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#31 ref. Summer 2012 â‚Ź19,50

Hisaji Hara / Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs Viktoria Binschtok / Ed Ruscha Stan Douglas / Michael Schirner Alex Prager / Taysir Batniji

#30 Micro Spring 2012 â‚Ź19,50

Stephen Gill / Corinne May Botz Rineke Dijkstra / Joris Jansen Christian Patterson / Harold Strak Masao Mochizuki / Boris Mikhailov


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August Sander

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History, and art history in particular, exists by virtue of the constant conversation between existing knowledge and new insights. We continually recall images from our visual consciousness, from our memory, so that we can compare, discover similarities and reveal differences on a strictly formal level as well as concerning content and meaning. Photos come to life in the perception of the viewer; it is only then that the photo exists as a new phenomenon that requires to be understood.

by Marcel Feil Is the 2011 World Press Photo of the Year a reference to Michelangelo’s Pietá? When the winning image was announced, that was the immediate question. The ­photo shows a fully veiled Yemeni woman embracing her wounded son. In sharp contrast, the man is naked. The comparison with a Pietá, whether specifically that by Michelangelo or another, is obvious. All the ­elements of a classic Pietá are indeed present in the winning photo by Spanish photographer Samuel ­Aranda. We can assume that the photographer was not, or barely, aware of the similarities at the moment the photo was taken. Such photos are generally taken in a fraction of a second, and only later, on closer examination, is a broader meaning conferred upon them, as by, for example, the World Press Photo jury. They were undoubtedly aware of the reference to Christian ­iconography and thus the evident religious undertone of the photo, which most probably affected the jury’s decision – whether consciously or not. ›

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 Visuals in context


Sherrie Levine

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This is not the first time that the World Press Photo of the Year has been compared to another artwork. Previous winners have been praised, or criticized, for the similarity between their composition or use of light and some painting or other. And that is hardly surprising. The awarding of a prize to a single photojournalistic work is a particularly impracticable task. The image is completely isolated, surgically removed from its published context: a news report in a newspaper or magazine. The excision of the context that confers a ­specific meaning, or newsworthiness, on the photo often

is not possible to speak of true unicity and autonomy, not even in the arts, where these two terms have been given a certain degree of weight. Each work has its own basis of origin and arises from the knowledge and ­appreciation that exist at a particular moment, in a particular place and in a particular creator. They in turn originate from predecessors, traditions and movements. Such an appreciation is seldom univocal and can range from pure admiration to clear abhorrence. Where one may continue to work within a ­specific ­tradition, another might choose to avoid that or even

Recognition and enquiry, affirmation and negation, are often simultaneous mental processes, all of which are required. to radically reject it. Also typical of work that is truly innovative is its initial lack of a proper discursive context, so that it takes some time for a fitting framework to be found to determine its value and meaning. It is often in fact the pioneers who, once established, ultimately become a school and thus provide a context to which a new work can allude. The history of art coalesces around mutual references, not least those created by the artists themselves. Consider, for instance, Picasso’s obsessive practice of making endless interpretations of works by Velázquez, Rembrandt or Manet. Those were ­often not simply homages born of real admiration, but arose from an odd mixture of admiration, envy, influence and verification. Another significant element is the degree of approval or disapproval from the artist with which the intended connection is made. It is a time-honoured example of benchmarking: copying, interpreting, ­appropriating and disarming are tried-and-tested ­artistic methods. And while Rembrandt had to make do with a few, deeply cherished Titian etchings, now just about every work of art ever ­produced is available on the internet – 24 hours a day and right there in our houses. Our visual reality has become so much more complex and the overwhelming number of ­images ­influences our thinking and everything we do in such an intricate way that originality has become an ­increasingly slippery concept.

An act of judgment and appreciation based on other images, or appropriation, is both inevitable and constant. Possessing a particular visual framework and the knowledge associated with it is a prerequisite for being able to assign value to visual material in the first place. We continually recall images from our visual consciousness, from our memory, so that we can compare, discover similarities and reveal differences on a strictly formal level as well as concerning content and meaning. New images acquire meaning only when matched against older images, and become inextricably drawn into a complex web of mutual references and influences, both in a purely individual way, in the consciousness or even in the subconscious of a single viewer, and on a broader level. It is simply not possible for images to exist in an isolated environment, because we must assume that each photographic ­image has been created by someone with visual awareness, and only really comes into being after it has been seen. Photos come to life in the perception of the viewer; it is only then that the photo exists as a new phenomenon that ­requires to be understood.

The adagio of originality that thus forms the basis for our Western perception of art has been under pressure for quite some time – not because of an obligatory postmodern display of borrowed source material, but because of the realization that in the late 20th and ­early 21st centuries, we can no longer ignore the ubiquitous visual reality of the internet. The internet helps you cope with the internet; it is a reality that provides the artist with instruments with which he or she can ­attempt to relate to that very torrent of ­visual com-

History, and art history in particular, exists by virtue of the constant conversation between existing knowledge and new insights. History is an amorphous ­mental construction in which everything is connected in a particular way to everything else but where very little occupies a clear and definitive place. In that sense, it

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prompts choices of images to which a broader, more general or even universal meaning can be attributed; images are chosen that will endure and still have something meaningful to communicate years later. In which case, there is hardly a better choice imagi-nable than an image that subconsciously or indirectly refers to those we already know and are familiar with, a variation on particular archetypes that are inextricably linked with our culture and are part of our collective unconscious – an image that is part of our DNA, such as a Pietá.


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munication and visual rhetoric we deal with every day. Simply quoting is no longer sufficient. The artist has increasingly become a media strategist who isolates, appropriates and uses existing visual material in new ways. At the risk of over-generalizing, it often has more to do with a fundamental transformation of existing visual material by deliberately fitting it into a newly created context: by quoting it, imitating it, allowing oneself to become inspired or to subtly refer to it. New work is created from old work. A great deal of visual art increasingly consists of carefully constructed existing components that directly or indirectly call upon our mental

i­mages before you. Schirner’s minimal descriptions cause the images to emerge from our visual memory and become visible as mental projections. That is also why Schirner makes use of such well-known images, which have a mythic power and are part of our collective memories. The process of visual activation is immediate and reflexive. Those images belong to us all, and as a shared cultural heritage they are part of our common mental framework within which and through which visual reality acquires meaning. In essence, ­Pictures in our Minds does more than simply make use of the media strategy that activates our frame of refer-

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The fundamental value of contemporary photographic work in particular is largely determined by the archive of images that resonate in our brains. ability to recognize, identify, allude to and finally, to appreciate it in a new context. Recognition and enquiry, affirmation and negation, are often ­simultaneous mental processes, all of which are required.

ence by implicitly or explicitly referring to other work. Besides confirming that mechanism, it is also a clear affirmation of the iconic value of the images that he calls to life in us via language. In a fragmented visual reality in which high and low art, commercial and ­artistic messages, trash and treasures exist side by side, on a level field, and highly individualized and privatized mental processes lead to meaningfulness, this is in fact more significant than was perhaps thought at first. By repeatedly summoning up those images in our consciousness, images which are familiar to us all, we find ourselves brought together with other people. The iconic power of such shared imagery also has a creative, constitutional effect that, in the absence of shared religious icons like a Pietá, still grants a degree of relationship and coherence to the frame of thought within which images are viewed, constructed and appreciated in our time. •

Of course this involves more than just the construction of artistic brainteasers, visual rebuses where more is imagined than clarified. Just as the alphabet and grammar are instrumental in speaking sensibly, here too, everything depends on the way the influences are used. In short, the point is what is said, and not really how it is said. The fundamental value of contemporary photo­graphic work in particular is largely determined by the archive of images that resonate in our brains. Activating the synapses in our brains brings pre-existing images to life as sounding boards for newly ­observed material. More than ever before, the value and meaning of contemporary re-appropriated visual art is determined by relevant information which is ­latent in the observer. Apart from the intentions of the artist, which indeed could be surmised and might be a co-determining factor, it is above all the phenomenological horizon in each of us that functions as its own creative power. And very little about that is intentionally determined. There are few contemporary artists who illustrate this more aptly than Michael Schirner, whose Pictures in our Minds series is included in this issue. The title is fairly self-explanatory. The series is made up of a number of completely enclosed black squares that make light reference to Kazimir Malevich’s iconoclastic 1915 icon Black Square. The difference, however, is that each of the squares in Schirner’s work contains a short description in white of a world-famous photo: The footprint of the first man on the moon, Albert Einstein sticking out his tongue, South Vietnamese chief of police shooting a Vietcong through the head. You immediately see the

All August Sander image: from People of the 20th Century, printed by Gunther Sander between 1976-1983 August Sander: © Die Photographische Sammlung/ SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Köln; VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2012, courtesy Jablonka Pasquer Projects, Cologne. All Sherrie Levine images (also on pages 24, 25): After August Sander, 2012, courtesy Jablonka Pasquer Projects, Cologne.

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Sherrie Levine

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August Sander


Seeing, Observing, Thinking by Kay Heymer

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‘With photography, we’re capable of telling the truth, but also of spreading lies.’ — August Sander, 1931 The works of German photographer August Sander are indispensable to the history of 20th century photography. His influence remains strong to this day. Without Sander, it would be difficult to imagine how there ever could have been such diverse and important photographers as Irving Penn, Bernd and Hilla Becher of the Becher School, or Dutch portrait photographer Rineke Dijkstra. August Sander’s photography has often been held up for its inherent documentary ethic and its pursuit of artistic honesty manifested in its conceptual clarity in both form and execution. Sander’s principal work is the monumental People of the 20th Century, a series of over six hundred individual portrait shots made over forty years. The rise of the Nazis in Germany cut off his work before he could finish. It was not until 2002 that his mammoth work, featuring 619 individual pictures, was published in full. Sander himself summed up his artistic approach in the formula Seeing, Observing and Thinking. He produced a body of portraits that have served as a documentation of the sheer complexity of German society in the first half of the 20th century. The sober demeanour of Sander’s subjects owes much to his formally strict mise-enscène, which focuses on the statuesque presence of his models rather than any sudden immediacy. His pictures have an unmistakable character, switching between realism and artificiality. Sander’s portraits showed people as individuals, yet also as types, or representatives of a certain social class or standing. The sustained interest in August Sander’s portraits extends to the new selection of thirty-six photographs chosen by Gerd Sander, the photographer’s grandson, depicting an equal number of men and women. Sander’s portraits remain

fascinating to this day because they provide plenty of scope for contemplation – they are extremely precise in form and structured with dramatic tension, showing people in both ordinary and extraordinary roles. Some of his protagonists seem to emerge from a distant past, while others could still easily be encountered today.

‘My works were never intended to be anything but commodities.’ — Sherrie Levine, 1985 For over thirty years, Sherrie Levine has created her own works based on other artists’ photographs. Her artistic process is often misinterpreted as the postmodern appropriation of artistic forebears, exploiting their work with ironic or cynical intent. Her work should rather be seen as a serious and wholly ironyfree take on avant-garde modernism which both acknowledges its artistic forebears and uses them to tell a different story. Levine’s works are copies which differ from the originals so minutely that close observation is necessary in order to differentiate them in the first place. This is at its most extreme in the photographic recreations that Sherrie Levine has been producing since the late 1970s. With a series of eighteen pictures of men and women based on August Sander’s portraits, she takes her work on this theme a step further, having already created series after modernist masters such as Walker Evans, Alfred Stieglitz, Man Ray and Alexander Rodtschenko. Although complex, the difference between Levine’s pictures and the originals can be described in technical terms and is also visible to the attentive eye. Levine’s images are copies, yet at the same time they are wholly abstract pictures that do not centre on the original artist’s motif but rather on a ghostly presence created by a technical process other than that of the original photographs. For the August

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Sander series, the artist halved Gerd Sander’s selection of thirty-six motifs; the latent non-association of the images she chooses serves to highlight the difference between her creations and the originals. While Sander’s photographs waver between showing people as individuals and as social types, Levine’s recreations vary between reminders of these motifs and the purely aesthetic act of creating pictures whose substance is no longer of significance or, as in the case of abstract art, is only gauged by forms which no longer have a story to tell. Levine’s series of pictures are therefore radical in that they appeal to our desire to be able to possess a work of art and to value it for its decorative aspects alone and, at the same time, succeed in further increasing the personal content of the pictures. She underlines the great significance of Sander by means of a traditional homage. At the same time, however, her pictures are appropriations of existing works whose creators have no role to play. They have become her pictures – just as they become those of the beholders, or of the collectors who can purchase them as commodities. Sherrie Levine’s art involves heightened attention that, by the finely graduated differentiation that is her unmistakable trademark, examines, confirms or rejects the different stages of reality and authenticity in pictures. Those who venture into her world will discover a wealth of humour and sensuality. •

Sherrie Levine (b. 1947, United States) is an American photographer and appropriation artist. In the early 1980s Levine extended her strategy of appropriation, which challenged art-critical concepts like originality and authenticity, when she rephotographed works by famous photographers including Eliot Porter, Edward Weston, and Walker Evans. Her works have been exhibited internationally. She lives and works in Santa Fe. Kay Heymer (b. 1960, Germany) studied History of Art at Ruhr-Universität Bochum, getting an MA degree in 1988. Since 1985, he has organized and curated many exhibitions on contemporary and modern art. He is currently Head of Modern Art at Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf.


On My Mind

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Six well-known figures from the cultural world selected an image that has recently been on their minds...

Caochangdi, Beijing 2004. No.2 © RongRong&inri

RongRong&inri Selecting a single image was difficult, but in the end we found that this photograph affects both of us in the way it connects love, life and photography into one entity. The relationship between a home and a person or between home and a family seems to be an extension of the everyday. But what is the everyday? The children grow up, we get older. This is a record of the passage of time. Through the action of looking, we create a family portrait. We have inherited photography’s earliest goal, the creation of a record. This was when we first started a family together and we imagine that this image, out of the many we’ve taken, will be the one we and our children return to time and time again. This photograph is a living thing to us, and its lifetime will continue in the eyes of our family’s future generations. • RongRong&inri RongRong (1968, Zhangzhou, China) and inri (1973, Kanagawa, Japan) have been working together in Beijing since 2000. In 2007 RongRong and inri established the Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, the first contemporary art space dedicated solely to photography and video art in China.

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A Picture I Have Not Seen

Here in the U.S., the news media is again reporting on photographs whose ­production is as much the subject of the reporting as what they depict. I refer to the recently published photographs made by American soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division posing with the body parts of a suicide bomber in Zabol Province, Afghanistan. I have not seen these photos; but they are easily located on the web. The rectangular frame depicting nothing is meant as the talismanic stand-in for what I haven’t seen. These images will soon disappear as headline news, although through electronic transmission they are now immortal. What is it exactly that I cannot bear to look at, now that I know of these ­pictures’ existence? Increasingly, I feel the stirring of an iconophobic reflex, a ­resistance to looking fully at what I would once have insisted demands to be seen. But now, I think, why look? To what ends? Just as the public exposure of torture at Abu Ghraib has failed to produce a single indictment, much less conviction of those ultimately responsible for it beginning with Bush and Cheney is new visual evidence of the realities of this particular U.S. war of any larger significance? Is the soldier wielding his unspeakable souvenir easier on the eyes than the automatic camera installed in the rocket head that – miracle of technology – permits us to visually occupy the place of the descending bomb as it strikes its target? Or hits the wrong one? I thus denominate this absent image as a space for projection for those of us who pay for this war, for those whose countries variously cooperate or otherwise sustain it, and for all those who are its various victims. It is they who have no need to fill its void with content, and it is they for whom the evidence of desecration, like that of torture or anonymous bombing requires no visual documentation at all. • Abigail Solomon–Godeau (United States) teaches, publishes and curates in the fields of photography, contemporary art, nineteenth-century French art, and feminist and critical theory. She is Professor Emerita of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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Abigail Solomon–Godeau


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Asya, portrait of a woman, Itum-Kale, Chechnya, July 1996 © Stanley Greene / NOOR

Claudia Hinterseer This is Asya. She glances aloofly at me every day from her angel face, her Kalashnikov between us. I look back at her, framed on the wall of my living room. My friend and colleague in NOOR, war photographer Stanley Greene, gave me the print five years ago when we set up our agency and foundation. Stanley took this picture in the summer of 1996 in Grozny. ‘A very unsafe place for single women,’ he added in his caption text. Asya, twenty-two years old, ran away from her forced marriage to live with her sister in the Chechen capital, where after graduating from nursing school she became a fighter. The photograph intrigues me. I wonder what was on Asya’s mind when Stanley took her portrait. In his book Black Passport he shares his feelings: ‘I fell in love with Asya. But it was like one of those rose-wrapped-in-barbed-wire things.’ Stanley cared about this woman and I can’t get enough of looking at her. Her face and expression are serene, it’s the rifle on which her hands rest calmly that shows there’s trouble. I find her mysterious, not threatening despite the fact that she’s armed. Asya makes the bloody Chechen Wars human for me. She’s young, beautiful, fashionably dressed, and her make-up is impeccable. For me she’s the human face of a tragic story. The last news Stanley had of Asya was that she killed herself bombing a Russian convoy in 2000. When I look at her, I hear Stanley’s wise words: ‘Be safe in the life.’ • Claudia Hinterseer (b. 1975, the Netherlands), co-founder of the NOOR Foundation and Photo Agency, has been its managing director since its establishment in 2007. NOOR, owned and directed by Claudia and the member photographers, seeks to contribute to an increased understanding of the world by producing independent indepth visual reports.

