Christin Müller
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“New use of the material transforms the everyday object into something mysterious”

On visual organisation in the work of Christine Erhard

The question of the relationship between reality and its photographic representation has been asked since the medium of photography was invented. Mostly this means the accuracy of representation, the closeness to the photographic subject or the extent of any staging, and it is examined critically. Christine Erhard, however, doesn’t create the subject matter for her images with an aspiration of visual concordance, instead she sounds out the relationship between a spatial construction and its image with the help of the camera lens. In her work photographic perspectives collide with each other, spatial and graphic elements enter into dialogue. In this manner she searches for a visual language that mirrors the mass of digital photographs and the visual fractures that define our time.

The visual and societal fractures of the present call to mind the similar deep changes that started during industrialisation around the turn of the 20th century. As a technical medium photography had by this time already undergone a complex transformation. Not only had the camera technology radically changed, but also its usage, and therefore the photographic visual language. The artist László Moholy-Nagy named in 1927 “the ambiguities of present-day optical creation”2 not only as the core theme in his visionary book Painting, Photography, Film3, but also as the decisive question of the 1920s. He recognised photography’s potential of “extending the limits of the depiction of nature”4 and of using “light as a creative agent”5, and saw photography as the up to now unrecognised, but pivotal medium to represent the present time. At the start of the 20th century, increasing mechanisation led to an acceleration in the way of life and to a growing need to be informed about contemporary events and the questions of the present age.6 Simultaneously the invention of the 35mm camera simplified the entry criteria for photography and advances in the process of developing negatives standardised the work of photographic laboratories. This led to a rapidly increasing number both of amateur photographers and of magazines and newspapers in which photographic reportage played a decisive role. Rather than a realist representation of the world, artists looked for other visual analogies for change and to do this exploited the simplification of photographic technology. In the movement named Neues Sehen (New Vision) traditional perspectives and compositions were overturned and experiments with lighting and multiple exposures were made. The new forms of representation included opening up the process of photographic development and working with photographic prints: the photogram, the direct and multiple exposure of photographic paper and the collage experienced their first flourishing as contemporary forms of representation at the same time that abstraction celebrated its first heyday. A visual language was developed that cast a new light on the transformation of daily life during industrialisation and completely broke with linearity in image creation.

In the course of digitalisation fundamental changes in the conditions of private and public communal living as well as in the world of work are taking place once again. The close coupling between photography and technology is again driving a rapid transformation of the medium. In the middle of the 1990s photography was predicted to come to a rapid end, at least in its current form, even though digital photography was utilized for quite some time in the same way as its analogue equivalent. In the meantime the medium in its digital form has become porous – interventions in photographic images have become as common as the sampling, sharing and liking of photographs. Photographs are an everyday means of communication and today seldom exist as a single image. Instead they encounter us almost exclusively as part of the network. Every day we swipe though countless photographic images on our mobile phones or scroll through the infinities of the internet on our computer and believe ourselves capable of understanding these myriads of images in a split second.

In the midst of the image flood of the beginning of the 21st century Christine Erhard focusses in her work on the single image. In opposition to the daily kaleidoscope of visual sensations she presents compaction, which challenges the eye of the viewer. She taps into trends in visual organisation from the early 1920s by integrating the visual fractures and the perspective games found in Neues Sehen (New Vision). Simultaneously, in her working method she follows the contemporary trend of working with found images and the differentiated deployment of both analogue and digital material. How does “optical creation”7 work in the images of Christine Erhard? How does she employ photography as a productive working medium?

When viewing the works of Christine Erhard you are struck by the layering of the image elements. Architectural fragments enter into relationships with abstract forms like colour fields and lines. For her compositions the artist draws on a rich visual pool, in which, alongside photographs of architecture, works of visual art – in particular works of the artistic Avantgarde of the 20th century – and works of brutalist architecture of the 1960s and 1970s can be found. Following Joachim Schmidt in spirit, who as early as 1987 postulated, “no new photos before the old ones are used up”8, Christine Erhard assimilates the collected images for her own work. Rather than reediting images of others however, a practice that is currently widely employed, Erhard adopts the found compositions and transforms them.

