'Serpent Tongue' photographs and text by Annie Grossinger to soon be released

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'Serpent Tongue' photographs and text by Annie Grossinger to soon be released
In Serpent Tongue, Grossinger provides a unique and personal narrative about a complex chapter in Guatemalan and United States history.



NEW YORK, NY.- "Very little of what I thought would connect me to my grandfather actually did. Not the house where the family lived nor the offices where he once worked; not even the children of people who had known him. Instead, I found him in the shadows of my work—in the tangled web that marks Guatemalan politics, the barbed layers of conversations, and my anger as I dug further into our fraught history." —Annie Grossinger.

In the years prior to the Guatemalan civil war, Annie Grossinger's maternal grandfather, John Dougherty, (picture above right), worked for the CIA. Around the time of the coup he was sent to Guatemala City and appointed station chief to help facilitate it. He quit shortly thereafter. The 36-year civil war was preempted by the 1954 CIA-facilitated coup that overthrew the country's first democratically elected president. Given that he died prior to Grossinger's birth, her knowledge of her grandfather is indirect.

In Serpent Tongue, (Daylight Books, January 16, 2024) she combines photographs of current day Guatemala, with archival and family historical images and documents, and interviews and photographs with individuals whose families were connected to or affected by the coup to provide a layering of visual context to the questions she is exploring through a lens that is both geopolitical, as well as personal.

The book also includes imagery of CIA communications related to her grandfather's involvement, and newspaper clippings of that era that deepen Grossinger's considerations of the role of language, propaganda, and political agendas as she works to learn more about the degree of her grandfather's involvement in the coup. Letters her grandfather had written home had been saved by her grandmother and Grossinger shares that, remarkably, most of the archival material she found in a shoebox tucked in an old dresser in her parents' home.

Grossinger's provocative color images include portraits of individuals, as well as photographs of landscape, quiet interior stills, and daily life scenes from Guatemala. The contemplative nature of the photos is heightened with her personal reflections in the accompanying captions. In this body of work Grossinger is asking multi-pronged questions: about her grandfather; about the relationship between the United States government and Guatemala at this time in history; and abstract considerations of consequences of actions relative to intention. Of her grandfather she writes, "He had worked for the CIA during the height of the Cold War and that had greatly influenced his perspective. He was doing what he thought was right in the context of his singular role. But how do you reconcile that with the consequences? Do his intentions really matter in the end?"

Memory relies on words and images, printed, spoken, shared. Memory is reliable only to the extent access to facts, perspective, and belief allow. In Serpent Tongue, Grossinger shares an excerpt from a conversation she had with Julio Solórzano Foppa in which they discuss the conundrum of historical memory. Foppa grew up in exile after his mother and stepfather fled Guatemala following the coup. On a trip back to Guatemala, his mother was disappeared by the military, and both his brothers were killed.

She asks him about the relationship between memory and truth. He shares, "They’re both very subjective concepts. If a situation can be seen and understood from different perspectives, then your truth can be very different. Historical memory is the same. There’s a certain amount of facts but they can be interpreted in many ways. When you try to be objective, meaning going to the facts without judging or qualifying, it’s almost impossible. So it’s good to have different versions of the same events so that whoever is looking can make up their own mind."

Guatemalan-born writer David Unger contributed the book's introduction, and he also considers the idea of truth. "Serpent Tonguere minds us that the US government has employed 'fake news' to achieve its larger political and economic goals for decades in Guatemala, Iran, the Dominican Republic, and elsewhere. Grossinger’s book is essential reading for those of us who want to make sure that past mistakes, leading to catastrophic results, are not repeated."

In a particularly haunting passage, Grossinger considers her grandfather's decision to stay in Guatemala after quitting the CIA. He was eventually killed in a car crash that was officially declared his fault, but the circumstances of the accident are murky. She writes, "For every powerful connection he’d made, there were just as many enemies. Now those enemies included the CIA, who he believed were tracking him. They thought he’d been compromised."

Photographer:

Annie Grossinger is a documentary photographer and visual storyteller based in Brooklyn, NY. Her work primarily focuses on global health, prison reform and the long-term effects of government policy on communities. Her work on prison reentry has been featured in Buzzfeed News, Curbed, and most recently, a project in collaboration with the Corporation for Supportive Housing.

Contributor:

David Unger is a writer, translator, and recipient of Guatemala’s 2014 Miguel Angel Asturias National Literature Prize for lifetime achievement. His latest novel, The Mastermind (Akashic, 2016) has been translated into ten languages including Spanish, Arabic, Turkish and Italian.










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