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Sérgio Mah This image shows us the Greek homage to Dimitris Christoulas, a Man of Athens, who, in the most radical human act, killed himself in Syntagma Square in front of the Greek Parliament. He left a wrenching suicide note: ‘The government has annihilated any chance of my survival, the dignity of my own pension that I paid into for 35 years without any help from the state... As my advanced age prevents me from making any energetic reaction I see no solution other than putting this dignified end to my life. I do not wish to end my days searching through rubbish bins.’ I chose this image for its mediating value: a way to approach the full and the fair image of this event, which is an image that does not fit in the domain of the visible. It is the physical and mental image of despair, a symptom of Greek and European political power that refuses to defend the dignity of the people. We know that one of the privileges of photography is to capture gestures and to portray events so as to subject them to the critical eye of history. This is not the moment for the usual rhetoric about the visual arts, because we know that the only way to reply (visually) to the act of the Man of Athens is to reaffirm the overriding value of the timeless and moral character with which we wish to imbue all images that capture the true, inglorious history of men. • Sérgio Mah (b. 1970, Mozambique), is a professor and curator who lives and works in Lisbon. He was the artistic director of PHotoEspaña between 2008 and 2010, and curated the Portuguese Pavillion at the 2011 edition of the Venice Biennale. He currently teaches on Themes of Contemporary Art and History of Photography at the Social and Human Sciences Faculty of Universidad Nova de Lisboa.

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Syntagma square, Athens. April 4, 2012 © Yorgos Karahalis/ Reuters. Notes written by mourners are seen on the spot where a man committed suicide.


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The aftermath of a B-52 strike on the suburbs of Hai Phong, 1972 © Van Bao

Julian Stallabrass Van Bao was a veteran photographer of the anti-colonial forces in Vietnam, and by the time he took this picture had for decades depicted the struggle against the invaders, first the French, then the Americans. This photograph shows a tiny fragment of the destruction brought by B-52 bombing raids on North Vietnam in 1972. They were meant to delay the imminent collapse of the South Vietnamese regime following the withdrawal of US ground troops, at least until after Nixon’s bid for re-election. Nixon, with Kissinger’s support, wanted to ‘level that goddam country’ and to that end unleashed the largest attack in the history of aerial warfare. The B-52 strike is a massive, blunt and indiscriminate weapon. Working amid the devastation, Van Bao and his driver, found no one living in an area of four kilometers. We see, then, various details of the massacre, most of all the people flung to the ground and partially buried. While the force of the explosions has torn away some of their clothing, we can still see them as individuals in what remains, and in their poses, the way they hold their hands, and their contact with each other. In this way, they may speak back to us. They could not at the time, since such images were excluded from the Western press. Killing from the air still continues, of course, to burnish the warrior-image of another President. The people it is directed against, like those seen here, lack the power to speak to us directly or show us their images. Yet the number of those without cameras and online connections steadily shrinks, so the instrumental calculations of power increasingly collide with the particular power of stories, videos and photographs, leading more of us to ask: why must this person – here, before our eyes – be maimed or murdered for the purposes of foreign policy or public relations? • Julian Stallabrass (b. 1960, London) is a lecturer, writer, curator and photographer. Curator of the Brighton Photo Biennial in 2008, he currently teaches modern and contemporary art at The Courtauld Institute, covering political aspects of the globalized contemporary art world, postwar British art, the history of photography and new media art.

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Ann Demeester I came upon this series of photographs doing research for the opening exhibition Topsy Turvy at the new location of De Appel Arts Centre, arising out of Carnival being a moment when the world is turned upside down. While working on that show it became clear to me that Carnival was far more powerful than reels and polkas, unlimited drinking and boisterous brawling, fancy dress processions and street celebrations. Carnival can be serious business; it can bring political moments of festive critique. Just think of how the Occupy movement recently used masks and other canivalesque techniques to express their anger with the economic system. That is exactly what intrigued me in the film and photo series De Lama Lamina by American artist Matthew Barney – through reverse sexism sometimes known as the husband of Bjork. Together with musician Arto Lindsay, Barney designed a truck and a street performance for the annual Carnival parade in the Bahian city of Salvador. In the fantastically bizarre and baroque images that result from it he mixes his ultrapersonal visual language and private mythology (always erotically charged) with elements from the Brazilian Candomble religion. With photos and film Barney turns himself into an eco-activist, agitating against the deforestation that has caused great damage in Brazil. I love the exuberance of his images and the fact that this particular series paradoxically has a socio-political message that pertains to the big world out there and not just to the wonderfully weird world in Barney’s head. • Anne Demeester (b. 1975, Belgium) has been Director of De Appel arts centre in Amsterdam since 2006, where she is also Head of the Curatorial Programme and the recently launched Gallerist Programme. Previously director of W139, and curator at Museum SMAK (Ghent, Belgium) and MARTa Herford (Herford, Germany) Demeester is currently one of the hosts of 4Art, a programme on Dutch television (AVRO) dedicated to contemporary visual art.

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Production Still from DE LAMA LÂMINA, 2004 © Matthew Barney, Courtesy Gladstone Galley New York and Brussels.


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Wim Wenders engaged with issues of sight and photography in films as early as 1974, with Alice in the Cities, and took up fine art photography in the 1980s. On the occasion of his exhibition at the Falckenberg Collection in Hamburg, the artist tells Markus Weckesser what moves him about photography, how Walker Evans influenced his work, and why he always talks about places. interview with

by Markus Weckesser

A Sense of Place. photographs by Oliver Sieber

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interview

Wim Wenders


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particular place tell me about our culture? I stopped using black-and-white film in that journey, realizing that these kinds of stories had to be seen, and told, in colour. Black-and-white is a stylistic device. You are imposing your way of seeing, your vision on what you see. With colour, I can disappear much more as a photographer. I can’t become invisible, (you never can) but I can leave things the way they are. Is that why you prefer large prints, to show more detail? A small print can never fully convey my respect for a place, my awe, amazement or fascination. As its size increases, a picture becomes both proportionally and literally more impressive. And I was very impressed by what I saw in the West.

You began taking pictures as a child. When did you begin to doing so with an artistic purpose in mind? When I began making my first films, Photography was for me simply a means to an end: to prepare for a shoot, to look for locations. The first time I took pictures more seriously was when I was developing the script for the film Paris, Texas with Sam Shepard. At that time I was traveling a lot through the American West, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. I wasn’t looking for locations, I just photographed everything I saw. And I didn’t actually end up filming in any of those places I visited on that long journey. I was simply trying to figure out how I could photograph, and later film, the landscape and the light of the West without being reminded of John Ford. How could I avoid resorting to any earlier role models? Especially for a Central European, the quality of light there is a challenge.You don’t even dare to start taking a picture in the first place, because everything looks already like it’s been presented in Kodachrome. But after photographing over several months, I lost the shyness and started to be familiar with the colors and the light of the West. And during that time, photography gradually assumed an importance of its own.

You heighten your sense of the sublime by using a panoramic camera. Doesn’t that take you back to John Ford? It actually took me closer to painting. As a young boy, I was especially impressed by the Dutch landscape painters. All that horizon! Ever since I’ve had a longing for the panoramic format. Nothing does better justice to the horizon. To me, your photos are landscapes. Why do you always talk about places? Because an integral part of what drives me is the sense of place. We have a lot of senses, and most of them we’re very familiar with, like the senses of seeing, hearing, or smelling. But the sense of place is slightly undeveloped in many people, because it’s no longer needed. There’s no use for it nowadays because navigation devices guide us. In general, it’s quite rare now for us to visit places where we don’t know our way around, where we can lose ourselves. How does your sense of place help you with your work? Do you wander about until you’re guided to the right locations? Sometimes it’s like a sixth sense that determines whether I take a left or right turn. Sometimes it’s my sense of place that tells me not to visit the things people recommend, but to try the opposite direction. That’s how I found the Ferris wheel in Armenia. The locals wanted to show me the monasteries that I’d already seen in books. But not the Ferris wheel. Nor the strange monument to the Armenian alphabet. That wasn’t marked on any map. No one had told me about it. So you can’t always rely on others, certainly not on locals. You have to rely on your instincts instead. In many ways, us humans, we are drawn to what we wish to find.

How did it differ from your experience with film? The act of taking photographs showed me something new. I was suddenly able to look at things, especially places, completely differently and with greater precision somehow. I noticed that you could use the camera as a recording device to capture more than just an image – something like a story that was told by each place. In the West, everything is empty and many towns were deserted. Places actually reveal far more about people when no one lives there anymore, when you wait until every person has left the frame. How is that? After all, your films focus on people too? If there’s a single human being in your photograph, even way in the distance, you notice only that person. It’s actually more rewarding to concentrate on the place alone instead of on the people, and only look for their traces. What did people leave behind, what did they destroy, what were they expecting here? And what can that

What do you wish to find? Places, strange and quiet. That’s where the title of my exhibition comes from. I’m attracted to these strange places, because you could never imagine they really exist. At the same time, I want these places to have a degree of tranquility. Many of them are deserted, because they’re not very popular. They’re left alone, abandoned.

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Places actually reveal far more about people when no one lives there anymore.

In addition to Fukushima, you recently photo­ graphed along the Elbe river. Was that a return to your roots? I shot my film Kings of the Road (1976) along the border between West and East Germany. To take pictures on the other side of the border was inconceivable. That would have been further away than Patagonia. That country (the GDR) on the other side of the river was unreachable. This time I travelled on the opposite side, along the Saale and Elbe rivers. I managed to visit a lot of towns and villages, sometimes just because they had unfamiliar-sounding names. I discovered areas that are already visited by tourists, or where tourism was creeping back in, or had in fact never gone away. And then there were areas where everything was new to me, where I was in the middle of Germany and in Patagonia at the same time.

True, but that wasn’t Evans’ main interest. He didn’t take pictures for aesthetic reasons; he wanted to ­capture and record everything. His interest was more of a sociological one, if you will. At least that was his assignment, to a certain extent.

Nevertheless you came across the remains of a bygone country that has been defunct for ­twenty years. Your motifs have a partly metaphorical quality that is a mixture of documentation and nostalgia. Yes, there were some very strange time capsules, such as the storefronts of shops that had gone out of business, or the Trabant car languishing in a garden you wouldn’t come across unless you were lost. Or an inscription on an old convent school in Wittenberge that read ‘EverLasting Friendship with the People of the Soviet Union.’ You could hardly read the lettering anymore, because it had been scrubbed off, but from a distance you could still make it out. That was another time capsule.

Walker Evans’ aesthetics also very much influ­ enced you while shooting Kings of the Road. Did his documentary style have a lasting effect on your work? Or is that period over? I think you can’t really shake off such an influence. What you’ve internalized in terms of framing or a certain ­interest in surfaces stays with you. I can’t look at any corrugated iron surface without thinking of Walker Evans.

Signs and lettering constantly feature in your work. Does your interest in them come from your enthusiasm for North American culture? I owe that interest to Walker Evans, one of my favorite photographers. He was fascinated by signs. They f­ eature so prominently in the American landscape that it’s ­almost impossible to imagine it without them. Nowhere else will you find so many amazing fonts and so many ways of making letters and writing look beautiful.

Which other photographers did you take an ­interest in during your time in the US? The title of your first exhibition, Written in the West, seems to allude to Robert Adams’ The New West or Robert Frank’s The Americans. I greatly admire Joel Meyerowitz. His pictures are closely related to mine, I somehow understand them well. I don’t need to know anything about them to see why he took them. But in general I would say that I learned very little from other photographers because I learned so much from painting, when growing up.

Still, Walker Evans’ treatment of signs is almost incidental compared to the work of Ed Ruscha, which features them in much more obvious ways.

Nevertheless your father gave you a practical ­introduction to photography. Did you initially develop your own prints?

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Yet his empathy with his subjects is palpable, ­regardless of any distance. Walker Evans was forced to either walk away from his subjects to get the shot he wanted, or approach them and get closer. That really made an enormous impression on me. Using a zoom nowadays is completely ­different: bam, you’re up close – and bam, you’re far away. When you have to walk up to your subject, there’s such a beauty in that. As a viewer, you can tell if a photographer has had to get close; you can feel him or her being drawn in. That’s why I probably learned more from Walker Evans than from any other photographer. His attention is palpable, you feel him lifting his camera and then decide to get closer, or step back….


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Yes, I had a darkroom, but only until I graduated from school. To have colour prints made today, I need professionals. Apart from that, I do everything myself, without any assistants. I carry my own equipment, change my rolls of film and measure my own light. In fact I wouldn’t be able to take my pictures if someone else was there. I need to be completely alone.

Are you not allowed to use that word at Foam anymore? I guess it must be on the red list... Well, it does lead us to philosophical questions, doesn’t it? At the very least, reality is no longer a category for discussing digital photography. ‘Real’ has become a four letter word, like ‘fuck’. Sheesh... Nonetheless, it’s still relevant when you use a negative. You come home, for instance, and your negative shows traces of radiation, something physically and chemically real has actually happened.

By contrast, you have a huge team of people help­ ing you on your movies. Your most recent feature film, Palermo Shooting (2008), is about a photo­ grapher, Finn, who increasingly mistrusts his own pictures. Why is that figure partly inspired by ­Andreas Gursky? Finn sort of belongs to the Düsseldorf School of Photography, which could be said to include me, because I’m actually from Düsseldorf. Then again, unlike Andreas Gursky or other contemporary photographers from Düsseldorf, I never had any formal photographic training. I love his work. Actually, I guess I prefer his earlier work, when he was shooting film. Digital age has changed so much in this profession! Pictures are produced completely differently these days. It has almost become a new kind of painting, where you collect atoms from the physical world and then reassemble them differently. It’s very impressive, but it’s the total opposite of what I do.

You mean the traces on your pictures from Fukushima? Exactly, for example. Do analogue and digital photography have differ­ ent effects on the viewer’s perception? I’m certain the viewer doesn’t just perceive the picture itself but the photographer’s approach as well. How ­consciously viewers notice such things is a separate question, but they notice them. And a photographer who takes digital pictures has a different approach.

Is that because you don’t work digitally? What you end up selecting remains unchanged? Exactly, that’s what stays. It comes from the negative and doesn’t need to be processed. Except for color grading of course. Digital photography puts different elements together and completely reorganizes them. For instance, Andreas Gursky’s photographs of ‘church interiors’ are magnificent, but I know that he visited many different cathedrals in order to construct his own. His way of working is really much closer to painting…. He says himself that he uses the camera like a brush. Yes, that’s right. But I want to show things that I found, not that I invented. My images corresponded to reality, at least for that short moment.

But a picture is almost always processed in some way, whether analogue or digital. I want to listen to the place, I want to immerse myself into it. If I could look at the picture on the screen, the dialogue would be over. Using film, I think I haven’t taken it until I see my contact sheet. That mystery is an integral part of the photography I’m interested in. And that doesn’t work digitally. I’ve tried it. I’m an equip-

Reality – that’s a pretty big word. Like truth or authenticity...

Reality is no longer a category for discussing digital photography.

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What’s the difference? A high-resolution digital camera doesn’t even have a viewfinder. You need to connect the camera to a ­computer before you can see your picture. Or at least, you have a screen on the back. That means that you can’t help seeing the picture as a product, right after you took it. But at exactly that point, everything that interests me about photography has already vanished. I need to just be somewhere, look around, listen and ­absorb things. If in the moment of its creation the picture has already become a product, that’s a different kind of photo­graphy. This is where ‘conversation’ becomes impossible, period. The place is no longer a partner.


Would a photo book app be an alternative? At least you could take that along with you easily. Oh yes, I’d almost rather make an electronic book than my small books. That’s one of my wishes, to make a purely electronic book. I believe it might actually do the pictures good. But it would have to be a tablet since it’s not very pleasant looking at pictures on a mobile phone. By the way, you can already get electronic versions of my pictures at s[edition]. It’s a nice idea. Almost nicer than hanging a picture on your wall.

ment freak and buy all the latest stuff, and then I notice that it doesn’t take me where I want to go. Or else I’d have to take completely different pictures. I’d become a digital image maker or a painter. But I want to be an interpreter. I want the place to tell me its story, and I pass it on. Somehow digital photography destroys that magic for me. There is no more magic. Well, you don’t have to look at the display. As for filmmaking, you seem to be less skeptical there. Buena Vista Social Club was the first entirely digitally produced documentary, and you even shot Pina in 3D. It was the only way to capture dance adequately on film. Technical developments have given us wonderful new possibilities for making films. But filmmaking is a ­different job.You bring your stories to a place. In photo­ graphy, it’s the other way around, at least for me. With films, even with documentaries, you create a world. As a photographer, I’m a witness to creation.

