Originally Posted by medform-norm
Well, at that rate I better finish reading the essay on Renger-Patzsch that I pulled off the shelf last night. It will be interesting to open the dialogue to the artist's participation but I am certainly still interested in hearing your ideas, both about his work and about the larger topic in general (continental as opposed to US approaches to landscape). In an earlier post you mentioned:
I find the flip-flop of this relationship to be a great catalyst to making images. It seems to me that as a "stranger" I am freed to deal with the world wholly as plastic material. One of the privileges of being an American is that one does not have to leave the country or often even travel far to enter into this state of strangerhood.
...to people not familiar with this kind of environment, these images tell them something about the local architecture, whereas to me these are such familiar visuals, that I can only record them as a very personal statement about this ubiquitous mix of buildings. It's like seeing a personal portrait from someone you know initimately as opposed to seeing a portrait from an unknown person. You will tend to notice very different aspects of the image.
I like Kays photos a lot. There are plenty of other photographers to hit me with sublime rapture and attention-grabbing visual rhythms. Kay speaks in a quieter, more thoughtful voice.
I agree that it is perhaps easier to 'get' his photography if you know and live in the present European cultural landscape. I suspect most Americans would be suprised to learn how much more interesting Kays photographs are to look at than a typical modern European street view. I also suspect that part of Kay's motivation is to take a look at the world that we actually inhabit, rather than to try and squeeze it into a box left behind by the Romantics.
The Rhine series is that rare thing: photography that works better on the web than in traditional print, book or film form.
So Kay tickles my intellect. He makes me think, and ponder, and think again. It will be interesting to see if his motivation fits at all with my perception.
This is my undoubtly in places poor translation of what Kay said about his work.
"My photography runs along two separate lines:
1. an ongoing documentation of my hometown Düsseldorf, which should be as free of subjectivity as possible. That this is ultimately not possible, should not be discussed here, as it has already sufficiently been researched by Thomas Ruff.
2. Conceptual works, of which the themata may vary.
I will say something about my city photographs since most comments seem to focus on those.
What led me to make this series was a photo book by Stephen Shores, titled Uncommon Places. Shores documented his travels through the States in the seventies. What fascinated me was the then very average, but now extemely fascinating images from very run-of-the-mill everyday street corners, gas stations, supermarkets, parking lots etc etc. These images shew me an America that I didn't know then. I only knew glossy images of sky skrapers, grubby slums, boring suburbs, MacDonalds, etc. etc. Images as these have only catered to the clichee market, where the viewer does not experience anything new. Whereas Shores' images showed me the everyday public spaces, not these boring widely known highlights. These every day public spaces exist everywhere, but hardly anyone takes to the idea of photographing/documenting them, even if they tell us more about the culture of a society than the usual high gloss commercial calender pictures do.
When I look at contemporary photo books on Düsseldorf for sale in shops, I'm always shocked by the discrepancy between the presented showy image of my town and the real city. With my Düsseldorf series I strive (but never will achieve) to make some sort of honest portrait of what the city is really like. To convey a true-to-life image is perhaps impossible, but I think I will approach this reality more with my work than with the usual glossy pictures.
A few posters said to see a parallel between my work and that of the Düsseldorf school, specifically Gursky. I would like to keep my distance from that. Yes, I do use a large format camera and yes, I do photograph cityskapes, but I do it in a completely different way and manner. To me it is important that future viewers can identify the time period in which my work is made. A good criterium for dating photographs is often 'the car'. Gursky puts more value on simple graphics and a certain timelessness, this with an eye on his buyers.
The first commenter (Murray) spoke of an emptiness in my images. I would like to propose to exchange 'emptiness' with 'absence of a main subject'. I take great pleasure in achieving a kind of order in the chaotic cityscenes with my compositions. By controlled composing of the image I try to construct and suggest a connection between objects, that in reality have no relation to eachother whatsoever. In a lot of cases, the results are photos that have no real 'main subject' or 'main focal point', and therefore a certain emptiness or absence of subject. I think that I, by proceeding in this method, create images that are 'more open' to the viewer than images with a main subject and corresponding composition, who immediately direct the viewer in a certain direction of interpretation.'
Well, that's all for now. I'm glad people here are enjoying our conversation. I will wait to put in my own comment until new entries have put some distance between this translation and my own personal view on things.
