Issue 31 Shame Fall 2008

Artist Project / Falling

Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin

From the Latin ex voto suscepto, meaning “from the vow undertaken,” an “ex-voto” object or image is one produced to express publicly an individual’s gratitude for divine assistance in overcoming a difficult or dangerous situation. The ex-voto form was familiar in classical antiquity—the Latin phrase votum solvit libens merito (“willingly and deservedly in fulfillment of a vow”) was so frequently used to designate Roman objects created to commemorate survival through the decisive intercession of a god or goddess that it is typically abbreviated as “v.s.l.m” on artifacts from the period—and by the Middle Ages had become a commonplace within 
the Christian tradition, as well. Ranging from painted 
images of harrowing circumstances endured to sculptural replicas of body parts cured of illness, ex-votos were brought to the New World by the Spainards, and were by the eighteenth century established throughout Latin America, where they are still produced today, as they are in southern Europe. 

The four images on the following pages depict mid-twentieth-century examples of the tavolette, or “little tablet,” form of painted ex-voto, from an area of Sicily near the volcanic Mount Etna, made to give thanks for providential outcomes of accidents involving falling. Created, like most ex-votos, by unknown painters, they are taken from Fig. (Steidl, 2007), a book of photographs by the London-based artist team of Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin.

Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin are a photographic team based in London. Together they have produced six books that examine the language of documentary photography. Their most recent book, Fig., was published by Steidl in 2007. More of their work can be seen at

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