No matter where French photographer Antoine d’Agata travels, he finds the same festering vein of marginalized depravity. Phnom Penh, Bangkok, Damascus, Istanbul, New York, Marseille, San Salvador, Mexico City, Haiti, Hamburg, Havana, Bosnia — he’s visited them all and the anxiety and brief pleasures of the prostitutes, homeless, addicts, and other drifting souls mingles in the same sordid mire.
A staggering 2,500 of his photographs were published earlier this year by Prestel. Antibodies gathers photographs from 1989 to 2011 of the dark corners of the world, each only given a place and a date in the book, alongside introspective writing from d’Agata. These are arranged in one-sentence stages that go on for pages of building, tense imagery. For example, “01. Drift” starts:
The landscape’s monotonous order contaminates the seeker of life, lost in a world that smothers him; the sea is the color of lead and the sky that of smoke, men drop like flies and obscure women seduce whomever remains, they appear only to vanish again, their words are like an invitation to get lost in the muddy delta; […]
Disorienting is the most accurate feeling of flipping through page after page of d’Agata’s imagery, where chaotically entwined nude bodies blur like Francis Bacon paintings, and jagged teeth howl out from gaped mouths in either agony or ecstasy. There are pauses with the blank depression of the brothels, drug dens, and war-ripped streets. The lurid scenes of sex are juxtaposed against corpses rotting to skeletons beneath layers of dirt. It’s unclear what d’Agata is looking for in his endless wanders, but you can get a glimpse of his life in an “Atlas” from 1961–2013 included in the back: “1982 – heroin, jimsonweed, intoxication, and claustrophobic troubles”; “1996 – amnesiac deceits, liaison of the flesh, silent lies”; “2012 – ICE – HAVANA, KAMATHIPURA, opium, brown sugar […].”
Beyond all the shocking imagery, d’Agata has a captivating perspective on these harrowing places. An unlikely Magnum photographer, there’s an obvious engagement where he has spent time gaining enough trust to capture moments most of us never witness. Yet after you have seen them, their desperation and aggression burrows like a botfly under your skin.
Antoine d’Agata’s Antibodies is available from Prestel.