In the tradition of German photographer Karl Blossfeldt’s systematic protocol, Ben Freedman’s series Totem (2011) is an attempt in “objective” documentation. Removing objects from their respective context and isolating them in front of the camera, Totem is a typological exercise, recording a cross section of objects with socially inherent and subjective values. Ranging from holy water, a voodoo doll to a dreamcatcher, fifteen different objects were photographed in an effort to understand them as symbolic forms.
Placed on a neutral grey background and photographed on black and white instant film, the totems are presented to the camera for the viewer to engage with them. The change of scale, the focus on the objects, and the graphic rendering allow these emotionally and culturally significant specimens to gain physical presence in the space. The apparent formal disengagement draws attention to the paradox between the hand-crafted elements and simple materials photographed, and the important cultural meaning and aesthetics they carry.