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Best Books - A Closer Look: Censorship Daily

Censorship Daily by Jan Dirk van der Burg
Censorship Daily is a bit of a collaborative project between photographer and publisher Jan Dirk van der Burg, his journalist friend Thomas Erdbrink who is a longtime resident of Tehran and subscribes to the 'Islamic' edition of the NRC Handelsblad newspaper, and a number of anonymous Iranian civil servants tasked with censoring unacceptable images. The large format paperback that nearly approximates the size of the actual newspaper is full of a curated selection of van der Burg's favorites from Erdbrink’s collection.

The images are printed in black & white with stickers used to cover the offending parts of the images providing the only color, reproduced in their original vibrant blue. There are photographs of nude protests, a movie still, a mid-game Maria Sharapova, sunbathers and some fine-art images from photographers like Rineke Dijkstra and Joel-Peter Witkin, all with strategically placed blue stickers. A photograph of controversial Dutch cartoonist Charlie Hebdo is, not unsurprisingly, almost entirely blocked out. Despite the fact that the photo captions are in Dutch, they are readable enough and not to be missed, giving some context to the at times hard to distinguish images. But even without the captions the book leaves a distinct impression.

from Censorship Daily by Jan Dirk van der Burg

The censored newspaper images recall the photographs from Jeddah Diary by Olivia Arthur of the labels of consumer products where the woman on the packaging has been blacked out with marker. Her images were made in Saudi Arabia, and in context feel more sinister than the goofy blue stickers in Censorship Daily. Defacing an image nearly always reads as commentary and even a small mark can be transformative (see Roy Stryker's editorial hole punches in Killed). Even with simple blue stickers, these acts of censorship are oddly expressive, at times for the totality of the coverage or the meticulous selectiveness, but also for what they miss. I imagine that paging through newspapers looking for potentially prurient images could become a rather monotonous job, and a certain amount of careless boredom seems to creep in.

from Censorship Daily by Jan Dirk van der Burg

To an audience not accustom to this kind of censorship, these images are a reminder of how the imagination tends to invent something more sensational when denied information. The images become dirtier than they possibly could be and are immediately funny. A tender Dijkstra portrait of two teenagers becomes weirdly sexualized by a blue rectangle, another rectangle sprouts hands, a protest sign and shinny high-heeled boots, and another covers only the chest of a woman sitting between two cyclists in the back of a car. They give the impression that the western world is depraved, which actually is probably part of the point.

from Censorship Daily by Jan Dirk van der Burg

Despite being a Dutch newspaper, the blue stickers are a constant reminder of where it was being read with the imposition of Iranian authority over the European document. According to van der Burg, the NRC is no longer being actively censored in this manner. Censorship Daily is funny and fascinating, creating “a new kind of images,” as Erik Kessels said in his Best Books statement. But it is also a document of how occasionally strange and silly expressions of restrictive totalitarian policies can be. --Sarah Bradley

Selected as one of the Best Books of 2012 by Erik Kessels & RĂ©mi Faucheux

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