Review by JM Colberg, December, 2017

Without at least some sort of founding or underlying myth, a country is likely to have a hard time. As the many problems demonstrate that countries such as Belgium encounter, it’s very difficult to create a cohesive country if there isn’t something else other than sheer administrative convenience (the same could be said for the European Union, which somehow has become completely disassociated from the ideals that formed its original basis).

For example, in 2005, Semir Osmanagić discovered the so-called Bosnian pyramids, a cluster of hills in Bosnia and Herzegovina that, he claimed, were “the largest human-made ancient pyramids on Earth.” They’re not. It’s complete baloney. But still, for the country itself, struggling from a severe lack of self confidence, there now was something truly amazing and Bosnian to be celebrated. It’s easy to make fun of the idea. And go ahead, if you’re from a country that doesn’t rely on some very obviously nonsensical myth for its own existence.

Thomas Nolf‘s Peculiar Artifacts in Bosnia & Herzegovina focuses on the supposed pyramids, using all the many different devices available for photographers today, effortlessly blending the fictional with the real. What is fiction anyway? If deep down you know something isn’t true, but you believe in it because you want to believe — isn’t that the condition of today’s world? Seen that way, the book is not just a very engaging example of what can be done with text and pictures, it can also help us get a glimpse of the often fraught relationship between facts, fiction, and beliefs.

In today’s parlance, the existence of the Bosnian pyramids is fake news. But given we have somehow lost our ability to have those who believe in fake news engage with those who don’t (note that someone’s facts are always someone else’s fake news), maybe Peculiar Artifacts in Bosnia & Herzegovina can give us some pointers how to engage with it in ways that will help us all — not just those of whatever side we happen to find ourselves on.

Rating: Photography 3.5, Book Concept 4.0, Edit 3.0, Production 3.5 – Overall 3.6