Jonas Bendiksen’s exploration of the North Macedonian town of Veles mixes fake news and documentary photography with ancient Slavic mythology. Through this project, Bendiksen seeks to pose critical questions around photography, trust and the representation of reality.
Veles is a provincial town of 40,000 inhabitants which has lost much of its economic base in recent decades—an enormous steel smelter, a porcelain factory and other industry lie abandoned. During the 2016 US presidential election, the town became a hub for ‘Fake News’ production. Tech-savvy local youth created hundreds of clickbait websites posing as American political news portals with the intent of earning quick money from viewer ad clicks. As the Veles fake news articles were spread to millions of people via Facebook and Twitter algorithms, many of these ‘news hackers’ made substantial sums, and the sites may have contributed to the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States.
Bendiksen travelled to Veles in 2019 and 2020 to photographically explore this unlikely hub of misinformation. The photographs of contemporary Veles are intertwined with excerpts and facsimiles from a 1919 archaeological discovery called ‘the Book of Veles’ —a cryptic collection of forty ‘ancient’ wooden boards discovered in Russia by an army officer, written in a proto-Slavic language. It was claimed to be a history of the Slavic people and the god Veles himself—the pre-Christian Slavic god of mischief, chaos and deception. While popular among Slavic nationalists, the text is debunked as a forgery by most scientists.
In this ‘new’ The Book of Veles by Bendiksen interweaves these two different ‘Veles’ stories, representing historical and current efforts at producing disinformation and chaos. Every character in Bendiksen’s book, is a digital 3D model avatar inserted into otherwise empty pictures. Every image in the book is a manipulation. The project It is both a reckoning with Bendiksen’s own background as a classical photojournalist as well as a look at where technology might lead journalism in the immediate future.
Published April 2022 / US Publication date July 2022
220 x 165 mm, 148 pages
65 images, 19 reproduction of historical pages
Hardback with thin boards
Cover with satin silver foil on a fake leather material