On November 4, 2015, the CSCA invited visual artist Marc Roig Blesa to discuss Werker Magazine, its goals and challenges. The magazine, initiated by Roig Blesa and graphic designer Rogier Delfos, is a contextual publication focusing on photography and labour, investigating contemporary representation and forms of work. Inspired by the Worker Photography Movement of the 1920s and 30s that engaged with questions of self-representation, self-publishing and image-critique through its depictions of proletarian working conditions and the everyday life, Werker Magazine revolves around the project of reclaiming the camera as a political instrument. Originating in Germany and the USSR, Worker Photography spread across other parts of the world including the rest of Europe and the United States of America. However, within an anti-communist ethos propagated by US cultural hegemony, the communist underpinnings of the movement contributed to an erasure of its history from art institutions . In reclaiming the ‘civil and collective use of photography’ that the movement promoted, Roig Blesa and Delfos also question practices that fall within the ambit of ‘photography’ – looking at how certain images get institutionalised and why others do not.
The conversation started out with Roig Blesa illustrating the pictorial vocabularies that Werker Magazine has generated, pointing towards the possibilities of working within contemporary spaces that interrogate the canonical organisation, presentation, and reception of photographic practices. The magazine has come to possess a vast digital archive of images, created through contributions by people from all over the world. These images reflect the politics of the domestic space, exhibiting the living conditions of workers and students, highlighting concerns about power and accessibility. Influenced by Allan Sekula’s 1978 essay ‘Dismantling Modernism, Reinventing Documentary (Notes on the Politics of Representation)’, Roig Blesa argues for the democratisation of photography. He believes that photography falls under the umbrella of mass media technologies, and its purpose is fulfilled only when more people take more photographs and produce them in different spaces and settings, thus circulating their ideas to larger audiences. Werker Magazine, embedded in such practices of mass participation, attempts to negotiate the meanings of labour in a post-Fordist society .
Outlining the various projects the magazine has undertaken, Roig Blesa reiterated that their work – moving consciously away from dominant systems of knowledge – is interested in presenting dialogic material, illustrating conflicts and contradictions that encourage discussion. In this way, the magazine always curates contextual work, prescribing themes that attempt to depart from dominant modes of representation and reflect on the medium of photography. One such project is the ongoing political kitchen calendar that invites collective and political representations of domestic spaces. The magazine therefore activates a network of photographers, its archive overflowing with contributions from over thirty countries across the world so far . Importance, however, is not given only to the visual image. Roig Blesa also emphasises the indispensability of literature, the written text that accompanies images in every issue of the magazine, foregrounding photography’s discursive nature as well as its need to be interrogated alongside other forms of communication and representation.
Towards the end of the session, opening the floor to questions sparked debate about the open-endedness of the project; the never-ending catalogue that is the virtual archive; the didactic purposes of photographs; the ways in which institutions govern art practices, and how related funding might subject commissions to certain popular demands. Roig Blesa stated clearly that their projects receive most of the funding from the state of Holland instead of private art museums and galleries. In his view, this allows for not only more freedom in the selection and organisation of their images, but fluidity in rearranging them in different communal locations. Werker Magazine is thus able to stay away from the constraints of institutionalised or commercialised art spaces, working more closely with the people that it represents in its photography.
The evening came to a close with Roig Blesa reaffirming that Werker Magazine concerns itself with photography that, in his view, matters; revolving around elements of ordinary life that shape individual identities. In this way, photography moves beyond the elevated status ascribed to it by the art market or for-profit news media and becomes a form of expression by the people and for the people.
Harleen Kaur Bagga
 Worker Photography Movement: http://www.foto8.com/live/worker-photography-movement/
 See, for a classic discussion of Post-Fordism, Maurizio Lazzarato’s 1997 essay ‘Imaterial Labour,’: http://www.e-flux.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/2.-Maurizio-Lazzarato-Immaterial-Labor.pdf
 Werker Magazine’s archive: http://www.werkermagazine.org/domesticwork/
For more on Werker magazine, see the following links: