In October 2017 Depoorter met Agata in a strip club in Paris. Over the next three years, the women dove deep into a collaboration, creating a small alternative universe that served as a container for them to explore questions they each had regarding identity, performance, and representation: Who is the true author of these images? Who is the true subject? Who is Agata? Who is Agata when being photographed? Who is Bieke? Who is Bieke when making photographs? Why make these pictures? What are the motives and motivations? Who is responsible for what?
The book tells both the story of a young woman using a photographer to find some sense of identity, and the story of a photographer using a young woman to better understand photographic authorship and herself. These intertwined narratives are threaded via a combination of images, letters, and notes, but what defines the dialogue is the ever-present reflex of self-awareness and self-reflection. The result is a project that never lands on any sort of conclusive truth, instead highlighting the slippery nature of truth in situations where power, responsibility, and control are in a constant state of flux.
As a whole, Agata is a project that asks more questions than it offers answers, first recognizing the well-worn idea of photographer-as-witness as a relative impossibility, then throwing all players involved under the microscope: photographer, subject, audience, and, of course, the medium itself.
I want to quit our project.
At least for now.
It’s become too close.
I feel guilty.
I’ve used this project as a way to better understand my struggles with photography and then everything got blurry.
This book’s design is, like the dynamic it examines, complex and constantly shifting. Its contents are laid out chronologically, and the book is Japanese bound, with perforations on the fold. This leaves the reader with the choice of whether to tear open the pages and see a hidden story; alternative narratives, versions of truth that do not fit squarely with the truth the photographer originally presents.
Once a reader decides to open a sealed page, there is no undoing that choice. To some degree, this implicates the reader, involving them in how the multifaceted story is represented. Like the photographer and subject, the audience is then forced to consider their role in this triangle of responsibility.