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PRIVATE 27 | GermanViews

Life Through A Lens

Peter Ustinov once said that the image is the most dangerous invention of modern time. Placed in front of a portrait, our personality wavers; we are torn between the notion of self and the way others perceives us as.

This path is as dangerous as the chemistry involved in dividing an atom. Today, photography – due to its capacity of faithfully reproducing our image – is becoming an important instrument to analyze the problematic of split personality perception.
Which genre is more apt to communicate such a divide? Fashion photography, with Horst P. Horst, Mario Testino, Mert Alas or Marcus Piggot, has always offered the surface of things, obsessed as it is by the need to always present a glamorized version of humanity. Advertising photography, with the more or less evident aim of communicating a specific message, uses multi-layered signs hidden in the folds of images that are highly aesthetic and artificial. Pop-culture, as movies, video clips and commercials, which by definition substitute content and substance with appearance, have definitely been influenced by photography.


With the arrival on the market of software’s that manipulate images digitally, we know that the camera lies! I remember an incident in which a graphic designer of a well-known fashion-magazine retouched the picture of a cover girl; unfortunately for him, he had forgotten to put back the girls belly button. Stephanie Seymour therefore came out looking like an alien. The viewers were obviously quite disturbed.

Many photographers, both fine art and commercial ones, often work with a team of assistants. They create sets based on story scripts with backgrounds, strobe lights, sync-flashes and all sorts of props they then end up recording on film.
No other medium can reveal the person/thing portrayed in such an honest, truthful, and brutal way!
Most photographers think their camera is an extension of their body, an organ and not simply a mechanical tool, to them the tool is a sight enhancer, a third eye. This issue of PRIVATE focuses on these photographers; it’s about disclosing their vision and the unique relationship they create with the subjects presented within the frame. Andreas Pein unveils, through his photographs, the multiple layers hidden below the surface, that additional depth only photography is able to reveal. “I think it’s much more important what a situation feels like than what it looks like!”

The following pages are filled with very private, subjective observations; as in Esther Levine’s strolls through Berlin, Peer Kugler’s impressions of Hamburg-St.Pauli or Christian Popkes’ trip to Helgoland, the only German offshore-island. All of them stride far away from the mere “image” of the subjects presented; they all capture a very specific mood. The notion of “subjective reportage” is particularly fitting for Claudia Janke’s work titled “My Walkway.” The subject matter is the space she lives in, her life, her neighbors, her walkway, triggered by the imminent demolishion before the house that she has been living in is demolished. In a strange way, after looking at her pictures one wouldn’t be able to identify the house when passing by in a car, but one still knows exactly how it felt like to be living there.

Some of the photographers gathered here are on a personal quest; they seek clues that will help them gain a deeper understanding of who they are and where they stand. Julia Baier is after moods, sounds and smells from her childhood; Jens Klein presents a remarkably intense account of Romania’s gypsy community, Georg Knoll and Fergus reveal to us an age group. They describe their generation conveying an atmosphere, a feeling rather than simply resorting to easy symbols. Georg Knoll shot “Euphoria” in the streets of Berlin, following the many colorful parades that unroll throughout the year, Fergus is able to capture and communicate to the viewer a sense of thoughtful happiness.

The photographer Hergen Schimpf is interested in portraying prominent German personalities from the show biz. Although the subject matter may seem superficial, a closer look will reveal that the reportage itself is an acute and well-studied piece of investigative journalism. Looking at these people’s eyes one can’t help but notice the weight they carry, the burden the “public image” imposes onto them is indeed visible. Peter Lustig (German for: Happy) a host of a children-show on German television isn’t at all such a happy person and the comedian Karl Dall is rather sad.

Just as the camera is able to create masks, it is capable to destroy them and to uncover what’s lying below the surface.
“How does it feel to have a mass grave on one’s doorstep”? As opposed to them being in some far away country as Rwanda, Sierra Leone or Bosnia? Andreas Herzau, in post 9/11 New York has been looking for an answer to these questions. To some extent, Wolf Böwig’s pictures provide an answer to these same queries. His photographs of Afghanistan, Chechnya or Rwanda are harsh and distressing, these images leave an impression in the viewers mind, they are a portrait of a misanthropic world. This photographer, as most shown here, is more interested in conveying a mood, an emotion a sense of proximity rather than blankly recording the details, the outer shell of his subject.
(by Robert Morat)


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