In Christine Erhard’s working process both her studies in the sculpture class of Fritz Schwegler in Düsseldorf as well as the optical constraints of the photographic camera stand her in good stead. Her images are created in a process in which she analyses the particular structural rules of both the found visual compositions and of images of architectural spaces. Here it is immaterial if her works contain compositions by László Moholy-Nagy or Ljubow Popova or views of the Ingolstadt city theatre, a supermarket in France or Erwin Heerich’s studio. Erhard brings the selected images together, translates them into a drawing and then into a sculptural model. Using cardboard, coloured paper, roofing battens, paint, light, glass and other materials she builds complicated constructions, which she ultimately photographs. What is astonishing is that everything which we see in Erhard’s images has not been digitally combined, but existed in front of the camera exactly as we see it. The technical constraints of the photographic camera make these visual orderings possible and, throughout the entire process of creating the image, determine the translation of the artistic idea. Capturing a three-dimensional object in a two-dimensional photographic image inevitably involves a perspectival distortion. Erhard makes productive use of this fact to create optical connections in the image, to allow diverse elements to melt into each other or to apparently cancel the laws of gravity. The camera is only released when every element of the image has been finely adjusted. This complete orientation to the perspective of the camera also stretches the moment of the photographic release. Thus, even when the moment of photographing only lasts a fraction of a second, the photographic process already began with the construction of the image elements. This process-like working method is an ingenious response to Roland Barthes’ much quoted statement, “It was like that”9. While Barthes describes photography as a medium for remembering a real constellation at a fixed point in time, in the work of Christine Erhard the imagined temporal space of action is expanded and the “was like that” appears in a new light. Strictly speaking it would have to read: it was like that from the perspective of the camera. Even a slight delay and Erhard’s constructions would optically fall apart.

In her choice of motifs Christine Erhard concentrates on the interrelationship between image and space and its visual communication. One work group shows details of interior spaces, the corners containing windows or doors to give an impression of depth, which are based upon found images of interiors. Erhard overlays these interiors with lines and planes that structure the image. Exact observation reveals that an apparently continuous white line is actually made up of several pieces, each of which has also been created with varying materials. Further image elements that appear to be realistic are in fact distorted photographs or are patterned wallpapers, designed by the artist, that she has applied to the surfaces of her models. Other works are defined by reproductions of architecture or by buildings or architectural elements that have been constructed in the studio. Here, Erhard intervenes with overlaid elements in the structures of the chosen architecture to reveal their essential characteristics. In one work group Erhard rather humorously reconstructs buildings from her stock of images. Bridge columns reveal themselves on close observation to be table legs, plates are courtyards in front of skyscrapers and the background of the image is a compact urban environment of books or radiators. In a third work group the photographic print itself appears. Here, on a rectangular surface, elaborately folded or on an amorphous support we again encounter architecture. These prints are embedded in an arrangement of colours and forms as if in a constructivist still life.

In exhibitions Christine Erhard takes her works a step further. Image elements of the works grow out into the exhibition space, when colour fields or patterned wallpapers from the images are repeated on the walls of the exhibition space or when wooden sculptural constructions extend the two-dimensional image into an installation in real space. In photographic documentations of such work presentations it isn’t always clear where the two-dimensional image ends and its sculptural extension begins or even if we are looking at a work or at an installation. In this way the artist initiates a multi-layered viewing experience: “through the mixing of real and built space the gaze can wander back and forth between the expected and the actual image”10.

The image description in the title1 is a citation from László Moholy-Nagy referring to an image by Man Ray, in which a hand and an egg can be seen. Through the utilised technique of the photogram these rather banal objects appear as white shadows. Christine Erhard interleaves the materials of her sculptural models before the camera into complex spatial networks. In both Man Ray’s photograms and in the works of Christine Erhard the image construction dissolves factuality into abstraction - depending on which level of reality or reflection we allow ourselves to engage with when viewing. As a viewer we have to start by orienting ourselves in the images and in their relationship to the space. On the one hand we are seeing the everyday with different eyes, on the other hand we are being shown the potential of objects to create spatial structures. This is accompanied by an exciting fluctuation in our perception. Images like these force us to reassess our gaze, to stay active and above all to enter into a long conversation with the individual works.

1   László Moholy Nagy: Painting, Photography, Film, 1927, p. 77.

2   Ibid. p. 5.

3   Ibid. p. 5.

4   Ibid. p. 5.

5   Ibid. p. 5.

6   Compare: Lucia Moholy: A Hundred Years of Photography 1839-1939.

7   László Moholy Nagy: Painting, Photography, Film, 1927, p. 5.

8   Joachim Schmid: „Keine neuen Fotos bevor die alten aufgebraucht sind“, in: Hohe und niedere Fotografie (High and Low photography). Pamphlet for the exhibition Rhenania, Cologne 1988, pp. 21-26, citation taken from:

9   Roland Barthes: Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, Frankfurt am Main 1985, p. 87.

10   Christine Erhard in Interview with Mark Peschke: "Ich will das Bild der Realität nicht deckungsgleich wiedergeben …” (I don’t want to transmit the image of reality one-to-one…), in: [last viewed on 11.03.2022]

Place of Publication
Christine Erhard – Building Images, Berlin 2022, pp. 19-24.
Links (external)
Homepage Christine Erhard