Struan, I think you will find that your perception was not very far off the mark. You are a keen observer, it seems.
Very interesting, of all the photographers whose work I've seen, this work reminded me most of Stephen Shores, so now I see that's no coincidence. I don't particularly 'get' Shores' work either, but I definitely see the connection here. I am interested in the crossover between fine art and documentary photography, but I don't feel that the composition and subject need to leave an 'empty' feeling. Without making a glossy advertising image, I still seek to make images that help me as the viewer to understand and make connections with what I see. Probably just a fundamental difference in outlook. I feel like my photography helps me to understand and appreciate things I see by a distillation process, and helps me look at things that I wouldn't otherwise pay attention to. Based on Kay's response and Shores' images, this very distillation process at any level may violate their purpose, both aesthetic and perhaps ethical.
Tho my perception ( as a German) isn't asked here, I dare a remark anyway, because of this "typical German" thing above.
Originally Posted by medform-norm
These photos are impressing me, some are really great, they would not be so perfect with any other camera, and the first thing I thought was that some remind me strongly to Atget, but in general there must be a relationship the Stephen Shore's vision of places.
While Atget is strictly on the documentary side and cannot avoid so to say to make the magic and poetry of some urban places visible anyway, Stephen Shore is balanced differently, he is more on the personality side, he photographs places like people and makes the emotions visible which some places do evoke indeed.
To keep these places free of people can be part of the concept, it is the environment solely which is photographed and the photographer let's you intentionally alone with this place to let you feel it's impact on you .
There is nothing in these pics IMHO what could be called a "typical German style" and I still guess, what kinda subsumption could be meant at all with such a category ?
The remark about "trash photography " was annoying btw.
If one cannot get in contact with the vision behind the pics one should leave them alone and not dump them in any derisve category like "Trash Photography". Categories are intellectual diarhoea , seen from the artistical standpoint they are just another "bourgeois concept" !
Please tell this guy I like his photos, they are well thought and well done !
And thanks for sharing the link !
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Kay has sent me a second e-mail. I suppose he does read the replies, or he would not know what to respond to. The greetings from RFshootist must have reached him too. Here goes with another bit of my relentless and potholed translation.
(concerning the question of the print size of his work)
"I haven't had an exhibition yet and none is planned either. I would need a lot more material for a show about the city of Düsseldorf. I've been working with my Plaubel for only 1,5 year now and I simply don't have enough images to fill an entire exhibition (space) with work on this theme. Maybe we can discuss this again after another 4,5 year?
(my comment: if he goes on making work at this rate, he could fill up an entire MoMa if you ask me, unless his prints are tiny of course.)
(concerning the question of there being a specifically european, american 'visual language')
I think there might have been such tendencies before the existence of internet. Nowadays, the exchange of information through the web is so incredibly fast, that it will lead on a global level to a more general, comprehense 'visual language'. The viewer chooses whatever he likes.
As I see it, my work orients itself essentially more to Shores 'American' photography than to the rather severe 'german' Düsseldorfer-school type of photography. ('Severe' pertains to the 80-s work. The current matters of the Ruffclass are going in very different directions, see www.ruffklasse.de. I know some students of the Ruffclass and they have taken Ruff's resignation rather in a neutral manner. As a successor the students prefer someone not standing in the Becher-tradition.) (My comment: listen up people, here's a job opening!)
Of course I cannot deny a certain influence of the Becher-people on my photographs. I don't feel in the position to judge if this mixture of the two types of visual languages is either good or bad. There is the danger of a leveling of visual language to a generally accepted, not too high standard ->MacDonalds. On the other hand, this leveling offers talented people the oportunity to learn a lot faster, in the sense that they can learn from mistakes made or roads already trodden to extinction, that they can exchange experiences worldwide etc. etc. So on the whole, I see this more as a positive development."
This is, I must say, on of the strangest ways to participate in a thread, like playing a double in a tennis match single-handedly. Or, more morbid, like the puppet and the puppet master.
Well folks, I got around to writing my personal view on the matters. Prepare for some rambling.
With regards to the comments about 'typical' german/american/japanese photography, I've been doing some thinking and some reading (Walter Benjamin) in order to come with some sort of explanation of my use of the word 'typically german'.
