Christin Müller
☰   Texts DE

Leaving the Still Image

How high, wide, and deep and how flexible is an image?

For many people photography is a window on the world: a frozen view of reality, confined to the rectangular area of a paper print or monitor. Yet artists have always been somewhat vexed by this reduction to a two-dimensional surface. They look behind the plane of the window and focus on question the how: How can an idea for an image be translated into a photograph? How do images confront us? What options for displaying an image arise from the array of materials, from the juxtaposition of analogue and digital photographs, film, projection, and performance? How can the limits of the medium be productively overstepped?

Since the invention of photography in the 1830s, camera technology and pictorial conventions have been on the move. For artists, the media revolutions associated with this are both a resource and a working surface—a means to reflect on our world of images, to question its foundations, and to transcend them. At the same time, the conditions of the medium are being negotiated and redefined by crossovers into performative realms and by taking over the mechanisms of cinema and video.1 How does our understanding of photography change once when it leaves the frame of the classical paper print behind, and the “photographic off” becomes part of the image?

This exhibition brings together attacks, some calm, some ferocious, on the camera’s task of recording the given and the found. In this sense it reflects on the extension of the surface, space, and temporal frame of photographic presentation and leaves behind the “great still image”.2

Expanding the field of vision
Photographers working with the pictorial panorama push against the limits of the image. They expand the picture space and look behind its narrowly defined edges. Ed Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip sets up a relationship between the width of his image and the length of the California boulevard. Moreover, he allows his panorama to stand complete in his presentation of the work. All the buildings on both sides of the street can be seen in the panorama. His recording was made in 1966 with a camera with an automatic release, which, mounted on a car, photographed the Los Angeles boulevard as he drove. Artist Barbara Probst puts no faith in this kind of completeness of uniform perspectives. Her Exposures (which she started in 2002) show a kaleidoscope of views of a situation she has selected and accords these views a certain ambiguity: each individual image shows just a single possibility of representation. In the next image, photographed from another perspective, the same setting can be interpreted in a completely different way. In Trisha Baga’s work Oasis (2016) the idea of the panoramic image and multiple perspectives is taken even further. Her installations are images poured into the exhibition space, in which a spread of objects merges with a superimposed threedimensional projection to create a surreal visual collage. Our eye is given almost no direction as to how to view this panorama. In passing, the artist annuls one of the paradigms of photography: when our eyes and bodies can move freely around her installation, allowed to wander in the sculptural and projected image space, the idea of the “decisive moment”, one of the dogmas of classical photography, appears to be finally obsolete.

In her work The Color Out of Space (2015), Rosa Barba reflects on the limits of our perception, in both the technical and speculative sense. This installation makes use of astronomic photographs—taken from the Hirsch Observatory at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York—to afford a view of distant galaxies. This long-distance vision is only possible for the camera and for us through the use of colour filters. In Barba’s installation these have the opposite function. When they are positioned between the projector and projection surface, the filters disrupt the high-resolution views of the sky and create space for speculation.

Hybrid visual forms
The chemical-analogue or digital basis of the medium enables a range of output formats. Prints can now be made on virtually any material; and when projected, photographs are incorporeal. This flexibility of media makes photographs open to other forms of visual expression and new spatial systems. What kinds of symbioses can photography enter into and what do they reveal?

The works of Barbara Kasten and Marcel Broodthaers initiate a liaison between photography and sculpture. Kasten achieves this by photographing geometric forms arranged in various different configurations in such a way that the materiality of the sculptural is transferred to the plane of the photograph. For Broodthaers it involves him making a three-dimensional object from the image of an eye with a simple manipulation—by placing a photograph in a preserving jar—and thus giving the photograph a new body and a different meaning. The artists Pétrel | Roumagnac (duo) go one step further. The artists print their images and fragments of images on long paper webs, Perspex panels, wooden boards, and found objects and position them in the exhibition space. These photographic settings are mirrors of the surrounding architecture, creating illusions or narrating a story. For the biennale the artists have produced a work that relates the architecture of the Wilhelm-Hack-Museum to Jorge Borges’s The House of Asterion and makes reference to Euripides’s classical tragedy The Cretans. As objects, the photographs in the installations by the artist duo are flexible in the truest sense of the word: for example, when an image printed on Perspex sags or when individual visual elements are rearranged according to a particular protocol and put into new configurations. This gives rise to a hybrid of fixed image and performative sculpture, deconstructing not only the body of the photograph but also its temporal and narrative form.

