Jorge Molder

Galeria Cómicos/Luis Serpa/Ministério das Finanças

In different ways, Joseph Conrad is the common point of reference for Jorge Molder’s two exhibitions and the corresponding books. The book The Secret Agent, 1991—its title taken from the Conrad novel—is a sequence of 51 black and white photographs, of which a set was exhibited at the Galeria Cómicos/Luis Serpa. At the same time, the ministry of finance exhibited a series of photographs taken from a set of 31 that, accompanied by a text by Jacques Dam, constituted the volume dedicated to Conrad in the collection Lieux de l’écrit (Places of writing, 1991).

External cultural referents, particularly literary ones, have been a constant factor in Molder’s photographs, though they are never merely illustrative or documentary. Decipherable referents surround each image with a set of possible meanings that are always deferred. Because Molder’s photographs highlight certain objects, elements, and angles of vision, pulling them out of context, the images become autonomous, though they still reflect and act upon their context. Isolated, with a weight and power all their own, these images are at once the symptom of a generic context and the center of a particular mystery-they reflect what we might call the actual or deferred narrative vocation of Molder’s photographs.

The series “The Secret Agent,” 1991, continues a practice of self-portraiture, which in this case may be seen as an allegory: the photographer-the author-as the “secret agent.” The book is organized according to; series of sequences or chapters, comparable to the structure of a detective novel. The image at the end of the show was the self-portrait that began the volume. And in the last photograph two hands hold an open book in which we see the same self-portrait and read the title “The Secret Agent.” The circle is closed.

A reading of this work as a detective story is an obvious possibility, though a less linear and more open one than this description suggests. Multiple variations could be sketched, and, indeed, are suggested by the different combinations and sequences of photographs in each exhibition. Outside the book’s rigid schema, each image can be integrated in a more flexible sequence, increasing the possibilities of projecting its particular mystery. In any case, a set of question always remains and constitutes the basis for this secret agent and investigation (The agent is not a photographer by chance.) These questions have to do with the themes of authorship, truth and guilt.

The detective investigates a case. He looks for the guilty party. But if the case is the world itself, he will have to invent his own case and create his own story. If the story is not true. Therefore the detective,the.But an image, just like the world or reality, can never be true. Therefore, the detective, the photographer, the author, is always responsible, always guilty. During the investigative process, the detective is transformed from being the investigator to being the one who is investigated. At the end of his research and experiments he discovers his own image: he then resolves to give up the responsibility and the guilt of being subject and author. He slips onto the side of the object. He plays the game of confusing identities. And he leaves us with an image of himself, and with the impenetrable particularity of each image—with the responsibility of inventing a story ourselves, with the threat of being the guilty ones.

Alexandre Melo

Translated from the Portuguese by David Prescott.