Texte zur zeitgenössischen Fotografie und digitalen Bildkunst
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ongoing remarks, 1st episode (April-May 2003)

von Thomas Leuner

In ‘ongoing remarks‘ I briefly introduce current events in photography which seem worth mentioning to me. My remarks on these events are supposed to activate further discourse. To use the medium internet by this means, I have first informed all institutions mentioned in the article and have given them the opportunity to state. In this edition, only Rudolf Kicken has made use of it. See under 3.

1. the flight movement

Diedrich Diederichsen, pop theorist and professor at ‘März Universität‘, wrote about experimental film and its search for asylum in the forming arts in the ‘Tageszeitung‘ on April 16th, 03. The title was: ‘About the Tasks of Pictures‘. With this Diedrich Diederichsen linked to the video art boom and the change from ‘White Cube‘, the white showroom, to ‘Black Cube‘, the dark cinema. The ‘Documenta 11‘ (last year) shows this very clearly. The rooms were predominantly arranged with monitors (classical video art) or beamers (projection of classical cinematic art). The new video art thematically deals with ambitious projects which give themselves very documentary. From the esthetics, they clearly go back to 100 years of movie history. In the seventies such films would have been also shown at experminental film festivals. I regained this article by Diedrich Diedrichsen on an event at the ‘Münchener Stadtmuseum‘. It was printed on the program for the presentation of the films of Sharon Lockarts. This evening the collection Goetz presented some films of Sharon Lockarts that moved between the limits of film festival and forming art.

Remark: I think this idea of asylum (which is not quite new) is also productive for photography. There are parallels. For example: In the print media a narrative report photography has disappeared completely and has been replaced by illustration photography. Where are the people, the culture and its needs for this kind of photography left? Have they simply only disappeared? (This would be the position of the culture pessimist). Or do they reappear at a Jeff Walls, the staged photography or in the meager German documentary photography? What is the consequence of this evasion into the forming arts and art photography?

2. ‘Cross-Over‘ or, how to become an artist

The fashion photographer Jürgen Teller: Two exhibitions of his pictures insistently point, in how different ways a photographer can be presented in public.

At the beginning of the year Ute Eskildsen (leader of the photographic collection of the ‘Folkwang Museum Essen) presented the exhibition ‘Märchenstübl‘. Stations: ‘Museum Folkwang‘ and ‘Stadtmuseum München‘. In addition a catalogue containing an interview between Ute Eskildsen and Jürgen Teller was published.

My second exhibition with the title ‘zwei Schäuferle mit Kloß und eine Kinderportion Schnitzel mit Pommes Frites‘ was shown in the gallery ‘Contemporary Fine Arts‘, Berlin, June. There was also a catalogue available (Steidel publishing house).

For information about the gallery of Contemporary Fine Arts. The gallery replaces e.g. the present darling of the art scene, the young performancer and painter Jonathan Meese.

Remark: Jürgen Teller is, like Wolfgang Tillmanns, a successful fashion photographer of the middle-thirty generation. What worked with Tillmanns, the change (‘Cross-over‘) from pure applied photography to art, (in the meantime he is a professor at the ‘Städelschule‘ in Frankfurt), is attempted with Teller. The end is open.

Therefore, it is very informative to compare the two exhibition projects of Teller.

The title of the exhibition ‘Märchenstüberl‘ refers to new works of Jürgen Teller. They shall be autobiographical and reflect the photographer‘s struggle with his lower middle-class origin and his new father role. However, in the exhibition itself the concept was converted: A well-known young fashion photographer shall be introduced with his ‘best‘ works. All important photographs of the last years are collected: Both the smutty fashion pictures of e.g. Kate Moss, parts from ‘Märchenstüberl‘, ‘go-see‘ and new works about beauty queens. A real surprise is a video – as premiere. It shows Jürgen Teller in a conversation with the young models at his work during ‘go-see‘.

The exhibition is a mix of order works and personal (author-) photographs. That is perplexing. Actually, one does not really know why looking at such a conglomeration of pictures of this size that are only shown in parts. The claim of the exhibition organisator to give an overview of Teller’s pictures collides with the fact that he is not a famous photographer, yet, let alone a classic of photo history. The interview with the photogapher is not illuminating also. Jürgen Teller is a manual photographer completely, whose intellectual abilities seem clearly limited.

The art market professionals of Contemporary Fine Arts could not do with this conglomeration of photography. It was about to get Jürgen Teller into the area of the forming arts. Therefore, a clear image and a clearly defined series of selling cash pictures had to be found.

This claim was reached by a strict selection of photographs – most of them were from the fund of ‘Märchenstüberl‘. Additionally, greater prints and art market frames were chosen. As regards content any flat autobiographical telling structure is avoided and the pictures are introduced as a product of artistic phantasies. Something inexpressible shall inform, also. The title is cryptic but vulgar. In layout and selection the catalogue strictly signals ‘artist‘s book‘, of course without an interview. A new line of pictures is added: Teller has lightened stone formations in dripstone caves. Pictures resulted that provoke associations of sexual organs. The necessary pinch of eroticism is thus also contained. This marketing concept reminded me very much of the strategy for Jonathan Meese, genre ‘wild man of the lower middle-class‘. This concept seems absolutely to attract a specific collector- and art clientèle. Looking at Jürgen Teller‘s video ‘go-see‘, this concept could really work. It shows a plump, unshaved thirty years' one in his messed up studio, who is surrounded by girls at the twenty, wooing for his recognition as (softsex) models.