Wim Wenders (b. 1945, Germany) is a German film director and photographer. He directed feature films such as Paris, Texas (1984) and Wings of Desire (1987) as well as documentaries including Buena Vista Social Club (1999) and Pina (2011). Wenders is a self-taught photographer; his images of desolate landscapes engage themes of memory, time and movement. His first photography exhibition, Written in the West (1986), held at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, featured pictures of the American West. With Pictures from the Surface of the Earth (2001), shown at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, he expanded his focus to include photographs taken in Cuba, Japan, Australia, Israel, New York and Berlin. Since 2003 he has taught film at the University of Fine Arts in Hamburg. The most recent survey of his images, Places, Strange and Quiet, is currently being exhibited at the Falckenberg Collection, a branch of the Deichtorhallen Hamburg.

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Shall we say it’s a very personal and emotional process? Yes, it’s definitely also existential and emotional. Another element that conveys emotion is music, which plays an important role in your films. Do you listen to music while taking photographs? Or when you look at pictures? I listen to music excessively. However when I’m taking pictures, I can’t tolerate any other sound than what is actually there. I’ve never taken a picture with headphones on. Somehow that wouldn’t work at all. I don’t need music then. Photography can only have its own sounds. Later I do listen to music, absolutely, but while taking photographs even music would ruin my concentration. Which is saying a lot! Photography has its own sounds, but so do the places themselves, don’t they? Of course the soundtrack of a place belongs to the act of photography. Each city sounds different and possesses its own soundscape. It might sound crazy, but I’m certain that if you blind-folded and deposited me in a random city, I’d be able to tell where I was. Well, if I had been there before…

Markus Weckesser (b. 1969, Germany) works in Essen as a freelance arts journalist with a focus on fine-art photography. He contributes to magazines and newspapers, writes catalogue texts and gives exhibition presentations. His interest in photography was awakened by, among other things, a film by Wim Wenders.

The prints in your exhibitions are often up to four meters long, while the images in your books are small. Do the books merely serve as a reminder of the original pictures? That comes from the fact that I’m not a fan of coffee table books. In Japan, people only produce small books because they’re easier to carry around. When you take the subway in Tokyo, everybody is holding a news­paper or a book. No one would carry a large book. I also much prefer these small books of mine. A small book is more like a small treasure. And even with a huge book, you’d never achieve the photograph’s original quality, so I ­prefer to enable you to carry my book with you.

Oliver Sieber (b. 1966, Germany) studied photography in Bielefeld and Düsseldorf. Sieber’s work usually takes the form of series and he is fascinated by the subject of identity and the phenomenon of young people and their subcultures. Over the past few years exhibitions of his work have been held at the Photographer’s Gallery in London, the National Museum of Photography in Copenhagen, the Photo Espana festival in Madrid and the Fotomuseum Winterthur in Switzerland. Sieber has published several books: Die Blinden [The Blind], Character Thieves, Imaginary Club 1, Imaginary Club 2 and J_Subs.

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August Sander

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History, and art history in particular, exists by virtue of the constant conversation between existing knowledge and new insights. We continually recall images from our visual consciousness, from our memory, so that we can compare, discover similarities and reveal differences on a strictly formal level as well as concerning content and meaning. Photos come to life in the perception of the viewer; it is only then that the photo exists as a new phenomenon that requires to be understood.

by Marcel Feil Is the 2011 World Press Photo of the Year a reference to Michelangelo’s Pietá? When the winning image was announced, that was the immediate question. The ­photo shows a fully veiled Yemeni woman embracing her wounded son. In sharp contrast, the man is naked. The comparison with a Pietá, whether specifically that by Michelangelo or another, is obvious. All the ­elements of a classic Pietá are indeed present in the winning photo by Spanish photographer Samuel ­Aranda. We can assume that the photographer was not, or barely, aware of the similarities at the moment the photo was taken. Such photos are generally taken in a fraction of a second, and only later, on closer examination, is a broader meaning conferred upon them, as by, for example, the World Press Photo jury. They were undoubtedly aware of the reference to Christian ­iconography and thus the evident religious undertone of the photo, which most probably affected the jury’s decision – whether consciously or not. ›

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 Visuals in context


Sherrie Levine

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This is not the first time that the World Press Photo of the Year has been compared to another artwork. Previous winners have been praised, or criticized, for the similarity between their composition or use of light and some painting or other. And that is hardly surprising. The awarding of a prize to a single photojournalistic work is a particularly impracticable task. The image is completely isolated, surgically removed from its published context: a news report in a newspaper or magazine. The excision of the context that confers a ­specific meaning, or newsworthiness, on the photo often

is not possible to speak of true unicity and autonomy, not even in the arts, where these two terms have been given a certain degree of weight. Each work has its own basis of origin and arises from the knowledge and ­appreciation that exist at a particular moment, in a particular place and in a particular creator. They in turn originate from predecessors, traditions and movements. Such an appreciation is seldom univocal and can range from pure admiration to clear abhorrence. Where one may continue to work within a ­specific ­tradition, another might choose to avoid that or even

Recognition and enquiry, affirmation and negation, are often simultaneous mental processes, all of which are required. to radically reject it. Also typical of work that is truly innovative is its initial lack of a proper discursive context, so that it takes some time for a fitting framework to be found to determine its value and meaning. It is often in fact the pioneers who, once established, ultimately become a school and thus provide a context to which a new work can allude. The history of art coalesces around mutual references, not least those created by the artists themselves. Consider, for instance, Picasso’s obsessive practice of making endless interpretations of works by Velázquez, Rembrandt or Manet. Those were ­often not simply homages born of real admiration, but arose from an odd mixture of admiration, envy, influence and verification. Another significant element is the degree of approval or disapproval from the artist with which the intended connection is made. It is a time-honoured example of benchmarking: copying, interpreting, ­appropriating and disarming are tried-and-tested ­artistic methods. And while Rembrandt had to make do with a few, deeply cherished Titian etchings, now just about every work of art ever ­produced is available on the internet – 24 hours a day and right there in our houses. Our visual reality has become so much more complex and the overwhelming number of ­images ­influences our thinking and everything we do in such an intricate way that originality has become an ­increasingly slippery concept.

An act of judgment and appreciation based on other images, or appropriation, is both inevitable and constant. Possessing a particular visual framework and the knowledge associated with it is a prerequisite for being able to assign value to visual material in the first place. We continually recall images from our visual consciousness, from our memory, so that we can compare, discover similarities and reveal differences on a strictly formal level as well as concerning content and meaning. New images acquire meaning only when matched against older images, and become inextricably drawn into a complex web of mutual references and influences, both in a purely individual way, in the consciousness or even in the subconscious of a single viewer, and on a broader level. It is simply not possible for images to exist in an isolated environment, because we must assume that each photographic ­image has been created by someone with visual awareness, and only really comes into being after it has been seen. Photos come to life in the perception of the viewer; it is only then that the photo exists as a new phenomenon that ­requires to be understood.

The adagio of originality that thus forms the basis for our Western perception of art has been under pressure for quite some time – not because of an obligatory postmodern display of borrowed source material, but because of the realization that in the late 20th and ­early 21st centuries, we can no longer ignore the ubiquitous visual reality of the internet. The internet helps you cope with the internet; it is a reality that provides the artist with instruments with which he or she can ­attempt to relate to that very torrent of ­visual com-

History, and art history in particular, exists by virtue of the constant conversation between existing knowledge and new insights. History is an amorphous ­mental construction in which everything is connected in a particular way to everything else but where very little occupies a clear and definitive place. In that sense, it

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prompts choices of images to which a broader, more general or even universal meaning can be attributed; images are chosen that will endure and still have something meaningful to communicate years later. In which case, there is hardly a better choice imagi-nable than an image that subconsciously or indirectly refers to those we already know and are familiar with, a variation on particular archetypes that are inextricably linked with our culture and are part of our collective unconscious – an image that is part of our DNA, such as a Pietá.


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munication and visual rhetoric we deal with every day. Simply quoting is no longer sufficient. The artist has increasingly become a media strategist who isolates, appropriates and uses existing visual material in new ways. At the risk of over-generalizing, it often has more to do with a fundamental transformation of existing visual material by deliberately fitting it into a newly created context: by quoting it, imitating it, allowing oneself to become inspired or to subtly refer to it. New work is created from old work. A great deal of visual art increasingly consists of carefully constructed existing components that directly or indirectly call upon our mental

i­mages before you. Schirner’s minimal descriptions cause the images to emerge from our visual memory and become visible as mental projections. That is also why Schirner makes use of such well-known images, which have a mythic power and are part of our collective memories. The process of visual activation is immediate and reflexive. Those images belong to us all, and as a shared cultural heritage they are part of our common mental framework within which and through which visual reality acquires meaning. In essence, ­Pictures in our Minds does more than simply make use of the media strategy that activates our frame of refer-

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The fundamental value of contemporary photographic work in particular is largely determined by the archive of images that resonate in our brains. ability to recognize, identify, allude to and finally, to appreciate it in a new context. Recognition and enquiry, affirmation and negation, are often ­simultaneous mental processes, all of which are required.

ence by implicitly or explicitly referring to other work. Besides confirming that mechanism, it is also a clear affirmation of the iconic value of the images that he calls to life in us via language. In a fragmented visual reality in which high and low art, commercial and ­artistic messages, trash and treasures exist side by side, on a level field, and highly individualized and privatized mental processes lead to meaningfulness, this is in fact more significant than was perhaps thought at first. By repeatedly summoning up those images in our consciousness, images which are familiar to us all, we find ourselves brought together with other people. The iconic power of such shared imagery also has a creative, constitutional effect that, in the absence of shared religious icons like a Pietá, still grants a degree of relationship and coherence to the frame of thought within which images are viewed, constructed and appreciated in our time. •

Of course this involves more than just the construction of artistic brainteasers, visual rebuses where more is imagined than clarified. Just as the alphabet and grammar are instrumental in speaking sensibly, here too, everything depends on the way the influences are used. In short, the point is what is said, and not really how it is said. The fundamental value of contemporary photo­graphic work in particular is largely determined by the archive of images that resonate in our brains. Activating the synapses in our brains brings pre-existing images to life as sounding boards for newly ­observed material. More than ever before, the value and meaning of contemporary re-appropriated visual art is determined by relevant information which is ­latent in the observer. Apart from the intentions of the artist, which indeed could be surmised and might be a co-determining factor, it is above all the phenomenological horizon in each of us that functions as its own creative power. And very little about that is intentionally determined. There are few contemporary artists who illustrate this more aptly than Michael Schirner, whose Pictures in our Minds series is included in this issue. The title is fairly self-explanatory. The series is made up of a number of completely enclosed black squares that make light reference to Kazimir Malevich’s iconoclastic 1915 icon Black Square. The difference, however, is that each of the squares in Schirner’s work contains a short description in white of a world-famous photo: The footprint of the first man on the moon, Albert Einstein sticking out his tongue, South Vietnamese chief of police shooting a Vietcong through the head. You immediately see the

All August Sander image: from People of the 20th Century, printed by Gunther Sander between 1976-1983 August Sander: © Die Photographische Sammlung/ SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Köln; VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2012, courtesy Jablonka Pasquer Projects, Cologne. All Sherrie Levine images (also on pages 24, 25): After August Sander, 2012, courtesy Jablonka Pasquer Projects, Cologne.

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Sherrie Levine

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August Sander


Seeing, Observing, Thinking by Kay Heymer

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‘With photography, we’re capable of telling the truth, but also of spreading lies.’ — August Sander, 1931 The works of German photographer August Sander are indispensable to the history of 20th century photography. His influence remains strong to this day. Without Sander, it would be difficult to imagine how there ever could have been such diverse and important photographers as Irving Penn, Bernd and Hilla Becher of the Becher School, or Dutch portrait photographer Rineke Dijkstra. August Sander’s photography has often been held up for its inherent documentary ethic and its pursuit of artistic honesty manifested in its conceptual clarity in both form and execution. Sander’s principal work is the monumental People of the 20th Century, a series of over six hundred individual portrait shots made over forty years. The rise of the Nazis in Germany cut off his work before he could finish. It was not until 2002 that his mammoth work, featuring 619 individual pictures, was published in full. Sander himself summed up his artistic approach in the formula Seeing, Observing and Thinking. He produced a body of portraits that have served as a documentation of the sheer complexity of German society in the first half of the 20th century. The sober demeanour of Sander’s subjects owes much to his formally strict mise-enscène, which focuses on the statuesque presence of his models rather than any sudden immediacy. His pictures have an unmistakable character, switching between realism and artificiality. Sander’s portraits showed people as individuals, yet also as types, or representatives of a certain social class or standing. The sustained interest in August Sander’s portraits extends to the new selection of thirty-six photographs chosen by Gerd Sander, the photographer’s grandson, depicting an equal number of men and women. Sander’s portraits remain

fascinating to this day because they provide plenty of scope for contemplation – they are extremely precise in form and structured with dramatic tension, showing people in both ordinary and extraordinary roles. Some of his protagonists seem to emerge from a distant past, while others could still easily be encountered today.

‘My works were never intended to be anything but commodities.’ — Sherrie Levine, 1985 For over thirty years, Sherrie Levine has created her own works based on other artists’ photographs. Her artistic process is often misinterpreted as the postmodern appropriation of artistic forebears, exploiting their work with ironic or cynical intent. Her work should rather be seen as a serious and wholly ironyfree take on avant-garde modernism which both acknowledges its artistic forebears and uses them to tell a different story. Levine’s works are copies which differ from the originals so minutely that close observation is necessary in order to differentiate them in the first place. This is at its most extreme in the photographic recreations that Sherrie Levine has been producing since the late 1970s. With a series of eighteen pictures of men and women based on August Sander’s portraits, she takes her work on this theme a step further, having already created series after modernist masters such as Walker Evans, Alfred Stieglitz, Man Ray and Alexander Rodtschenko. Although complex, the difference between Levine’s pictures and the originals can be described in technical terms and is also visible to the attentive eye. Levine’s images are copies, yet at the same time they are wholly abstract pictures that do not centre on the original artist’s motif but rather on a ghostly presence created by a technical process other than that of the original photographs. For the August

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Sander series, the artist halved Gerd Sander’s selection of thirty-six motifs; the latent non-association of the images she chooses serves to highlight the difference between her creations and the originals. While Sander’s photographs waver between showing people as individuals and as social types, Levine’s recreations vary between reminders of these motifs and the purely aesthetic act of creating pictures whose substance is no longer of significance or, as in the case of abstract art, is only gauged by forms which no longer have a story to tell. Levine’s series of pictures are therefore radical in that they appeal to our desire to be able to possess a work of art and to value it for its decorative aspects alone and, at the same time, succeed in further increasing the personal content of the pictures. She underlines the great significance of Sander by means of a traditional homage. At the same time, however, her pictures are appropriations of existing works whose creators have no role to play. They have become her pictures – just as they become those of the beholders, or of the collectors who can purchase them as commodities. Sherrie Levine’s art involves heightened attention that, by the finely graduated differentiation that is her unmistakable trademark, examines, confirms or rejects the different stages of reality and authenticity in pictures. Those who venture into her world will discover a wealth of humour and sensuality. •

Sherrie Levine (b. 1947, United States) is an American photographer and appropriation artist. In the early 1980s Levine extended her strategy of appropriation, which challenged art-critical concepts like originality and authenticity, when she rephotographed works by famous photographers including Eliot Porter, Edward Weston, and Walker Evans. Her works have been exhibited internationally. She lives and works in Santa Fe. Kay Heymer (b. 1960, Germany) studied History of Art at Ruhr-Universität Bochum, getting an MA degree in 1988. Since 1985, he has organized and curated many exhibitions on contemporary and modern art. He is currently Head of Modern Art at Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf.


Hisaji Hara A Photographic Portrayal of the Paintings of Balthus


Hisaji Hara

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The Balthus poems by Tim Clark

More than ten years after his death, Balthus, the controversial Polish-French artist, has of late drawn modest yet respectful attention. Throughout his career he produced a steady stream of erotically charged depictions of adolescent girls and boys in a style of painting that was distinctly his own. At once naĂŻve and sinister, his works possessed a deep, foreboding sense of fairytale mystery, their precise figurative manner only serving to make them more disturbing.

