Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin
The Prestige of Terror, 2010

The work

The practice of photographers Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin centres on a critical approach to the medium of photography as trace and testimony of contemporary political history. Their multifaceted conceptual work unfolds through a research methodology that borrows the tools of ethnography to focus on dark periods of human history marked by violence, the trauma of war, and socio-political conflicts. The Prestige of Terror came as part of the duo’s attempt to retrieve the history of “Art et Liberté”, a group of surrealist artists, writers, and political activists in Egypt while it was under British rule since the late 1930s. The title comes from that of the 1945 pamphlet Prestige de la terreur, published in French in Cairo by one of the group’s most prominent members, the poet Georges Henein, a few days after the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In his text Henein denounces violence and terror as a “lesser evil” option for legitimising a democratic war. Based on a strategy of appropriating excerpts from the group’s publications and classifying them arbitrarily, the work hovers between poetic subversion and historical testimony.