3. Fragile of Night - fallen?

The Swedish photographer Christer Strömholm reappears from sinking.

This year two exhibitions of his work were shown in Berlin: ‘Christer Strömholm, Lebenswerk und Fotoschule‘ at the ‘Willy Brandt Haus‘ (two catalogues) and ‘Christer Strömholm, An Hommage‘ at the ‘Galerie Kicken‘.

I personally estimate Christer Strömholm very much, for he is part of a photographic culture of the fifties that had developed a never again found radicalism in artistic language that was confronted with corresponding contents. Examples: William Klein, Ed van Elsken, Daido Moriyama a.o.

Compared to this, photographies e.g. of the ‘Becher-Schüler‘ and their following generation have an almost unbearable petty bourgeois flair – as to say a ‘Kohl-Ära‘ in photography.

However, Christer Strömholm has to be rediscovered today.

One can refer himself to the ‘Camera-Heft Nr. 9‘ dedicated to him in September 1980. The text by Allen Porter, the editor in those days, which was published in the art photography magazine ‘Camera‘ by the ‘Bucher-Verlag‘, might be the foundation of today's reception. As to say in brief: Christer Strömholm is the magical photographer of the post-war trauma. This processing of this trauma was formulated in the literature and theater of existentialism. In film it were the works of Alain Resnais and Igmar Bergmann, in literature those of Sartre. Directly, there are no comparable photographic works to Strömholm. Approvals can be found with Ed van Elsken and Shomei Tomatsu, thematic reference with Zdenke Tmej, ‘Abededa‘ (see: The book of 101 Books). How was this claim transformed in both institutions?

Excellent prints in large number hung at the ‘Willy-Brandt-Haus‘. The hand of photo editors was recognizable in selection and line up, who think in picture lines. Therefore all portraits were pulled together, then the children, the graphics etc. The catalogue followed the same principle. In consequence, this procedure is moving the motives completely into the foreground and differentiated statements become ‘flat clichés‘.

Remark: As a result of this procedure, a photographer of the fifties is introduced, who has taken pictures of all motives like the greats of his time: Brassai, Doisneau, Cartier-Bresson etc. In Strömholm’s pictures everything looks a little gloomier than in those of the easygoing Frenchmen. But this might be the ‘Swedish variant‘. It is not recognizable that Strömholm is a post-war photographer and has not got anything in common with the picture language of the thirties’s photo journalism, except the 35mm camera, the B/W film and Paris. The resettlement in existentialism seems to have dissolved in nothingness.

Why Christer Strömholm is castrated like that, is surely explainable. This has much to do with the Swedish culture and with the conservative social democracy’s idea of art. All things that had contrasted Strömholm’s life.

In contrast, the exhibition at ‘Kicken‘ gives an amazing turn. The ‘Hommage an Christer Strömholm‘ does not take place. Approximately 10 prints by Christer Strömholm are shown in the small entrance hall (Kicken II). Kicken I shows subjective photography of Otto Steinert. In this exhibition pictures by Christer Strömholm are integrated. There had been a short-term program patch. New title: Christer Strömholm, ‘A Hommage & More Subjective Photography‘.

Remark: The predominant element of Otto Steinert‘s subjective photography is to emphasize the graphic aspect of photography. So, attention was paid on the further processing of the pictures in the darkroom. Only by this (subjective – that is by mankind and not by an apparatus) treatment of the negative it became art. That is the program of Steinert in shortened form. Christer Strömholm has very carefully worked out his pictures in the darkroom, in which the processing was always in the service of the picture’s narrative. In consequence, after his participation in the first exhibition, he had dissociated himself from Otto Steinert’s subjective photography and his formalistic photography. But the title of the exhibition at Kicken is suggesting Strömholm as one of the subjective photographers around Otto Steinert. My first conclusion about the reason for the program change was: At present subjective photography is the purchase recommendation for collectors, allegedly it is still payable. On June 5th, for example, Dietrich Schneider-Henn auctioned ‘Otto Steinert + subjektive Fotografie‘ with 270 catalogue numbers in Munich. And: The most important aspect of Strömholm’s works, the existentialism, seems to be nothing for commercialization.

After I had informed the gallery Kicken about the contents of the report, Rudolf Kicken immediately requested a background conversation. ‘I was very shocked about the exhibition at the ‘Willy Brandt Haus‘. Actually, after this, we should have cancelled the Strömholm exhibition. We already had a single Strömholm exhibition 12 years ago in Cologne which had also shown clearly the aspect of existentialism. From this time on a very personal relation to Strömholm had developed, too. I therefore felt engaged not to cancel the exhibition. As a way out, the aspect of subjective photography in Strömholm’s work became obvious which has never been shown this way.‘

Result: What becomes clear now again – there is no institution in Berlin (museum or art society, foundation or others) that feels responsible for the contemporary photography and the reception of the medium.

© Thomas Leuner, May 2003


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