1. When I say I find some photography 'typically' german or american or japanese, I mean in no way to suggest that all photography made by germans exhibits the same kind of typology. Far from it. I use the word as a kind of practical classification tool. When I see certain photographs, most of the times I can tell you whether they're made by a German, an American or a Japanese. This does not exclude the possibillity that there are photographs made by Germans that have a completely different look, or that there are photographs that have the 'typical German' look but are made by, say, a Vietnamese.
When I say 'typically XXX', I mean it exhibits a kind of style that I tend to encounter predominantly in this or that group of people born and raised in a specific country or region and culture. It is a nearly botanical use of the term, come to think of it. It's like saying that a plant species is predominantly or typically found on this soil and climate, not excluding it may be found elsewhere and that other plant species may be found alongside it on the same soil and climate.
Maybe I should extend my use of the word 'german' in that it can also include to denote work by people from the same "cultural space" (Kulturraum), but who happen to live in Austria or Switzerland. (I am in no way wanting to offend any Austrians or Swiss by this use of the word, it's just that I'm still feeling my way around in this field and am at a loss for the right words - this is all experimental, remember?).
2. In Walter Benjamin I found a paragraph where he speaks of the 'organisation of ones senses' (Sinneswahrnehmung). What a human being percieves through his senses is not only determined by nature, but also by history. The way our perception is organized may differ widely from one place in time (or space) to another. Easy example: a Greek statue of a god seen through the eyes of an ancient Greek is something completely different from the Greek statue as seen in the Victoria and Albert museum, - or as a replica in someone's garden. And it's not only the seeing that changes, all our senses are involved: sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch.
To Benjamin this 'organisation of the senses' is a collective thing. I take him to mean that an individual growing up in a certain community almost involuntarily acquires this way of perceiving and being in the world. (I'm not saying it's impossible for an individual to develop a way of seeing that differs from this).
I notice I find it hard to communicate the real world ramifications of this distinction that some may take as a cliche one. How to make it more real felt? As a Dutch person I encounter the world in a way that is very different from an American. I notice things differently and I notice different things. In every aspect of my being I am shaped by the landscape that surrounds me, the style of building, the way the light falls, the types of clouds typical to a coastal region, the horizon, the animals and plants that populate the environment, the traditions and history of my people, the way they think how a building should be related to its location, etc. etc. (In the German I would use the word 'Prägung' in this context, but I am at a loss how to translate it.)
Okay, good for you, you may say, but what does this have to do with german or american photography?
When I encounter a photo that I would identify as 'typically german', it means that to me this photo testifies of the culturally determined perception that belongs to an individual having grown up in a certain society/community. It bears the stamp of what it means to belong to this culture. Somehow I am aware of a distinction between the way the world appears to a Ggerman or to an American. In German architectural photography specifically, I notice a special awareness of space and light that I don't find (often) in American photography. When I put Shores work next to Kays, I see the similarities in motive, but the way Kay photographs a street corner is undoubtedly 'German' to me, as much as Shores is truly American. Kay is aware of buildings and their mass and volume in a way that I identify as German. Perhaps Kay himself is not even aware of that, as much as I am not aware of the extent to which I can be said to be 'typically Dutch'. (A case of not being able to jump over ones shadow.)
What's more, for me it's not even important to know whether or not Kay feels influenced by the Bechers school, since that which is typically German, is not something invented by the Bechers. The Bechers work is one instance of what it's like to photograph as a German. Even if there never would have been any Bechers, I could still identify Kays work as 'German'.
I don't know if my ramblings make any sense and I fear to have lost most readers halfway through the post, but I notice that it is indeed very hard to put into simple words what is so clear to me on a visual level. If it would be possible to communicate through any other means, believe me I would. I feel in the same position as renaissance sailors, coming back from journeys where they'd seen some kind of unknown animal or monster, and, having had no camera to capture it on film, had to rely on their more or less poorly developed verbal capacities to describe what they'd seen with their eyes. As much as them, I have no high expectancy of being believed. I must learn to live with it, either that or work on my literary technique.
A quickie: Shore photographed the streets. Kay photographs the buildings.
I don't know if this is a distinctive mark? Both have photographed streets AND buildings. Can you elaborate on your quickie?
Originally Posted by Struan Gray
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[QUOTE=Struan Gray]A quickie: Shore photographed the streets. Kay photographs the buildings.[/QUOTE
Another quickie :Uncommon PLACES was Shore's title.
A la recherche du temps perdu: www. bersac.de