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Now, Japanese photographer Hisaji Hara has created a series that meticulously recreate some of Balthus’ provocative paintings, seventeen of which were recently on display in a small but perfectly formed exhibition at the Michael Hoppen Gallery in London. Made between 2005 and 2011, these monochrome portraits are beautiful in an eerie sort of way and full of quiet intent. You can clearly see in a great many of his works the strong resem-


blance to their classic modernist sources; the stilted poses of the subjects, their physical relationships to each other and an organisation of the frame evoke many of the formal characteristics of a Balthus canvas. But Hara’s studies are by no means strict copies, for he has altered both the look of the images and the content of the imagery, imbuing them with a distinct aesthetic and sense of his own complex heritage. Hara, like Balthus, clearly has an obsessive imagination. To achieve his tableaux vivant, he manufactures every scene, incident or gesture. That he has elected to dress the young girl in his photographs in the typical Japanese school uniform is just one example that attests to this. The re-occurring motif not only nods to the fetishistic aspect of such ­attire but also alludes to the uncomfortable transition between childhood and adulthood. Furthermore, the models are often pictured sprawled out on couches, engrossed in a book or lingering in ­corridors. They exude the air and un­ affected attitude of playful children, yet their languid and mature postures invite us to view them as sexually awakened young women – typically demonstrated by bare, open legs or revealing short

skirts. We appear to be intrusive voyeurs, privy to personal moments where the protagonists are caught unaware. These thoughts press harder when you consider how Hara photographs from low vantage points, from a distance, or though open doors and windows. This summons a disquieting feeling that all is not as it seems. Somewhat similarly, the setting for these re-enactments, a derelict building of a privately run medical clinic Hara found in Tokyo, built at the start of the twentieth century but u ­ nused since the end of 1950s, has another key part to play. The furniture and props have all been specially commissioned and are wistfully reminiscent of the past, bringing us to is a heightened feeling that time has stood still. Whilst the cultural signifiers might have changed, the invitation we are given to speculate upon this netherworld of strange, constructed beauty, and peer into these intimate, uninhibited yet ­ambiguous moments, comes from a recognition of something familiar. In Hara’s work we get to experience a similar sense of transgression, a similar surreal oddness. Similar but not quite the same. And this is what is particularly interesting about these images.

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The true subject is not so much the process of photography but the process of looking.


← Balthus (Klossowski de Rola, Balthasar, 1908-2001): Le salon (The Living Room), 1942. New York, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Oil on canvas, 45 1/4 x 57 7/8' (114.8 x 146.9 cm). Estate of John Hay Whitney. Acc. n.: 245.1983.© 2012. Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence ↘ Balthus (Klossowski de Rola, Balthasar, 1908-2001): Nature morte a la lampe, 1958. Marseille, Musee Cantini. Huile sur toile, 162 x 130 cm.© 2012. BI, ADAGP, Paris/Scala, Florence

Despite the fact that these are photographs of a real young woman, they are significantly less shocking, less raw, less racy than the Balthus originals, safe sex if you like. As your eyes survey the ­images en masse, it quickly becomes evident that the girl’s reverie in the paintings has been completely played down. They are not nearly as jarring but jarring enough for the contemporary photography market. It is therefore ­unsurprising and probably wise that Hara has chosen not to re-imagine one of Balthus’ most notorious works The ­Guitar Lesson (1934) which caused ­outrage at his first exhibition in Paris due to its sexually explicit portrayal of a young girl arched on her back over the lap of her female teacher, whose hands are positioned on the girl as for playing the guitar: one near her exposed crotch, another grasping her hair. This is photography as the product of a calculated artificial tableaux that returns

image-making to what great pretwentieth­-century painters were once doing: setting up representational ­narrative scenes. But Hara’s artistic practice struggles with the limitations of its ­chosen manner of expression to truly render the potency of Balthus’ timeless masterpieces. Instead, Hara opts for a combination of the historical feel of a documentary record with the drama of a film still. He specialises in a mood that is altogether more serene, in turn ­ushering in a sense of unreality and ­otherworldliness that presides over these staged pictures – the obverse of what Balthus accomplished. In one work entitled A Study of ‘The ­Salon’, a young girl lies suggestively ­before our gaze. Her eyes are closed and her mouth is slightly open as she sleeps; she is unaware that she is the object of our attention. Hara has placed the same girl on the floor in the foreground, on all fours parallel to the picture plane, the

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The chance we are given to unlock this netherworld of strange, constructed beauty, and peer into these intimate, uninhibited yet ambiguous moments, is familiar.

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sensual atmosphere evoked by the soft light adding a further sexual dimension. Hara’s image-making techniques are both various and consummate. He ­employs a huge smoke machine and cinematic lighting which are responsible for the hazy quality and also uses multiple exposures and shifting focus whilst partially blocking the camera lens to ­create unusual depths of field that toy with the optical vagaries of space and scale. ­Refreshingly, the work has a handmade, old-fashioned quality that is at odds with the heavily photoshopped feel of much photography produced today in our age of digital post-production manipulation. Yet Hara’s true subject is not so much the process of photography but the ­process of looking. In the case of A Study of ‘Because Cathy taught him what she wants’, Hara stages a perfect metaphor for the voyeuristic nature of the series as a whole and, by natural extension, the dialectical relationship between the observer and observed. When we look at the image we look at the young woman kneeling on the floor. Just as important, the young woman in the i­mage appears to look straight back at us. Also watching over her is a young man looming in the background, though his eyes are hidden by a hat. His downward gaze is accentuated by the

diagonal positioning of his body as he leans forward on the chair. It is a photograph that straddles complexity, ambiguity and psycho-sexual content, evoking conflicts, secrets and taboos. The anticipation of what might happen next is compelling and thought ­pro-voking and bestows power over the possibility of the image. As viewers, we are left only to ponder our unavoidable, complicit voyeurism and embroilment in the drama. In the manner born of many a contemporary artist, Hara has gone to great lengths to make one medium behave like another, but I have to ask myself, to what purpose? At the very least the work captures the essence of Balthus’ paintings; namely the unsettling combination of innocence and eroticism that is born out of a poignant longing for youth. What Hara offers also encompasses ­discourses surrounding the pleasures and politics of looking. This extends to the very act of viewing the images themselves, unavoidably through the prism of post-modernism. In this sense, his studies speak more broadly about originality; its changing appearances and effects, its ongoing play. Whether or not Hara uncovers new meaning with a visual vitality that is uncanny is a question best posed, perhaps, to Balthus. •

All images © Hisaji Hara, courtesy MEM Gallery Tokyo Hisaji Hara (b. 1964, Tokyo) graduated from Musashino Art University of Art and Design in 1986. He moved to the US in 1993, became an exclusive videographer for Hillary Rodham Clinton in New York, and participated as a director of photography in productions of numerous TV programs and documentaries including a documentary film on the 14th Dalai Lama. He returned to Japan in 2001. A Photographic Portrayal of the Paintings of Balthus is his first photographic series and it has been presented internationally since it was first exhibited in Tokyo in 2009. He is represented by MEM Gallery in Tokyo and Michael Hoppen in London. He lives and works in Tokyo. Tim Clark (b. 1981, United Kingdom) is the editor-in-chief and director of the contemporary photography online magazine 1000 Words. His writings have appeared in The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The British Journal of Photography, Next Level, Hotshoe, Foto8 and in exhibition catalogues. In 2011 he joined the Academy of Nominators for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize.

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Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs The Great Unreal


Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs

portfolio text

Readymade in America by Kevin Moore

I once had an idea for an exhibition titled Rearview Mirror: Photography after Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’. It was to be held on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Frank’s book, the provocative US edition of which came out in 1959. The show wasn’t to be about the genesis of Frank’s photographs per se ‒ the National Gallery handled that topic in a predictably exhaustive exhibition and catalogue on the anniversary ‒ but a little-sister show, exploring the impact of Frank’s series on American road-trip photo-

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graphy made over the next fifty years. Unfortunately, my show never happened; Frank, as a policy, does not allow his work to appear in group exhibitions or publications, or so we’re told. But the idea has remained lodged in my brain as one of those epic subjects, highlighting two very bumpy passages along a common stretch of critical historical terrain: art photography and its principal referent, American culture, both jostling through the renovations ‒ economic, political, social, technological ‒ of the second half of the twentieth century.


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The Americans has been an unavoidable touchstone for any photographer wanting to explore, discover, exploit, personalize, or do anything really, with the American landscape and its inhabitants serving, even nominally, as a subject. Frank’s series was a high-wire act of two different photographic modes, treading lightly between sweeping documentary ambition and romantic personal diary. In 83 carefully sequenced images, he presented a complex vision of the ­United States that managed both to convey alienation, revelation, and longing, according to Frank’s shifting moods, while simultaneously engaging a widespread current of rising Post-War ­existentialist angst. Subsequent series by photographers as different as Stephen Shore, Richard Avedon, and Taryn ­Simon have rebalanced the equation ­according to their own temperaments and historical moments, embodying zeitgeist in variously idiosyncratic bodies of work. Shore, for example, conveyed a shrugging insouciance in his series American Surfaces, of 1972, perfectly suited to the post-engagé 1960s. ­Avedon’s glamorizing, clinical portraits of the down-and-out, from his series In the American West, of 1985, cannily ­described the rising disparity between rich and poor during the neo-conser­

vative eighties. And Simon’s series An American Index of the Hidden and ­Unfamiliar, of 2007, invoked a current of helpless dread in its attempt to reveal elusive sites of corporate and institutional power. Each a ‘discovery’ series, and very American, yet driven by ­personalities of a historical mood and moment ‒ the best photographers ­inhabit their subjects. If I had known about Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs at the time, I would c­ ertainly have tapped them to crystallize the show. The photographers’ peculiar brand of reverential skepticism (or is it irreverent conviction?) would have struck the ­perfect bright minor chord for an exhibition that threatened to be rather ­depressing from the point of view of both art photography and the United States ‒ both seemingly on the decline, as many recently have worried. Onorato and Krebs’ work is reverential in the sense that they enthusiastically embrace one of the most obvious clichés of art photography, the American road trip, documenting the icons of that genre ‒ mountains, diners, the road itself ‒ with evident gusto, a bit like tourists collecting fridge magnets of every state. The skepticism comes out in their method of naughtily turning the whole thing on its

Are we — were we ever — capable of authentic experience? The question is less sober than jabbing.

← ↗ Moment of Truth, 2003-2005 © Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs

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The artists, of course, don’t simply ­discover these sights as previous photo­ graphers have done; they discover and augment them, conjuring by various means their own fantastical road-trip narrative. The unmanipulated image has long been considered sacrosanct in photo­graphy, bolstering what seems by now to be a quaint Modernist notion of media purity ‒ the documentary photograph as truth, etc. Photographers throughout history have manipulated the technology in one way or another ‒ through combination printing, montaging, or, more recently, with digital tools. Standards, however, have remained steadfastly in favor of naturalism: it is understood that Andreas Gursky’s photo­graphs are digitally enhanced but they are perceived to be ‘straight.’ The culture remains heavily invested in photo­g raphy as a portal onto some ­notion of realism, reality, ‘the real.’

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head: the mountains are animated by a watery tornado; the diners’ windows open onto views of impossibly classical Western landscapes; the road drops alarmingly away yet maintains its yellow stripe. One is never quite sure if O ­ norato and Krebs are reveling in the footsteps of their artistic forbears (not just their Swiss compatriot Frank, but William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, Joel Sternfeld) or making fun of them ‒ perhaps both. Worship and irony have not been mutually exclusive categories since ­Warhol painted a soup can, and we’re still guessing if that act was sincere or ironic. Perhaps it doesn’t really matter. For photography, inescapably tethered to its referent, such ambiguity can be unexpectedly uplifting. The photographs of Onorato and Krebs have the effect of converting the baser elements of the contemporary American scene ‒ dissolution, barrenness, dereliction ‒ into moments of mystery and reverie. ­Holden Caulfield, J. D. Salinger’s precocious narrator in The Catcher in the Rye (1951), is unmoved by the stagnant contents of the Museum of Natural History but steps over a ‘gasoline rainbow’ and is elevated. Onorato and Krebs’ gasoline rainbow is clouds of trailing dust, a ­suburban street, a mudslide.

Are you leading or following?

Onorato and Krebs’ pictures are not just visibly altered; many look like ­evidence of an attack, or a chemical

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spill, such effects often relating suggestively to the subject depicted. The ­alterations are significantly low-tech, wrought by splicing, puncturing, ­montaging, spattering, and rephotographing, all in service of a greater ­emotive impact. Such flagrant interventions offer lively commentary on the road trip genre and its handling by past practitioners. The pictures are hormone-fed to say more: an optical ­intervention here is offered as homage to (or satire of?) the romantic loneliness of Frank; a gesture there is made to ­enhance (or make fun of?) the deadpan humor of Shore; or a flash of light is intended to augment (because maybe one just couldn’t quite feel it at the time?) the sense of revelation of Eggleston. The Great Unreal, as Onorato and Krebs’ series is almost too revealingly called, asks how true photography is,


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and goes further: are we ‒ were we ever ‒ capable of authentic experience? The question is less sober than jabbing ‒ a gentle prod in the direction of doubt, uncertainty, both photographic and ­ontological. It seems almost absurd to pin such lofty ideas to such jokey pictures. Indeed, there’s something cutely Duchampian about the whole project, in which ­concept supersedes received notions of ‘retinal art’, refreshing the settings for understanding what art photography ‒ and, by extension, reality ‒ really is. In that sense, Onorato and Krebs’ photographs might be seen to function more as Readymades, appropriating fragments of the visible world, ‘assisting’ those fragments to become art. Through alteration and recontextualization, elements of the American vernacular are engaged to kick start a conversation about the nature of art and art’s relation to non-art, i.e. the social landscape. And somehow the more ordinary, abject, or absurd the ­ object, the livelier the thought bubble that emerges. Duchamp did not choose a urinal randomly yet, lest it be taken as a simple gesture to offend, there is some merit to the notion that central plumbing was the most beautiful achievement of American culture to date, and there are those today who insist on the formal, sculptural beauty of the white porcelain receptacle. It wouldn’t be wrong to consider Onorato and Krebs’ pictures of junkyards and depressed Western towns from those angles as well; the atmospheric effects may be fake but they do offer a genuine lift.

Yet beyond such photographic gerrymandering, the image inescapably connects to the artists’ larger subject, America itself. If such a tawdry vision seems all too consistent with what novelist Roger King has described recently as a shrinking American psyche, a place where citizens find ‘not aspiration realized, nor largeness of life fitting to its open spaces, but the nascent ability to be satisfied with less,’ Onorato and Krebs offer a way out. What makes their work so compelling is that, even among the tire heaps and cheap motels, there remains a palpable sense of discovery, of fun to be had, of inspiration beckoning from every horizon ‒ even a fabricated horizon composed of inferior massproduced materials. American surfaces, to invoke Stephen Shore’s series once again, aren’t all cheap and ugly; there’s another America of opulence and wealth, which for some

One picture from The Great Unreal ­features a roadway running through a valley of Navajo-print bed-sheet ‘mountains’ toward a horizon of wood ­paneling. In its material absence, the American landscape is somehow more emphatically present. For just as the photographic print reproduces surfaces, but out of different materials, this ­landscape consists of quintessentially American surfaces (Navajo bed sheets and cheap wood paneling) configured in an essential landscape formation ‒ in other words, it is a blatant representation. It functions precisely as Onorato and Krebs’ photographs, calling attention to its own artifice, which in turn awakens a sense of wonder.

reason is much less seen in exposés on the US. Onorato and Krebs of necessity engage the cheap and ugly tradition to question it. But for me, their best images transcend the clichés about America and soar further into those fabled spacious skies, toward something more mature, sanguine, and exhilarating. A haunting series of photographs of dust clouds remind us of the world’s seemingly infinite potential to divulge beauty and actuate thought. For the artists, these ‘temporary traces’ stir a productive sense of disorientation, of ambiguous directionality, pressing the question: ‘are you leading or following?’. Thus is formed the methodology of the artists’ venture: ‘This question,’ they relate, ‘stayed with us on all the trips: thinking about who was before us, what traces are in our memories… and what we will leave behind.’ And so continues that essential idea long inspired by the American landscape, a metaphor for life’s journey. •

All images © Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs Taiyo Onorato (b. 1979, Zurich) and Nico Krebs (b. 1979, Winterthur) studied photography at the Zurich University for the Arts, and work together since 2003. They have exhibited widely and have received a number of grants and awards, including the Swiss Design Award in 2011. Onorato & Krebs published a number of books, the most recent being AS LONG AS IT PHOTOGRAPHS / IT MUST BE A CAMERA, self published in 2011. THE GREAT UNREAL, published in 2009, was included in the Selection Best Photobooks of 2009 by Photoeye USA. Onorato & Krebs live and work in Berlin. Kevin Moore (b. 1964, United States) is a scholar and curator based in New York whose work focuses on the history of photography and contemporary art. Previously a member of the curatorial department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, his most recent projects include: Robert Heinecken: Copywork (2012) and Real to Real: Photographs from the Traina Collection (de Young Museum, San Francisco, 2012). He is also the author of Starburst: Color Photography in America 1970-1980 (Cincinnati Art Museum, 2010) and Jacques Henri Lartigue: The Invention of an Artist (2004).

