Xaver Könneker
based in Rotterdam, NL.

is a visual artist, teacher, and researcher who intertwines cultural theory with photographic practice. His work often reflects on the relationship between mortality, identity, structures and visual culture. The quote by Lucian Freud: “The longer you look at an object, the more abstract it becomes, and, ironically, the more real.” strongly resonates with the way he thinks and works. Intimately related to this, his work investigates the socially conditioned modality of looking, probing into how our social, professional, and political backgrounds frame perception and perceivability.

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Kodak Knows No Dark Days:
Forensic Gazes, Death and The Photographed Smile (Printed Publication)



Looking at a smile with a forensic gaze unveils an uncanny tension between life and death. ‘Kodak Knows No Dark Days: Forensic Gazes, Death and the Photographed Smile’ examines the peculiar relationship between the smile, the history of photography, and death in forensic odontology, a forensic practice that uses photographs of smiles to identify deceased persons. The thesis draws heavily from an interview I conducted with a forensic odontologist specializing in the forensic identification of human remains using selfie photographs. He was gracious enough to give me two hours of his time to discuss his profession that deals so intimately with death and its relationship to the smile. In the thesis, the insights derived from our conversation intertwine with a historical analysis of the socio-cultural reasons we began to smile for the camera in the first place. By tracing the history of the Eastman Kodak Company and its immense impact on the cultural habits surrounding photography, the thesis interrogates how an industrial giant with a virtual monopoly over the photography market altered the photographed narratives of our lives and our relationship to memory and death. At the heart of the thesis lies the unintended connection between Kodak’s project to purge what is painful from the family archive by linking photography with pleasure and the practice of forensic odontology, a field where photographed smiles are gazed upon as evidence for the identification of human remains. By examining the unexpected link between the smile, the history of Kodak, and forensic identification, the thesis invites the reader to ponder the implications of the forensic gaze on our memories and the space we give grief in the photographed narratives of our lives.

Designed by: Carmen Dusmet Carrasco