing but themselves.

© Sofia Borges, spread from the book The Swamp


The Swamp by Sofia Borges

Published in May 2016 by MACK Books // Photography by Sofia Borges

Open spine soft-cover book with wraparound dust jacket

184 pages // 49 colour plates // 22 black and white plates // 21 x 26 cm



Sofia Borges is a visual artist living and working between São Paulo and Paris. She develops her research about photography in collaboration with writers, philosophers, musicians, and other artists, transforming her work into a stage of investigation. Follow her on Instagram.

Alejandro Acin is the director of IC-Visual Lab, an organisation based in Bristol (UK) that aims to promote and produce contemporary photography through a series of events and commissioned projects. IC-Visual Lab organises Photobook Bristol, an international festival for photobooks. He also works as designer and editor at ICVL Studio.

Written by

IC Visual Lab

Reading time

5 minutes