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Viktoria Binschtok Suspicious Minds


Viktoria Binschtok

portfolio text

Suspicious Minds by Aaron Schuman

Photographers are often suspected of being predators; they stalk their subjects and wait for just the right moment to shoot. But gazing at Viktoria Binschtok’s images of stoic bodyguards and deadpan heavies – culled from press pictures of public speeches and political events, and then cropped, isolated and enlarged to form her series, Suspicious Minds, certain parallels become apparent between the role of the bodyguard, which is simultaneously defensive, protective and predatory, and that of the photographer.

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Standing on the periphery of a scene or event, attempting to remain invisible but nevertheless remarkably conspicuous, both figures continually scan the landscape before them; they read the present to calculate the immediate future, everready for the potential ‘decisive moment’ which might ultimately define them. As a series, Binschtok’s Suspicious Minds certainly highlights the eerie, intimidating, and in some ways comical similarities between her subjects, as well as the prominence and integral importance of


such characters within the mechanisms of contemporary power and its public persona. But simultaneously, by visually isolating and thus releasing these men from the original context of duty and service and calling attention to them as distinct individuals, a certain sense of empathy also surfaces, whereby it is hard not to find oneself relating to them rather than simply regarding them as cocked weapons, programmed operatives or hard, human shields. In 1989, the artist, critic and publisher Joachim Schmid issued a rallying cry: ‘No new photographs until the old ones have been used up!’ Over the course of the last few years – particularly with the increasing speed and expansion of the internet, and our increased dependency upon and openness within it – many photographers, including Binschtok, seem to have taken up Schmid’s cry in their work. Rather than make new photographs, they are revitalizing and extending the twentieth-century artistic strategy known as appropriation, pulling images from the ether (web-based or otherwise) and experimenting with, reforming, reconsidering and re-contextualizing old images to create intriguingly new and original bodies of work.

Similarly, the text that follows is an experiment, taking its lead from Binschtok and others, as well as from the stated theme of this issue of Foam: ‘Ref., the relation between photography and reference’. It too embraces the spirit of ­appropriation, and rather than providing lengthy explication or analysis, it instead presents a considered series of loose and often open-ended ‘Ref.’ (references, ­refractions, reflections) for Binschtok’s portfolio. In a sense, the following montage represents the multilayered and ­often tangential processing of the work presented here, where various meanings and motifs intermingle in rich and ­surprising ways. Furthermore, these ­direct quotes, clipped and cropped from a wide range of nominally related s­ ources and contexts, are in some ways meant to mimic Binschtok’s bodyguards; collectively they stand stealthily beside the powerful (Binschtok’s images) – d ­ eadpan, peripheral and seemingly ambiguous – but nevertheless each offering a variety of intriguing reinterpretations, revisions, resonances – and References – for our suspicious minds. •

↖ World of Details, 2011 © Viktoria Binschtok, courtesy KLEMM'S Berlin

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‘[after saving the president] REPORTER AT DULLES INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT: Why are you retiring from the Secret Service? FRANK HORRIGAN: Well, because I hate desk work and I’m too old to go running along the limousines, and thanks to you people plastering my picture up everywhere I’m no good for undercover work.’

‘When it’s too late, then you know with a terrible clarity exactly where you failed; and at this point you often recall the telltale feeling you had while you were actually making the pictures. Was it a feeling of hesitation due to uncertainty? Was it because of some physical gulf between yourself and the unfolding event? Was it simply that you did not take into account a certain detail in relation to the whole setup? Or was it (and this is most frequent) that your glance became vague, your eye wandered off?’

‘When one takes a close look on the press pictures of the mighty of this world, one can actually discover a remarkable parallelism: there is at least one man behind every politician that guards him or her. Especially in times of constant terror threat and enforced security control, this is a more and more common picture. These poker-faced, well-dressed men act inconspicuously in the back. It is striking how much they resemble each other in their ­attempt to disclose the putative mistake in the system. They are encircled by an aura of absence and at the same time most possible tension and concentration. Their facial expression seems totally indifferent and hence enforces the focus on their stereotypical gestures and postures.’

‘Bush said today he is being stalked. He said wherever he goes, people are following him. Finally, someone told him, “Psst. That’s the Secret Service”.’

MITCH LEARY: ‘What did happen to you that day? Only one agent reacted to the gunfire, and you were closer to Kennedy than he was.You must have looked up at the window of the Texas Book Depository, but you didn’t react. Late at night, when the demons come, do you see the rifle coming out of that window, or do you see Kennedy’s head being blown apart? If you’d reacted to that first shot, could you have gotten there in time to stop the big bullet? And if you had – that could’ve been your head being blown apart. Do you wish you’d succeeded, Frank? Or is life too precious?’

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‘By evening the film had been developed and three copies made. Zapruder immediately gave two of the copies to the Secret Service. On the morning of November 23, Zapruder sold the print rights to Life magazine, after which the original and the remaining copy were ­dispatched to Life’s production facilities in Chicago…In October 1964, the U.S. Government Printing Office ­released 26 volumes of testimony and evidence compiled by the Warren Commission. Volume 18 of the commission’s hearings reproduced 158 frames of the Zapruder film in black and white. However, frames 208-211 were missing, a splice was visible in frames 207 and 212, frames 314 and 315 were switched, and frame 284 was a repeat of 283. In reply to an inquiry, the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover wrote in 1965 that 314 and 315 were switched due to a printing error, and that the error did not exist in the original Warren Commission exhibits. In early 1967, Life released a statement that four frames of the camera original (208–211) had been accidentally destroyed, and the adjacent frames damaged, by a Life photo lab technician on November 23, 1963.’

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‘A double act, also known as a comedy duo, is a comic pairing in which humor is derived from the uneven ­relationship between two partners, usually of the same gender, age, ethnic origin and profession, but drastically different personalities or behavior. Often one of the duo members, the straight man, feed, dead wood, or stooge is portrayed as reasonable and serious…If the audience identifies primarily with one character, the other is often referred to as a comic foil.’

The Undamaged Zapruder Film Uploaded by bobharris77 on Apr 15, 2008. This copy of the film was made before Life magazine damaged frames in their copy. Except for the damaged areas, the two ­versions are identical.


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‘Man cannot truly create; but he can stick things ­together in such a way as to illude into the belief that he has ­created; and it is this aesthetic quality of composition which all the fine arts must possess.’

‘In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.’ — Winston Churchill to Josef Stalin, at the Tehran Conference, November 1943

‘It is indisputable that we now inhabit a world thoroughly mediatized by and glutted with the photographic­ image and its digital doppelganger. Everything and everyone on earth and beyond, it would seem, has been slotted ­somewhere in a rapacious, ever-expanding Borgesian library of representation that we have built for ourselves. As a result, the possibility of making a photograph that can stake a claim to originality or affect has been radically called into question. Ironically, the moment of greatest photographic plentitude has pushed photography to the point of exhaustion. It is in the face of this waning of photographic possibility that…artists are attempting to carve a way forward by rethinking photographic subjectivity. They are, in other words, working at the task of what philosopher Vilém Flusser, in his increasingly influential text ­Towards A Philosophy of Photography (1983), deemed to be the essence of experimental photography: “to create a space for human intention in a world dominated by apparatuses”.’

‘To an ever greater extent our experience is governed by pictures, pictures in newspapers and magazines, on television and in the cinema. Next to these pictures firsthand experience begins to retreat, to seem more and more trivial. While it once seemed that pictures had the function of interpreting reality, it now seems that they have usurped it. It therefore becomes imperative to understand the picture itself, not in order to uncover a lost reality, but to determine how a picture becomes a signifying structure of its own accord. But pictures are characterized by something which, though often remarked, is insufficiently understood: that they are extremely difficult to distinguish at the level of their content, that they are to an extraordinary degree opaque in meaning. The actual event and the fictional event, the benign and the horrific, the mundane and the exotic, the possible and the fantastic: all are fused into the all-embracing similitude of the picture.’  •

‘If you can cultivate the right attitude, your enemies are your best spiritual teachers because their presence ­provides you with the opportunity to enhance and ­develop tolerance, patience and understanding.’

All images © Viktoria Binschtok, courtesy KLEMM'S Berlin Viktoria Binschtok (b. 1972, Russia) studied Photography and Media Arts at the Academy of Visual Arts in Leipzig. She exhibited her work internationally, including the 7th Biennial of Photography in Liège, Les Rencontres D’Arles and RAY 2012 Fotografieprojekte Frankfurt/Rhein-Main. Her first book, Suspicious Minds, was published in 2009 by KLEMM’S, and in 2011 she was awarded with the Casa Baldi stipend from the German Academy/Villa Massimo in Rome. She lives and works in Berlin. Aaron Schuman (b. 1977, United States) is an American photographer, editor, writer and curator based in the United Kingdom. He curated a number of exhibitions including In Appropriation for the Houston Center of Photography (2012). He regularly contributes photography, articles, essays and interviews to many publications. Schuman is also a Senior Lecturer at the Arts University College at Bournemouth and the University of Brighton, and is the founder and editor of the online photography journal, SeeSaw Magazine.

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Ed Ruscha Then & Now


Ed Ruscha

by Sylvia Wolf For more than forty years Ed Ruscha has made paintings, prints, and drawings featuring American vernacular subjects and fragments of common language. Born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1937 and raised in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Ruscha moved to Los Angeles in 1956 to attend Chouinard Art Institute (now CalArts). At Chouinard, he studied illustration, graphic design, and painting. He also took a photography course and was introduced to the work of Eugène Atget, László MoholyNagy and Man Ray. Ruscha admired photographs by Walker Evans in particular, and was deeply influenced by Robert Frank’s seminal publication The Americans (1959).

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Shortly after his graduation in 1961 Ruscha took a trip to Europe where he made hundreds of snapshots, many of which contain motifs that would resurface throughout his career. Within two years of his return he attended the opening of Marcel Duchamp’s retrospective exhibition at the Pasadena Art Museum along with other Los Angeles area artists, critics, historians and collectors. Although Duchamp had made his mark with the Dada movement in Europe starting in 1913, this was the first comprehensive presentation of his art to take place in the United States. Duchamp’s work struck a chord with Ruscha and with artists who were clamoring for change and crossing boundaries previ-

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Frank Observations of Seemingly Uninteresting Stuff


ously drawn in art. To a generation ­seeking new forms to express unconventional views, Duchamp’s placement of a urinal or a bottle rack in an art gallery blurred the distinction between art and life, and offered an irreverent, anti-­ aesthetic approach to art that ran against tradition. Ruscha had seen Duchamp’s work in books as early as high school and was attracted to the artist’s use of common objects, called Readymades. His renewed contact with Duchamp’s work came the year he released Twentysix Gasoline S­tations (1963), the first of what would be sixteen photographic publications. At first glance the book was not much to look at; a slim volume picturing roadside filling stations made on several trips along Route 66, between Los Angeles and Ruscha’s home town of Oklahoma City. The sequence of photographs does not follow a trajectory describing a trip from point A to point B. Ruscha was not interested in a linear narrative. Instead, it was the idea of the book that propelled him. Indeed, the title for the book came long before he took a single photograph. Critical response to Twentysix Gasoline Stations was mixed. Philip Leider’s review in the September 1963 issue of Artforum placed the book in a Dada context: ‘Not quite a joke, the idea is at least as complex as the puns and issues posed by ­Duchamp’s urinal; we are irritated and annoyed by the act, but feel compelled to resolve the questions it raises. The urinal resolved in favor of Duchamp; for Ruscha and the movement he represents, the ­issue is still in doubt.’ The movement Leider refers to was the effort by many artists in the 1960s to consider photographs as useful material rather than autonomous objects; as information ­ rather than personal expression. A book Ruscha made three years later, Every Building on Sunset Strip (1966), is emblematic of this approach. To document every building on each side of Sunset Strip, Ruscha photographed with a 35mm camera that was mounted onto a car and attached with a motor drive. He shot a continuous strip of black-and-white motion picture film that accommodated roughly 250 frames. In Every Building on Sunset Strip, the south side of the street is

strung along the top and the north side is rendered upside down along the bottom, as if the long strip of pictures had been standing upright and fallen back onto the page. The book’s dimensions when closed are seven by five inches, but when it is opened to its full length, the roughly two-and-a-half miles of Sunset Strip stretches to almost twentyfive feet of continuous images. On the one hand, Every Building on ­Sunset Strip presents an accurate record of a period of extraordinary growth and urban sprawl in L.A. On the other, it offers a true typology – not specific buildings – but every building along Sunset Strip. No single enterprise is privileged over another. There is no h ­ ierarchy to this information. Every Building on Sunset Strip was one of several works chosen by artist Sol LeWitt to illustrate his essay, ‘Paragraphs on Conceptual Art’. which was published in the summer 1967 issue of Artforum. This piece, in which LeWitt offers obser­ vations based on his own practice, has become the definition of a movement by numerous artists to make art driven by ideas before form.

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↖ STANDARD, Amarillo, Texas from Gasoline Stations, 1962/1989 © Ed Ruscha, Courtesy Sprüth Magers Berlin London ↗ Flying A. Service, Richfield and Frontier Stations. Winslow, Arizona, 1962, from Gasoline Stations, 1962/1989 © Ed Ruscha, Courtesy Sprüth Magers Berlin London


Certainly Ruscha would agree with ­LeWitt about the intuitive nature of his work. But attention to craft is also an integral aspect of his artistic production. It is important to Ruscha that his photographs are properly exposed and rendered with a full tonal range to allow us to see the subject matter clearly, for what it is. He once remarked about Every Building on Sunset Strip that his satisfaction was in compiling the information. ‘I recorded it as a piece of history… It is a very democratic, unemotional look at the world… Everything gets judiciously photo­graphed, not just the interesting

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parts of it but everything. It’s documentary in that sense. I think that may be its ultimate value, if there is any.’ With this in mind, Ruscha’s photographs can be seen as antecedents to a generation of American photographers, including Robert Adams and Lewis Baltz. In the late 1960s and 1970s, Adams, Baltz, and others used medium- and largeformat cameras to produce precisely detailed images of America’s highwayoriented culture and suburban sprawl. Photographs by many of these photo­ graphers were included in New Topographics, an exhibition at the George Eastman House, Rochester, New York, in 1975. In the catalogue essay for the show, William Jenkins cites Ruscha as a pivotal influence on the emergence of what he called a new topographic style, which was ‘anthropological rather than critical, scientific rather than artistic.’ A topographic map renders a three dimensional landscape in two dimensions. It lists elevations and indicates their relief with flat contour lines. It also notes the position of natural and man-made ­features. Ruscha’s Twentysix Gasoline

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There is no hierarchy to this information.

‘In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art. This kind of art is not theoretical or illustrative of theories; it is intuitive, it is involved with all types of mental ­processes and it is purposeless. It is usually free from the dependence on the skill of the artist as a craftsman.’