The characteristic traits of photography and film are interlaced in the dynamic relationship of frozen motion and moving image. Étienne-Jules Marey and his assistant Georges Demenÿ, two pioneers of chronophotography at the end of the nineteenth century, dissected the movements of people, objects, and animals viewed at regular visual intervals. Using multiple exposures, they captured these movement fragments as a little filmic sequence in a single photograph. We thus see the sequence all at once, although its individual steps actually happen one after another. The physical interventions of Yves Klein and Sebastian Stumpf represent two antithetical artistic positions. Unlike Demenÿ and Marey, they do not take a scientific approach but are instead thoroughly intransigent in their focus on the relationship between performance and recording.

In 1960 Yves Klein leaps into the void. In the photograph he is frozen in mid-air and uses the montage of two visual realities to direct attention to the space per se. The picture is silent as to how things really unfolded after the jump, or after the time cut performed with the camera (Klein landed safely in a jumping sheet). Instead, as you look at the photograph, a mental fiction is created in which the artist’s dramatic leap continues.

At first sight, not much happens in Sebastian Stumpf’s video works. They are recorded with a fixed camera set-up so that we can look around the visual space in much the same way as in a photograph. In River (2017), a river enclosed in a narrow concrete channel, flows through the expansive, urbanized landscape of Los Angeles. Floating in the river—or rather seen through a number of sequential shots—a person drifts towards the Pacific Ocean. This drifting is just as out of keeping with the concrete river landscape as the human body is with the monstrous infrastructure. Max Bill’s Endlose Treppe (Endless Staircase)3 is the starting point for the second video piece Treppe (Stairs) of 2017. In it, a figure is walking on Bill’s spiral stack of granite blocks. Although the act of going up and down these stairs is performed calmly and smoothly, there is nevertheless a contrast between the mathematical precision and abstraction of the sculpture and the movements of the body that vary in their detail. In both projections the endless film loop allows us to keep questioning the relationship that interventions have to the place they are performed.

The end(s) of photography
If the previous positions crossed the boundaries of photography as a medium, those that follow show us the material and spatial end points, the appearance and disappearance of images. In his Video Constructions (1978) Buky Schwartz attempts to define the volume of the video space. In five film sequences he marks the front and rear boundaries of his image and traverses the pictorial space with triangular and rectangular coloured surfaces, semi-transparent plastic sheets, and black squared timber. He skilfully positions his props and moves nimbly through them like a magician. In this visual wizardry, the artist benefits from the low-res quality of the film takes from the 1970s, making him occasionally disappear before our eyes right in the middle of the frame.

Dirk Braeckman makes reference to the material limits of a photographic print when he uses the reflection of the flash to reveal the structures of the photo paper, accepting in the process that the room he has photographed will be somewhat overexposed. By combining this with a deep black border on three sides of the image motif, the artist seems to be saying: “Precisely here, at this point—this is where photography comes to an end.” But it is a visual trick; the flash and the borders are also included in the photo.

The video installation Sedimentaciones (Sedimentations) (2011) by Oscar Muñoz reveals forms of transition and photography’s associated mechanisms of memory. Black-and-white prints can be seen in two projections on tables: the prints, which are created in a basin, remain for a short while in the video projection before being finally dissolved in a second basin. This kind of reflection on the medium of photography is an existential meditation: What remains of images when the prints dissolve, the projector is turned off, and the data set is deleted?

1   See Reinhard Braun, Editorial, in Camera Austria International 36, no. 136 (2016): 8.

2   In their anthology Das große stille Bild Norbert Bolz and Ullrich Rüffer examine the continued existence of classical photography in the digital transition. The destabilization and extension of images are not a threat but rather a basic condition for the survival of the “silent image”. However, its functional principle needs to be redefined—see Norbert Bolz and Ulrich Rüffer (eds.), Das große stille Bild (Munich, 1996).

3   Max Bill’s sculpture is a homage to Ernst Bloch’s Prinzip Hoffnung (The Principle of Hope) and was erected beside the entrance to the Wilhelm-Hack-Museum in 1991 to commemorate the philosopher’s hundredth birthday.

Place of Publication
Farewell Photography. Biennale für aktuelle Fotografie, ed. by Florian Ebner, Christin Müller, Biennale für aktuelle Fotografie, exh. cat., Cologne 2017, pp. 52-56