The first pages of When I Hear That Trumpet Sound seem to begin in some unspecified past – a time of pogroms and crusades, of darkness and wounding, when Christian faith was measured in acts of violence. But just as quickly, we’re returned to the present, to images of festive plastic greenery displayed alongside guns for sale, to the bruised and damaged skin of twenty-first century protesters, to arrests, to anguish.
In between, short phrases aggressively scratched into the negatives – WHEN I HEAR THAT TRUMPET SOUND, I’M GONNA RISE RIGHT OUT OF THE GROUND, AIN’T NO GRAVE CAN HOLD MY BODY DOWN – the words of Johnny Cash, delivered with the conviction of a prophecy … the certainty that this will manifest, this will become truth.
The book has a deliberately menacing feel: pull off the black balaclava in which it’s wrapped, and you find an object that looks like it’s been unearthed from some future past … the ink of the cover is jet-black and comes off on your fingers, like the sooty deposits of burnt petrol or creosote. I’ve always thought that the smell left behind by fire – acrid and terrifying, but also perversely exciting – is a kind of chemical penance for the damage done. But there’s no penance here, no absolution either. Just candles lit for the dead, handcuffs and truncheons for the living.
The injustice and persecution that photographer Thiago Dezan describes in When I Hear That Trumpet Sound are written into the history of the Abrahamic faiths. But the struggles that are documented in his images are very much of the present.
The injustice and persecution that photographer Thiago Dezan describes in When I Hear That Trumpet Sound are written into the history of the Abrahamic faiths. But the struggles that are documented in his images are very much of the present – shot during the fever dream of the Trump administration, in the US, Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Cuba, Jamaica, Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia and Haiti. A ‘horizontal babel, going on without divine supervision’, as journalist Erick Dau writes in his afterword – a war of attrition that transcends individual lives.
The form has significance: the heavy riso printing and the prominent grain in the source images; the scratched, fingerprinted negatives, scarred by a sharp instrument. The words inscribed into the negatives are in English – not Spanish or Portuguese or French or Creole, or any of Latin America’s many indigeneous languages. This is an invective targeted at a select membership: the colonial invaders of the Americas. A jeremiad in tactile form, bluntly accusatory: as viewers we’re not simply invited to look, unobserved, through a window at distant events. The blood is metaphorically on our hands, right now, and we’re implicated, if not by our participation, then by our complacency, by our silence. That black balaclava is not a gratuitous accessory, it’s a challenge.
When I Hear That Trumpet Sound closes the distance between an impassioned past and a desperate present. Images and words, etched into history – a paean to the timelessness of injustice, an augur of (or perhaps a longing for) an imminent collapse. The photograph is the new stone tablet which proclaims, across generations, across oceans, what has been, what is and what could be.
Eugenie Shinkle & Callum Beaney