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­Stations and Every Building on Sunset Strip can be seen as topographic maps with many features, each one describing a different experience of time and place. Together, they chart a distinctly American landscape, one that casts a dry, ­analytical eye on the nation in the postwar years. Over the years, Every Building On Sunset Strip has become iconic and celebrated as a conceptual work of extraordinary importance. What is lesser known is that Ruscha has repeatedly photographed Sunset Strip over nearly four decades, upgrading equipment as technology ­advanced. He also expanded his inquiry to other streets including Melrose ­Avenue, Santa Monica Boulevard, and Pacific Coast Highway. And in 1973, he photographed every building along a 6 ½ mile stretch of Hollywood Boulevard, from Sunset Plaza Drive in the East to Hillhurst Avenue in the West. He made contact sheets of the rolls of images and put them away in a box. Thirty-one years later, in 2004, he photographed the same route again, only this time with color film. Ruscha published the documentation of Hollywood Boulevard in a largescale book titled Then & Now. As in Every Building on Sunset Strip, images of the south side of the street are rendered at the top of the page and the north side is seen at the bottom: photographs from 1973 are positioned above those of 2004.

businesses that provide readymade ­consumables, efficiency and service: Kentucky Fried Chicken, for example, or Pep Boys auto parts supplier. Together, Ruscha’s photographic documentations of Hollywood Boulevard – three decades apart – suggest a fascination with visual history. In fact, Ruscha has always had a great affection for images that show how things were, from nineteenth century epic paintings to mid-twentieth century aerial views of urban landscapes. If we think of history as a motivating factor, Twentysix Gasoline Stations, Every Building on Sunset Strip, and Then & Now can be viewed not only as conceptual works, but also as records of particular moments in ­American civilization when Ruscha has employed the camera as scribe. Throughout his career he has utilized the camera to record the incidental aspects of contemporary culture and make frank observations of seemingly uninteresting stuff. Ruscha’s curiosity about everything, ‘not just the interesting parts,’ is what makes photography useful and appealing. It also gives evidence that the medium has been very much alive in his practice as a resource, a vehicle and a catalyst for his art, then and now. •

All images © Ed Ruscha, Courtesy of the artist and Sprüth Magers Berlin London

Viewing Then & Now is like reading a historical timeline or a street map. Its size (12 ½ x 17 ½ inches) requires laying it out on a table and looking closely, preferably with a magnifying glass. The filmstrips put us in motion, as if we are in the passenger seat of the car looking out the side window. Many of the things one might expect to have changed are in ­evidence. What was an expansive filling station is now a strip mall packed with over a half dozen stores. Private residences in the hills have multiplied, and many of those photographed in 1973 are now protected by walls and gates. Trees have grown and car models have changed. Although Grauman’s Chinese Theater looks the same, the 1973 James Bond film Live and Let Die has given way to 2004’s Harry Potter. What remains constant are apartment buildings whose style has been nostalgically maintained or left unchanged through neglect and

Ed Ruscha (b. 1937, United States) is an artist whose work encompasses painting, drawing and photography. His research focuses on the banality of urban life and gives order to the barrage of mass-media-fed images and information that confronts us daily. His work has been exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Centre Georges Pompidou, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia and Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. In 2004 The Whitney Museum of American Art organized the exhibition Ed Ruscha and Photography. In 2005 he was the United States representative at the 51st Venice Biennale. In 2006 Ed Ruscha Photographer was exhibited at the Jeu de Paume in Paris, the Kunsthaus in Zurich and the Museum Ludwig in Cologne. In 2009 The Hayward Gallery, London organized a major retrospective, Fifty Years of Painting, and recently his works were shown in The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, USA (2011). The Kunsthaus Bregenz will be showing Reading Ed Ruscha in June 2012. Ed Ruscha currently lives and works in Los Angeles. Sylvia Wolf (b. 1957, United States) is director of The Henry Art Gallery, Seattle. She has served as a curator of photography at The Art Institute of Chicago and at the Whitney Museum of American Art. She is currently organizing exhibitions with installation artists Gary Hill and Ann Hamilton. Some of Wolf’s many books on contemporary art and photography are Digital Eye: Photographic Art in the Digital Age (2010); Polaroids: Mapplethorpe (2007); Ed Ruscha and Photography (2004); Michal Rovner: The Space Between (2002); Julia Margaret Cameron's Women (1998) and Dieter Appelt (1994).

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Stan Douglas Disco Angola


Stan Douglas

portfolio text

Fictional histories by Sean O’Toole

Canadian artist Stan Douglas is and isn’t the maker of the photographs in Disco Angola, a new series of photographic tableaus describing fragments of life in mid-1970s Angola and New York. The extent to which this statement possesses any credibility depends almost entirely on whether one believes the fiction connecting the eight photographs in this series. It is an elaborate and elegantly conceived fiction told almost entirely through pictures. This is the story these pictures want you to consider, and if not believe at minimum acknowledge and entertain as a possibil-

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ity. In 1975, a year after the Carnation Revolution, the spring military coup that ended Portugal’s imperial domination of parts of Africa, and a few months before Angola’s independence on 11 November, a black photojournalist living in New York travelled to Angola. His race is not an absolute, rather just probable, as Douglas has stated in an interview. There is also no information regarding how this ‘adventurer-photographer,’ as Douglas has described him, reached the Portuguese colony, just that he arrived, stayed, and made a handful of photographs. ›


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Some of these photographs are set in Luanda, the cosmopolitan capital of this far-flung southern Atlantic ‘overseas province,’ as the Portuguese euphemistically described their African colonies. Luanda would not have been entirely unfamiliar to the visiting photographer. Its dereliction, emptiness and inanition would have reminded him of New York, which was then also economically distressed and ruined – ruined in a way that allowed groups of mixed-race, gay proud revellers to party in abandoned haunts in downtown Manhattan. Douglas’s photo­g rapher was a witness to New York’s ­unheralded dance underground, possibly even a fellow celebrant. His photos from this period are a record of how, in the interstices of change, something else, something new is possible. That this something else never really achieved fruition – disco, like the vacant spaces it occupied, was commodified, and Angola was subsumed by a tragic civil war – is less important than the idea that this optimism existed, still exists in these photos.

celebratory moments. In one group portrait he obliquely pictured, with a Rodtschenko-like sense for verticality, a group of MPLA recruits performing capoeira, the Brazilian martial art that had originated in Angola. Like Kapuściński, the unnamed photojournalist also headed south, most probably in the direction of Benguela, a port town that was once a major e­ mbarkation point for slaves destined for Brazil and Cuba – some of them ancestors, perhaps, of the young revellers dancing and doing martial arts moves in the baroque Manhattan dance venues abandoned by America’s white middle-class. On this road trip south the photographer would have passed many improvised checkpoints, dangerous temporary autonomous zones where waiting was its own kind of s­ ervitude. There is a photograph describing one of these checkpoints. A

In the manner of Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński, who characterised Luanda in 1975 as a city ‘dying the way an oasis dies when a well runs dry,’ also photojournalist Françoise ‘Fifi’ Demulder, a former philosophy student and model who visited Luanda in 1975, the visiting photojournalist quickly ­endeared himself to the rebel movement of Agostinho Neto, leader of the ­Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola, or MPLA. Neto was also a poet; his poetry spoke urgently of the toil of servants whose fathers were also servants, and yearned for something else. Much in the way that Douglas’s photojournalist saw and described, in resplendent colour, the latent connections that existed between mid-1970s New York and Angola, so Demulder’s black and white photos also charted a similar mutuality, between visiting Cuban ­ ­soldiers and Neto’s army. But where ­Demulder, who in 1976 became the first female winner of the World Press Photo of the Year award, often portrayed MPLA militia clustered in groups, mostly in stiff poses, at attention or marching, only ­occasionally at rest, Douglas’s photojournalist purposefully looked for

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soldier sits next to refrigerator. A rope curves across the gravel road and is ­attached to the fuselage of an airplane on the other end. Beyond this blockage: a hazy savannah landscape. All of this happened, in a manner of speaking: there are photos. But these photo­graphs were all made in California. Unlike the fictional black photojournalist who travelled to Africa to make these pictures, Douglas did not visit Angola. The vast blue sky silhouetted by a tall tree in Checkpoint, 1975 – which, like the work Exodus, 1975, quotes from Kapuściński’s magical journalism – was produced on a film set in the Californian desert. The gauche-looking couple in Two Friends, 1975 were actors photographed on a set created in a derelict ballroom at the Alexandria Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. The venue is used as a hostel and is home to various theatre and dance troupes.


↗ Suspect, 1950, 2010 from the series Midcentury Studio © Stan Douglas, Courtesy David Zwirner New York ← Dice, 1950, 2010 from the series Midcentury Studio © Stan Douglas, Courtesy David Zwirner New York

The idea for Disco Angola has its origins in a research trip Douglas made to L isbon in 2008. Douglas, whose ­ ­previous work has creatively re-imagined literary texts by Samuel Beckett, ­Herman Melville and Franz Kafka, was in Portugal investigating the possibility of adapting Joseph Conrad’s novel The Secret Agent (1907) when he was ­introduced to the legacy of the 1974

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Carnation Revolution, which enabled independence in Angola and Mozambique. This encounter prompted him to do some interested research (something Douglas does allot of before making a new work) into the time period, the ­ mid-1970s. ‘It was the moment when everything changed,’ he told Monika Szewczyk in an interview earlier this year, ‘when Bretton Woods – the second to last great Enlightenment endeavour – began to break down. The Bretton Woods organisations were invented to internationalise US capitalism, but the growing autonomy of decolonised countries resulted in numerous contradictions that had worldwide effects.’ Douglas narrates this grand, if abstract historical moment by fixing on two vastly contrasting albeit synchronous historical moments – disco in New York and Angola’s hard-won independence. For all its surface whimsicality and ­fictional improbability, Disco Angola is utterly consistent with Douglas’s artistic method, which involves focussing on moments and events within the larger history of modernity. ‘I mean events in the philosophical sense,’ he clarified during his walkthrough, ‘not just some-

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All of this happened, in a manner of speaking: there are photos.

Earlier this year, during a spring walkthrough of Disco Angola at David ­Zwirner, Douglas’s long-time Manhattan dealer, the artist explained that he had created the work based on an intuition. Maybe there was a connection between the furtive and free-spirited origins of disco and the euphoric ­possibilities of African independence. Perhaps. The idea is neither fanciful nor strained. There is a photo in Demulder’s archive, a portrait of a young MPLA militiaman, cigarette in hand, celebrating the departure of the Portuguese colonists. His joy is palpable. More ­tellingly, though, are his looks. He is bare-chested, his hair frizzy and worn in an un-styled Afro. He would not look out of place amongst the celebrants on the New York dance floor in Douglas’s Disco Angola series.


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thing that happens, but something that happens that is so strange and unfamiliar and horrifying that it challenges the regime of truth of the time.’ The notion of truth weighs heavily on photojournalists, especially war photo­ graphers. This is because of the unavoidable facticity of the photographic medium, its ability to index reality. For an artist deeply involved in the fabrication of ostensible rather than actual truths, the opportunity to work in the guise of a ‘real’ photographer was tempting for Douglas. ‘By working with some of the medium’s most basic characteristics I wanted to get back to being ­something I never was, a photographer who makes photographs that are art, as opposed to being an artists who uses photography to make art, that typically Vancouverite pathology,’ he told ­Szewczyk. Of course, Disco Angola is an object lesson in ‘that typically Vancouverite pathology’ one has come to associate with the work of Douglas, Jeff Wall and Rodney Graham, amongst others. And yet, for all its consistency with the cinematographic orientation of this ‘school’ of Canadian photography, Disco Angola is also informed by other, ­non-photographic concepts.

invented an entire literary universe of fictional poets and writers, each with their own styles, literary heritages and, crucially, published output. The most famous of Pessoa’s heteronyms is the ­romantic poet Álvaro de Campos, who in 1917 wrote a poem titled Ultimatum. The poem is prophetic in the context of Douglas’s Disco Angola series: ‘Eviction notice to the Mandarins of Europe! Out!’ Pessoa did the hard graft of creating all the work for his alter-egos. It is possibly easiest to think of Pessoa – and, by extension, Douglas – as the airport that parks all these frenetic and differently destined imaginings. Douglas has been exploring the possibilities of the heteronym for some time. Before his current nameless photojournalist from the 1970s, he worked in the guise of a fictional midcentury photo­ grapher, a man named simply ‘D’. The outcome of that exercise in painstaking research and speculative imagining was his Midcentury Studio (2010) portfolio, a startling series of formal black and white

During his walkthrough, Douglas, wearing a gingham button shirt and holding a takeout coffee in his left hand, twice invoked the literary concept of the ‘heteronym’ to explain what he was up to in Disco Angola. The idea of the heteronym, which photographers Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin made central to their curatorial concept for the 2011 edition of Kraków Photomonth in ­ ­Poland, is closely associated with the writings of Portuguese novelist and poet Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935). Pessoa

studio portraits and candid news shots whose graphic chiaroscuro mimic the aesthetic conventions of early post war photography. Arguably, Douglas’s ­heteronyms are not as fully formed as Pessoa’s. Perhaps it is truer to speak of Douglas’s creations as semi-heteronyms: while he allows his fictional photo­ graphers free reign in creating fragmentary photographic archives, ultimately, Douglas folds their production into his own practice – the work is exhibited­under his own name. But this is a minor quibble. What is striking about Disco Angola, like much of Douglas’s photography, is its incompletion. What happened to his party-going, revolution-interested ­photographer? Did he, like Demulder, go to Beirut? Or did he succumb to the ­disease associated with disco, which only manifested in the next decade? We don’t know. Which is as it should be. ‘The ­fragmentary, the incomplete is of the ­essence of Pessoa’s spirit,’ wrote George Steiner. It is an insight conspicuously true of Stan Douglas’s Disco Angola too. •

All images © Stan Douglas, Courtesy David Zwirner New York In order of appearance : A Luta Continua, 1974, 2012 Two Friends, 1975, 2012 Capoeira, 1974, 2012 Coat Check, 1974, 2012 Checkpoint, 1975, 2012 Club Versailles, 1974, 2012 Exodus, 1975, 2012 Kung-Fu Fighting, 1975, 2012 Stan Douglas (1960, Canada) since the late 1980s creates films, photographs and installations focusing on the reexamination of specific locations and past events by appropriating of Hollywood genres and making reference to classic literary works. His works have been exhibited worldwide at many international galleries and museums, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, ZKM|Museum für Neue Kunst, International Center of Photography, The Studio Museum, Centre George Pompidou amongst others. In May 2012 he was awarded the Infinity Award by the International Center of Photography in New York. He lives and work in Vancouver, and he is represented by David Zwirner in New York. Sean O'Toole (1968, Pretoria) is a Cape Town-based journalist and writer. He is co-editor of Cityscapes, a journal for urban enquiry, and writes a bi-monthly column for frieze magazine. He wrote a weekly photo column for the South African Sunday Times for six years, until 2010, and has written critical essays on David Goldblatt, Guy Tillim, Jo Ractliffe, Mikhael Subotzky and Pieter Hugo, amongst others.

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Michael Schirner Pictures in our Minds


Marilyn Monroe poised over a subway air-shaft.


Michael Schirner

portfolio text

Creative iconoclasm by Hans Ulrich Reck

That pictures only come into being, i.e. seem alive, in a present perception is a fact that applies to virtually all images. It particularly applies to the kind of pictures that can be termed artificial constructs; pictures simply intended to offer an impulse, an occasion or a starting point of such perception. This is essentially an achievement of radical modernity, which replaced ritual and aural, religious and sacred images with aesthetic reflection that should not be seen as a purely abstract, philosophical category, but as a poetic form. Ever since Kazimir Malevich, for example,

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seeing images has meant actively cultivating one’s own perception. It has meant being able to see sight and to observe one’s perception at work in the mechanisms of the image’s effect. The structure connecting the author, the work of art, and the viewer is becoming more complicated. Images are losing their previous authority and gaining new power. They are transforming from representatives of meaning to power plants of experience. In the course of modern poetics, the artwork itself and the authority of its producer has shifted according to the experiences of the viewer.


This opens up several possibilities. An artist can become an image strategist or an image operator by trying to elevate commonplace forms of life and everyday culture to the level of high art. Or the artist can try to convey the dogmas of a pure, true, and good modern aesthetic by letting them sink into the general culture from above, by means of ­aesthetic education. The two positions can be termed a right and left version of the dogma of the arts as an educational instrument and of a true aesthetic. The only radically different method is an emancipatory one. It uses the advanced resources of the elaborate arts to trace the existence, effects, and forms of every­day culture. By bringing them to mind again, it makes the artwork’s ­innate principles of formation, previously locked inside the work, both ­perceptible and accessible. It’s no surprise that Michael Schirner has dedicated his work to precisely this approach for several decades. He has chosen the path of the artist who acts as an operator, assembler, and strategist amid the mass-media imagery of visual communication, advertizing, and c ommon, everyday image rhetoric. ­ Schirner is not fascinated by the numinous or hermetic substance of art, which along with the notorious reverence of the p ­ ublic is prescribed within a system of arts that supposedly always

aims ­towards something higher, towards meaning and the like. He is interested in things that are everyday, active, alive, and concrete. He moves easily and buoyantly amid our engineered media society; he doesn’t differentiate between a high and low code. He is one of the explorers of a s­ ophisticated aesthetic of the banal, which proves itself to be very complex. He is not interested in a ­reverential, aloof kind of art, but in the art of problematizations, traps, and paradoxes.

↖ NEW01, 2002 – 2011, from the series BYE BYE, Digigraph by Epson, based on a photograph by Thomas Hoepker/Magnum, courtesy Michael Schirner → HAM08, 2002 – 2011, from the series BYE BYE, Digigraph by Epson, courtesy Michael Schirner

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In short: Schirner is primarily interested in the stumbling blocks that are revealed and conveyed by the visual culture and its everyday embodiments if they are intelligently made. It is this cheerful confidence that has informed Michael Schirner’s exploration of mental imagery for several decades, and that he continues to examine in series of works and exhibitions that are always fresh, explorative, and cunning, as well as ­innovative and totally independent. This was already on display in the exhibition Pictures in our Minds: A Photo Exhibition without Photos that took place in Hamburg in 1985. A first high point came in 1987 with Pictures in our Minds, or the Magic of Print at Stern magazine’s library in Hamburg. We need to bear in mind that a magazine like Stern sees itself as a driving force behind the mass media’s shaping of photographic images that are meant to be engraved in the minds of their viewers. The exhibition was produced in many variations and traveled as widely as China, where it was adapted to local conditions. Since 2006 it has been shown together with the Corrected Pictures series under the title BYE BYE and is constantly attaining new heights. In the process, Michael Schirmer has proved himself to be a genuine, original inventor precisely when he is transforming existing things. When it comes to the creativity of the concept of authorship


The meaning of pictures is how they are used in society.

From Pictures in our Minds to BYE BYE, Schirner’s series aren’t mere operative attempts at images, but always also represent genuinely philosophical stagings of the productive, reflective power of our imagination, which has been assigned such an important role since Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment. Michael Schirner’s art of visual transformation is both art and media strategy. The theories of Marshall McLuhan surely also relevant here. As early as 1951, in his book Mechanical Bride: The Folklore of Industrial Man, McLuhan included a description of everyday visual phenomena, in the shape of annotated product advertisements from print media, in his

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advanced media theory. Here McLuhan engages in a kind of techno-folklore or ethnography of developed industrial ­societies that is focused less on the ­traditional European arts than on the technical possibilities of modeling reproducible pictures and montages. That can’t happen without conflict, of course. Especially when one considers the semantic foundation of the high concept of art. The innovative and new use of images is always accompanied by iconoclasm and dramatic struggles, ­especially when these images are based on shifting and transformational appropriations. Then the legitimacy of the images and their accompanying m ­ ethods become an object of heated discussion. However, one can also read these ­conflicts differently: as prototypical and type-forming breaks in the poetic and theoretical stimulation of an artistic ­development that aims at a changeable, conflict-laden relationship between ­author and artwork, production and ­reception. These breaks are marked by iconoclasm, censorship, and the prohibition of images, as well as regulations, prescriptions, and aesthetics that cement dogmas – i.e. by the arts being c­ ontrolled from the outside and having to show strict allegiance towards an untouched original. The breaks appear as art ­historical or artistic markings, which we need in order to grasp the power of ­images both conceptually and through

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that strategically re-shapes matter, there is generally no differentiation between invention and appropriation, transformation and creation. You might call it postmodern or not, but in any case that concept heightens the awareness of the creative force of everyday, common, continually functioning perception, as it operates within our society of technical image media. We are all described and defined in part by media circulation. None of us, however, represent passive instances or are simply victims

of the media. We activate the media’s effect, deform it, and even manipulate it. That is precisely why Schirner depends on existing images that have sunk into our collective unconscious with almost mythical power. Those images have an implicit effect. What Schirner’s art of rearranging pictures in our mind achieves is an explanation of images that exist inside us, becoming tangible, ­objectified and attaining a playful presence. Haven’t I seen this picture before? Oh, this must be this one... or that one. Thus one refers to a world of mediasaturated image consciousness. Without the transformational creative appropriation of Schirner and others, there would be no representation of these existing inner images.


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lived experience. The meaning of ­pictures is how they are used in society. That is how one could apply Wittgenstein’s theory of language use to visual theory. The rule also applies to pictures that they cannot be dissolved in a single language game; rather, there are many different visual forms and approaches. Schirner’s work suggests the following diagnosis: The creative contribution of the viewer has to be properly re-assessed, also in terms of the consequences of the images’ use in the public sphere. ­Pictures have become forms of public media, and a discussion of images needs to recognize their ability to shape the public discourse. Artists who on the strength of the fame of their images – i.e. genuine works of invention – belong to the sphere of strictly public pictures, are the kind of artists who include existing ­pictures from the world of everyday communication in their images. In a strange way, against a backdrop of conflict between E and U, instances of image protection/image worship and iconoclasm/image conflict are reversed. The supposed loving attention to the protection of images refers to an ahistorical, dogmatic pool of works. In ­contrast, an iconoclasm that deforms, shifts and compresses pictures actually contains a principle that takes images seriously. Michael Schirner’s transformative adaptations make images come alive by turning slumbering, hidden, and ­implicit mechanisms into a game of ­public perception. To do so, he intervenes in pictures. These interventions are creative, but not in the sense of e­ stablishing a new and expanded d ­efinition of ­authorship, but in that the reception itself becomes visible and tangible as a genuinely creative contribution.

then Schirner’s adaptations such as BYE BYE can be seen as completely independent, fundamentally creative works. The state of affairs can be summarized as follows. The twentieth century has integrated the viewer as a productive, even creative authority into the work itself. The focus has shifted from the work to the process, and from the ­author’s claim to the effects of the ­medium. Creating now mainly involves staging, arranging, editing, and repeatedly treating new subjects. The balance of power has shifted, the disposition has changed. The privileged, ontologically set position of an artist who stands ­hierarchically and authoritatively above all processes as a genuine and original inventor is outdated. Art-without-artworks and art-without-artists are crucial concepts for describing the artistic ­ achievements of the twentieth century. The pitch has been opened and the game can begin can begin, again and again. New controversies are looming on the horizon – luckily, and contrary to all dogmatic longing for stagnation and set definitions.  •

All images © Michael Schirner In order of appearance: Crowds on the Berlin Wall, 1985 - 2011 Tortured Iraqi prisoner with hood, 1985 - 2011 Naked Vietnamese child fleeding after a napalm attack, 1985 - 2011 Marilyn Monroe poised over a subway air-shaft, 1985 - 2011 Albert Einstein sticking his tongue out, 1985 - 2011 Wreckage of the World Trade Center, 1985 - 2011 Portrait of Che Guevara, 1985 – 2011 Michael Schirner (b. 1941, Germany) is an artist, a communication designer and a professor at the University of Arts and Design/ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany, the Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan and at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, China. He is Honorary Professor of the University of the Arts in Bremen, Germany and Director of the Schirner Zang Institute of Art and Media GmbH in Berlin, Germany. Committed to overcoming the boundaries between art and advertising, he has greatly influenced and radicalized the advertising world. His conceptual works include painting, photography, media art, installation and performances. His works of the series BYE BYE have been exhibited at the Haus der Photographie in the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg, C/O Gallery in Berlin etc. Schirner currently lives and works in both Berlin and Beijing.

The creativity of shifting forms of appropriation, achieved by media strategists and by us all as objects and subjects of the media-saturated sphere of social communication, can be detected just as much in the reversal of supposed image worship into image destruction as in the denial of the creative potential of reception, re-makes, cover versions and so on. If reception has become the true creative position within the arts, as an analysis of the development of not only fine arts and their related theories throughout the twentieth century would demonstrate,

Hans Ulrich Reck (b. 1953, Switzerland) is a philosopher, art historian, curator and lecturer. Since 1995 he has been Professor of Art History in a Media Context at the Academy of Media Arts in Cologne. He previously held the chair of Communication Theory at the Academy of Applied Art in Vienna. Reck has published a number of essays and books, including The Myth of Media Art. The Aesthetics of the Techno/ Imaginary and an *Art Theory of Virtual Realities (2007).

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Alex Prager Compulsion


Alex Prager

portfolio text

Eye and Artifice by Jörg Colberg In 2007 Harper’s Magazine published ‘The ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism’, by Jonathan Lethem. At the end of the essay the author provides a key, naming “the source of every line I stole, warped, and cobbled together as I ‘wrote’ (ex­ cept, alas, those sources I forgot along the way).” In a recent interview with Rhizome, Lethem dove deeper into the subject matter, talking about originality and influence, which, as it turns out, are related to accessibility as well. ‘The fact is,’ he noted, ‘fiction is made up of refer­

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ence. […] I’m not really interested in worrying about divisions of originality versus sourcing or appropriations. I’m interested in the authentic, vivid, re­ markable, and intimate. I want to feel the grain of another person’s intelligence and voice and expressivity and their own version of this kind of helpless intensity that they feel in the face of existence.’ Lethem spoke of originality as some­ thing ’that it just feels intensely real and persuasive and necessary. Personal. Not borrowed in a pointless way.’ ›


We need to read and understand ­Jonathan Lethem before we can make statements about the state of, well, art in this day and age. In the visual arts, the topic of originality has moved center stage – to a large part because the inter­ net is, if anything, a medium ideal for visuals, images and video clips alike. We now literally have access to if not every­ thing that was ever made at least to a rather significant fraction of it – without even having to leave the house. Visuals surround us and inform our own ideas and thinking, consciously and subcon­ sciously. We have become incredibly adept at navigating this world, knowing how to react to images since without that capacity we would be lost at sea – drown­ ing in a flood of images and videos.

The key here, of course, is that while these influences or visual echoes seem obvious, they are, to use Lethem’s words ‘not borrowed in a pointless way’. As a matter of fact, I would not even use the word ‘borrow’. Instead, I prefer the ­simple ‘use’ – much like one uses certain phrases (or maybe tropes or ideas or fragments or short phrases) to write. This is, in a nutshell, how large parts of contemporary staged narrative photo­ graphy operate: the focus is on that with which you are intimately familiar. But it is not shown. It is alluded to in ways that make one’s brain’s synapses fire up, hav­ ing us pleasantly recognize what we see, while, at the same time, seeing some­ thing new or something different: we are familiar with something new.

Alex Prager’s work, including Compulsion, has the effect of reminding most viewers of something or somebody else. For example, MoMA curator Roxana Marcoci noted that ‘it reminds me of silent movies – there is something preg­ nant, about to happen, a mix of desire and angst.’ The press release by Michael Hoppen Gallery names photographers Weegee and Enrique Metinides as inspi­ ration and references the movies Metropolis and Un Chien Andalou.

It is interesting to see this mechanism operate in a visual art from. In music or literature it works in different ways. Photo­graphy is probably the art form that struggles the most with making it work, because seeing works differently than hearing or reading. You might hear the influences of some earlier composers in a piece of music, but you file them away in different ways to how you ­approach visual influences or quotes. In Compulsion Prager adds the crucial as­

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↙ Film Still # 1 © Alex Prager, courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery. ↘ Film Still # 5 © Alex Prager, courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery.

Things feel familiar, but they are not.


These photographs are not just about seeing, they are about seeing again.

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To create her work, Prager casts a wide net of influences. There are, of course, the usual postmodern suspects or ­Hollywood movies. But for Compulsion, there is a wider range. As we have ­already seen, the images of the eyes are well-known visual tropes. There is more. One photograph shows a woman hanging high up on a pylon against a very blue (Californian?) sky. For maximum contrast, her hair is flaming red, as is her shirt. Mexican photo­grapher Enrique Metinides pro­ duced earlier variants of this image – in one, the lifeless body of an electrocuted worker is seen hanging at the top of an electricity pole. In ­another, a series of photographs, various people are climbing on a pylon to c­ onvince someone not to jump. These depicted events were abso­ lutely real. Prager’s, of course, are not. They are elaborately staged. But to argue about real or not misses the point as we will see later. Another one of Prager’s photograph shows a house on fire, set in a somewhat odd location, with a sliver of the moon in the corner of the image. Why this house might be on fire we are not told. There are no firefighters, there are no people. The reference here is a photograph by Joel Sternfeld entitled McLean,Virginia

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pect of us dealing with imagery we have seen before by having photographs of eyes as part of the series. The eyes are used as a reference to what is happening, much in the same way that in later ­Francis Bacon paintings, there would be arrows literally pointing out certain ­aspects of the strange world on view to guide the viewer’s eye and inject move­ ment into the frame. These photographs are not just about seeing, they are about seeing again. However, unlike Bacon’s arrows, Prager’s eyes offer more than the symbolic cue to look and the ironic, selfconscious reminder that we have seen this before. The image of the eye itself is a visual trope we are familiar with from all kinds of circumstances. I am remind­ ed of the intro of a German TV crime show, for example, which would rely on just showing the eyes of someone look­ ing left and right, before painting a bull­ seye over one. In terms of photography, there is, for example, Lee Friedlander’s Washington, DC (1962), part of a series of photographs depicting TV sets. In Washington, DC, the TV screen only shows an eye. Even though the eye can­ not literally see out of the TV set, it still makes the viewer think that it is not her watching TV, it is someone in the TV watching her.


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December 1978. Sternfeld’s image is more complex. The building in the middle ground is a farm stand selling pumpkins. In the background, a house is on fire, and one can see firefighters trying to put the fire out – except for one, who is trying to decide which pumpkin to pick. This could not possibly be a real event – why would there be time to pick a pumpkin when there is a house on fire? But it is a real event – the house was set on fire by the fire department, to be used as an ex­ ercise. Sternfeld’s image thus bears traces of postmodernism, while being documentary in nature. The photograph is the result of a staging, but not for the camera, but a staging nevertheless. Prager’s burning house clearly references Sternfeld’s, but does so by doing away with anything you might consider orna­ mental. We are reminded of the most relevant fact of Sternfeld’s photograph: there is a house on fire.

Unlike large parts of postmodern photo­ graphy, these images avoid being overtly conceptual. Instead, they tap into what we prefer to think of as guilty pleasures. They are guilty pleasures in more ways than one: Not only does the artist ­produce images that offers a visual lush­ ness beyond that which might seem strictly necessary (things are often just a tad too colourful, borrowing as heavy from advertizing as from the ‘visually remastered’ looks of re-released Holly­ wood movies), the photographs also openly play with their visual references. As viewers, we are turned into children in a visual candy store. We know we shouldn’t, but we must indulge. •

In both these cases, Prager’s photo­ graphs, while clearly referencing earlier work, operate not against their predeces­ sors, but against what we remember. I, for one, certainly remembered Stern­ feld’s photograph not as McLean, ­Virginia December 1978, but as ‘the photo with the burning building’, and that is what I looked for on my com­ puter. In much the same way, I ended up looking for Metinides’ photographs. This is exactly why I was comparing the eyes with Bacon’s arrows: The arrows in the paintings point at some detail, but not at everything. In much the same way, we tend to remember photographs not for everything contained in the frame, but for the most poignant detail.

All images © Alex Prager, courtesy of Michael Hoppen Contemporary In order of appearance: 10:58am Bunker Hill and Eye #7, 2012 1:18pm Silverlake Drive and Eye #2, 2012 11:45pm Griffith Park and Eye #4, 2012 4:29pm Van Nuys and Eye #8, 2012 3:56am Milwood Ave and Eye #1, 2012 2pm Interstate 110 and Eye #6, 2012 4:01pm Sun Valley and Eye #3, 2012 3:14pm Pacific Ocean and Eye #9, 2012 3:32pm Coldwater Canyon and Eye #5, 2012

Prager’s photographs feel real because they are familiar, and because they refer­ ence something that we feel is real. At the same time, they also feel not real, they feel unreal. Now well over a decade into the twenty-first Century, we are very adept at reading images, at under­ standing that somebody might want something from us. Prager’s photo­ graphs play with this part of our ­reactions to them, too, by refusing to offer a clear message, a clear something that indicates in what way we might get ­manipulated. We recognize the artifice, but we don’t recognize the purpose that we think must be there. Things feel ­familiar, but they are not.

Alex Prager (b. 1979, United States) became interested in art in her adolescence and began to focus on photography in her early twenties. Her nomadic upbringing saw her dividing her time between Florida, California and Switzerland without ever settling down long enough in any one place for a formal education. She eschewed art school and began taking photographs on her own, teaching herself about equipment and lighting through trial and error. Prager has since contributed to a number of publications including The New York Times Magazine, Vogue, W, New York Magazine, Dazed and i-D. Her first museum show was the New Photography group exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, while the most recent was State of the Art – New Contemporary Photography at NRW – Forum in Düsseldorf. She lives and works in Los Angeles. Jörg Colberg (b.1968, Germany) is the founder and editor of Conscientious, a widely read weblog dedicated to contemporary fine-art photography. He is a faculty member of the International Limited-Residency MFA Photography Programme at Hartford Art School (Northampton, MA). His writings have appeared in international photography magazines. Jörg Colberg has contributed introductory essays to monographs by various photographers.

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Taysir Batniji Watchtowers


Taysir Batniji

portfolio text

Between the lines by Michket Krifa

Invariably, when we look at representations of Palestine, we find an iconographic tonality, built up over the years, of the same redundant images, fixed in our collective imaginations as clichĂŠs. Often they only consist of a by-nowmythological form of the figure of the Palestinian and in general, a visual simplification of his or her living conditions and geographical environment. This iconography has managed to banish from our imaginations the fact that above all, the Palestinians aspire to some semblance of normal life, to the banality of the everyday. They are not an

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abstraction to be used in the division of a country into tiny sub-territories. They do not only exist at the individual scale, although their experiences are framed by particular circumstances, and live in the places and typographies marked by the unfolding of their own stories. Because these images are repetitive and simplistic, they have helped to raise awareness of the situation, and have contributed to the emergence of a different form of representation among Palestinian artists and photographers. The 1980s were characterized by the emergence of


numerous Palestinian photo reporters working for press agencies or the ­Palestinian press, or even as freelancers. Their views ‘from the inside’ have g­ reatly contributed to providing some nuance and refining the complexity of the situation. They have also ­allowed us to get to know other aspects of this reality, and to go to places where westerners could not ­venture. However, some of them have gradually turned away from the immediacy of reportage or illustrating events, and have turned even more towards the documentary form or exploring the ­visual arts while questioning the real capacities of representation. Taysir Batniji, who never developed a photojournalistic approach, is one of these multidisciplinary Palestinian a­ rtists and one of the most talented of his generation. He has often favoured video and photography in his art works, since they are media par excellence of mobility and transmission. As he is fond of putting it, his work is done in ‘the in-between time’, a creative space that he defines as between his regular trips back and forth between his native city of Gaza and Paris, where he has lived since 1994. His work also develops around the hazards that have prevented his many attempts to maintain this flow of comings and goings. Absence, obstacles and shortages are also creative raw material for him: ‘My projects must take form with the imperatives and the temporal and spatial obstacles connected with my country’s situation, with which I’m c­ ontinually confronted as a Palestinian. Rather than submitting to them, I integrate them.’ In his work as a whole, his regard distances itself from the immediate impact of the political events ­characterizing his country. He prefers an anti-spectacular form of documentation, showing day-to-day Palestinian reality, bringing to it a form of subjectivity ­insofar as he is simultaneously actor and witness.

In Under the Gaza Sky [Sous le ciel de Gaza], Taysir Batniji approaches his ­native city by means of an intimate journal composed of illustrated poetic ­sequences. In its five chapters, he evokes this space of freedom and escape in la mer, his urban landscape in la ville, ­moments with his family and close friends in chez moi, fathers in les pères and in la frontière, Rafah, the unique ­passage between the Palestinian and Egyptian borders, a space of waiting and of transit. The choice of images for this series, essentially taken from his ­personal archives, was inspired by homesickness. Unable to return to Gaza for more than two years, Taysir saw his prospects of return looking increasingly bleak, giving these personal photos an inestimable value. They make up the memory of what he has lived, the witness of ­momentary flashes of humour, creating a narrative universe dominated by nostalgia and melancholy. With professed subjectivity, Taysir speaks of this series of images as a low period in which he felt he was both the author and the subject of his photographs. In these photos where the private and the public spheres meet, Taysir demonstrates with finesse that identity is not only defined by the political element, but also by the representation of one’s intimate world.

Since displacement, splitting up of ­territories and the checkpoints are the inherent preoccupations affecting ­Palestinian daily life and mobility, he is interested in the processes that the checkpoints of one Palestinian territory share with another, or that a national boundary or continent share with ­another, that is: waiting, and mobility, or its opposite, obstacles.

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Exploring the visual arts while questioning the real capacities of representation.


ence – two conditions inherent to the status and geographical, political and cultural conditions of being ‘Palestinian’. The ensemble constitutes a kind of visual personal archive, serving a memory that feeds itself with the distance and the fracture that comes with exile.

Taysir’s photographic work has evolved as a kind of intimate journal where he keeps both moments imprinted with subjectivity and simple statements of fact, with a particular attention to the human dimension. Moments of experienced intimacy mix with the traces of his travels and transits, as well as accounts or documents gathered in his personal research. Altogether his work has a ­double perspective, that of movement (mobility whether chosen or forced, ­mobility controlled in every way, and obstacles to mobility) and that of the reinforcement of ‘memory’ by the documentation of intimate traces of experi-

The mimetic and referential effect no longer serves the question of objectivity.

← ↖ Fathers, 2006 © Taysir Batniji

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Nonetheless, the reference claimed to the Bechers’ work gives his installation a new meaning situated outside of the desire for objectivity: ‘I wanted to create an illusion,

taysir batniji

This intimacy of subject matter is also in the series Fathers [Pères], an approach that is both documentary and very precise visually. Taysir Batniji explores filial love and transmission here through a kind of inventory of the photographs hung on the walls of businesses, cafés or workshops, far from the redundant and all-too-common depictions of Gaza as an ‘open-air prison’. These photos, hung in the midst of an accumulation of disparate objects, speak of commerce and thus of exchange, of heritage and thus of the past and of continuity. It is a kind of homage to ancestry and to transmission, in order to perpetuate the place, the scars left by life and individuals’ personal stories.

The photographic series Watchtowers [Miradors] testifies to the systematic ­observation of the Palestinian population by the Israeli army, monitoring their movements even inside their own territory. These ugly observation posts blight the entire Palestinian landscape. The Watchtowers series had a long maturation, as Taysir thought about it for a long time, and was only finished in 2008. The idea for this project came to him while visiting a retrospective exhibition of Bernd and Hilla Becher at the Centre Pompidou in 2004. He saw a resemblance between the water towers and industrial-heritage factories – remnants of pre-war Germany’s industrial might – and the Israeli watch towers, a document of Israel’s current military power. While the Bechers were motivated by the concern to archive a vanishing architecture of the past, thus voluntarily or involuntarily creating a feeling of nostalgia, Taysir’s approach relies on the will to document and to archive the marks of an oppressive architecture taking place in the present. Since as a citizen of Gaza he could neither travel to the West Bank nor even leave Gaza at that time (the border at Rafah had been closed for over a year), he asked a Palestinian photo­grapher to take photos for him. What was at stake was not quality in a strictly photographic sense, but the documentary value of the image and its conceptualization as part of an ensemble which would give it meaning and would make a work conceived as intentionally referential. Like the Bechers, he was ­attached to the idea of setting up a cold and neutral inventory of the typology of these buildings. Just like them, he ­wanted black-and-white frontal images without any attempt at aestheticization. The definitive size, printed in small ­format, and the imitation of the arrangement by category are also similar.


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like a Trojan Horse, so that at first the spectator viewing these photos thinks he or she knows who took them. But looking closer, you quickly see that you’re not looking at the advanced technology of the German photographers, and they’re certainly not water towers. You can see plainly how very dangerous it was to shoot these pictures (since I was born in Gaza, I’m not allowed to go to the West Bank, so I delegated the responsibility to another Palestinian photographer): out of focus, blurred by movement, clumsily framed, imperfectly lit...You can’t install the heavy equipment the Bechers had, wait several days for the ideal light, or take the time to set up the shot. It was impossible to make them aesthetic. There’s no way to view these functional military constructions as sculptures or even as heritage,’ explains Taysir in his statement.

In the course of his artistic pursuits, ­Taysir has developed an approach of deconstructing an iconography perpetuated by the media, by producing works revealing personal points of view even more and a reality that is differently richer and more complex, while analyzing the ­various matters at stake in their representation. Although often engaged, his work is above all conceived and worked out in the function of its singular and yet diverse sensitivity, where politics, ethics, and ­aesthetics combine. The richness and subtlety of artistic forms has allowed ­Taysir Batniji to cross the marked boundaries of the artistic world, well beyond its identifying or national characteristics. Above all, his approach and his view aim to deconstruct the myths, in order to ­develop other forms of interpretation of the real in his various works, which help to enrich our imaginations. •

As a result, the reference claimed to the Becher project serves to support the critical view and the interpretation of the work. The semantic diversion of its objective inventory style à la Becher in these watchtowers cannot mask even the meaning of this compilation. The exercise ­becomes the principal instrument of the work’s message: the denunciation of a systematic occupation that disfigures the landscape and the daily lives of Palestinians, while erecting monuments with the explicit purpose of putting the day-to-day lives and movements of an entire people under surveillance and control. The ­objective and minimalist documentary form they share only accentuates the ­discrepancy between what could be a simple reference to the Bechers’ photographs of industrial architecture and the portrayal of an invasive and systematic system of control. The presentation of the 26 photos­of Watchtowers as a group reminds us of the military context of the occupation of the Palestinian territories. In this case, the mimetic and referential effect no longer serves the question of objectivity, but conveys a point of view that Taysir has subtly introduced. Far from conferring the patrimonial character of the Bechers’ approach, Taysir’s documentation and inventory is on the contrary a condemnation and a warning of the proliferation of these observation towers, which even infiltrate the heart of towns and villages and the lives of each and every one of their habitants.

All images © Taysir Batniji Taysir Batniji (b. 1966, Gaza) is an interdisciplinary visual artist who divides his time between France and Palestine, developing a practice including drawing, painting, installation and performance often closely related to his heritage. Since 2001 Batniji has focused on photography and video. He has participated in numerous international exhibitions in Europe and beyond, including Untitled (12th Istanbul Biennial), Future of a Promise, a collateral event of the 54th Venice Biennale and Seeing is Believing, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin and RAY 2012 Fotografieprojekte Frankfurt/Rhein-Main. Taysir Batniji is represented by Galerie Sfeir-Semler, Hamburg & Beirut and Galerie Eric Dupont, Paris. Michket Krifa (b. 1960, Tunisia) is an independent curator, author and consultant for visual arts in the Middle East and Africa. A curator of several exhibitions, she has been the artistic director of the 8th and 9th Bamako Encounters, African Biennial of Photography since 2009. Krifa has written many essays and articles on photography and has edited books and catalogues. Together with Rose Issa she edited the volume Arab Photography Now (2011). She lives and works in Paris.

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Foam enables people all over the world to experience and ­enjoy photography, whether it’s at our museum in Amsterdam, on the w ­ ebsite, via our internationally ­distributed magazine or in our E ­ ditions department. The heart of Foam is located in the centre of Amsterdam, in the museum on the K ­ eizersgracht. Here we schedule a varied programme of exhibitions including world-famous photographers as well as young or undiscovered talent. Large-scale exhibitions alternate with small, quickly changing shows. We also organise a dynamic programme of lectures, discussions, guided tours, workshops and special events. Open daily 10:00 – 18:00, Thu⁄Fri 10:00 – 21:00


foam magazine # 31 ref. Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall depart Mizuno Gallery en route to l’Ermitage Hotel, January 16, 1983, Beverly Hills, California © Ron Galella

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Ron Galella Paparazzo Extraordinaire! 8 June – 22 August

The exhibition features photos of stars including Mick Jagger, Jackie Onassis, Greta Garbo, Brigitte Bardot, Marlon Brando, Andy Warhol, Sean Penn, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Penélope Cruz and many more. His photographs are shown in ­exhibitions worldwide and are widely published in book form. Although Galella did not invent the term paparazzi (Italian for ‘buzzing mosquito’), he is the personification of the word. He redefined the relationship between ­celebrity and photographer. Jackie Onassis clearly dreaded the cheeky photo­ grapher, but other stars were glad to see him or were resigned to his presence. They realised that Ron Galella was a crucial link in stars’ popularity, satisfying the general public’s voyeurism and stimulating magazine sales. The exhibition has been curated by Gerardo Mosquera, PHotoEspaña / La Fábrica, Madrid, and has been made possible with the help of C/O Berlin and Galerie Wouter van Leeuwen, Amsterdam. •

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This summer Foam will present a major exhibition on the work of Ron Galella, the pioneer of paparazzi photography. The immediacy of his carefully composed photo­ graphs provided the stream of startling new material needed to feed the craving of the sensationalist press. Galella was born in 1931 in the Bronx and began his career as a photographer in the air force. In his early twenties he moved to Los Angeles and trained as a photo journalist. In his free time he photographed the stars arriving at film premieres and sold his photos to the National Enquirer and Fotoplay. In addition to his spontaneous paparazzi photographs, Galella took staged photographs, commissioned by Time, Rolling Stone, VOGUE and Vanity Fair.


Foam 3h: Nina Poppe Ama 11 May – 27 June 2012

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Photographer Nina Poppe (1979, Germany) has spent a significant amount of time together with the Ama, the legendary fisherwomen of the Japanese island of Ise-Shima, who dive for abalone without breathing equipment in water that is up to thirty metres deep. Abalone are a high-value delicacy. The diving is dangerous and tiring, yet the divers often continue to practise their trade into old age. But a big shift is occurring within the centuries-old tradition; young women increasingly choose for life in the cities instead of diving. The abalone are becoming scarcer too, due to rising water temperatures. While earlier photo reportages about the Ama concentrated on the diving itself, Poppe’s work emphasises their female-led community.  •

Ama, 2011 © Nina Poppe

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Book Cam © Onorato & Krebs

Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs Light of Other Days 8 June – 22 August The Swiss duo Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs (1979) are viewed by many as one of the most promising teams in contemporary photography. Since 2003 the pair have worked on a variety of projects at the cutting edge of photography, sculpture and installation art. Their work provides intelligent and often ironic commentary on the history of photography, the nature of photos, how cameras operate and the role of the photographer. Few subjects remain untouched in their complex yet highly accessible work where reality collides with fiction and humour converges with seriousness. Foam is the first museum in the Netherlands to organize an exhibition of work by Onorato & Krebs, presenting new work and objects from • previous projects.

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Petra Noordkamp La Madre Photographer

Erik Kessels Album Beauty

29 June – 2 September 2012

Album Beauty is an ode to the vanishing era of the photo album. Once commonplace in every home, the photo album has been replaced in the digital age by the storage of images online and on hard drives, testament to the once-universal appeal of documenting and displaying the mundane. Usually a repository of family history, they tended to repre­ sent a manufactured family as edited for display. Albums spoke of birth, death, beauty, sexuality, pride, happiness, youth, competition, exploration, complicity and friendship. Numerous anonymous stories from all over the world will be told in this exhibition curated by Erik Kessels. •

29 June – 14 October

Photographer Petra Noordkamp (1967, the Netherlands) shows her most recent work with the project La Madre. The inspiration for the exhibition was Noordkamp’s short affair in the mid-1990s with Emilio Quaroni, son of the well-known Italian architect and urban planner Ludovico Quaroni. After her relationship with Emilio had ended, Noordkamp discovered in 2001 that Emilio had murdered his own mother that same year. In 2009 she visited Sicily for her photo project Cinecittà, and there encountered the modernistic La Chiesa Madre, an extraordinary, white spherical church, designed by Ludovico Quaroni, Emilio’s father. This provided her with an opportunity to finally do something creatively with the violent story of Emilio's matricide.  •

untitled © Album Beauty

Foam Paul Huf Award Alex Prager

film stills La Madre, 2012 © Petra Noordkamp

31 August – 14 October 2012 On 13 March Alex Prager (1979, USA) was chosen by an international jury as the winner of the Foam Paul Huf Award 2012, an annual prize given to a photo­ graphy talent under the age of 35. The prize brings € 20,000 and an exhibition in Foam Amsterdam. The jury found that Prager’s work ‘draws brilliantly on different but complementary threads in the photo­ graphic tradition, but nevertheless results in a fresh and distinct voice in photography today. (...) Her work is original, intelligent and seductive.’ • 200


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Colophon Issue #31, Summer 2012 Editor-in-chief Marloes Krijnen Creative Director Pjotr de Jong (Vandejong) Editors Marcel Feil, Pjotr de Jong, Elisa Medde, Marloes Krijnen Managing Editor Elisa Medde Magazine Manager Niek van Lonkhuijzen Project Management Betty Man, Femke Papma Communication Intern Rosiane Kuijper

foam magazine # 31 ref.

Art Director Hamid Sallali (Vandejong) Design & Layout Hamid Sallali, Maarten Kanters (Vandejong) Typography Maarten Kanters (Vandejong) Contributing Photographers and Artists Taysir Batniji, Viktoria Binschtok, Stan Douglas, Hisaji Hara, Sherrie Levine, Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs, Alex Prager, Ed Ruscha, Michael Schirner, Oliver Sieber Cover Photograph 3:14pm Pacific Ocean, 2012 © Alex Prager, courtesy of Michael Hoppen Contemporary. Contributing Writers Tim Clark, Jörg Colberg, Marcel Feil, Kay Heymer, Michket Krifa, Kevin Moore, Sean O’Toole, Hans Ulrich Reck, Aaron Schuman, Markus Weckesser, Sylvia Wolf

Lithography & Printing Lecturis Kalverstraat 72 5642 CJ Eindhoven -NL Binding Binderij Hexspoor Ladonkseweg 7 5281 RN Boxtel – NL Paper Igepa Nederland B.V. De Geer 10 4004 LT Tiel - NL Editorial Address Foam Magazine Keizersgracht 609 1017 DS Amsterdam – NL T +31 20 551 65 00 F +31 20 551 65 01 editors@foam.org Operations Manager / Advertising Betty Man Foam Magazine PO Box 92292 1090 AG Amsterdam – NL T +31 20 462 20 62 F +31 20 462 20 60 betty@foam.org Subscriptions Hexspoor Support Center Ladonkseweg 9 5281 RN Boxtel – NL T +31 41 163 34 71 subscription@foam.org Subscriptions include 4 issues per year € 70,– excluding postage Students and Club Foam members receive 20% discount Single issue € 19,50 Back issues (# 2 – 29) € 12,50 Excluding postage Foam Magazine # 1 and #9 are out of print www.foam.org/webshop

Publisher Foam Magazine PO Box 92292 1090 AG Amsterdam – NL magazine@foam.org ISSN 1570-4874 ISBN 978-90-70516-26-0 © photographers, authors, Foam Magazine BV, Amsterdam, 2012. All photographs and illustration material is the copyright property of the photographers and /or their estates, and the publications in which they have been published. Every effort has been made to contact copyright holders. Any copyright holders we have been unable to reach or to whom inaccurate acknowledgement has been made are invited to contact the publishers at magazine@foam.org All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photo-copy, recording or otherwise without prior written permission of the publishers. Although the highest care is taken to make the information contained in Foam Magazine as accurate as possible, neither the publishers nor the authors can accept any responsibility for damage, of any nature, resulting from the use of this information.

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