University of Jyväskylä, Finland | Oktober 2006 I plenum talk
how do I photograph people / how do I communicate my interest / how do I deal with the changes to the original situation caused by my presence / how do I construct photographs of people / what does a person`s photograph reveal / how do I interpret – read – photographs / …
Both the production and the interpretation of photographs are complex processes. Within the image a subjective perception of the surrounding reality gets transformed into a personal message. This individual statement gets subjectively interpreted by the viewer. In the knowledge of this tension I see photography as a medium to reflect on reality. In addition,there is an inevitable and complex tangle of factors, for example personal, social, ideological and economic, in both the construction and the interpretation of an image.
Since the early 80’s I have developed my artistic documentary photography in tension between commissioned and independent productions in the contexts of media and art. My interest in photography arises from an urge for self-expression. It is the product of my research into the search for identity. In reflection on my own experience of life, I am moved to ask questions about the meaning of identity. I ask, for example, how identity is expressed in our lives. I wish to explore the relationship between the individual presenting his / her personality and the society to which he / she presents it. As a being in society, I wish to use images as a means of conveying impressions as I receive them, and open them to discussion.
I do not see photography as a means of describing objective truth. Rather, I see subjectivity in selecting and constructing the content. I recognize that photography always offers the possibility of multiple interpretations. The subjectivity of creating construction combined with a recognizable reality tempts the viewer to forget the mediating function of photography. One is tempted to believe that one sees the situation itself with the help of the picture. But a photograph is a product of artistic fiction.
Method of working
For me, the most fascinating capacity of photography is its capacity to portray a moment as a picture and it is my aim to capture an essence of the event. My photograpic series are composed of different fragments of reality put in relation to each other. While photographing, I watch people very closely. I choose situations in which I believe people are described in an honest way; but the fact remains that I do choose the scenes I photograph, and what kind of message I construct by combining these images. I feel a responsibility to the people I wish to portray, and therefore I work very carefully, choosing the situations in which I photograph, and selecting the pictures which I show in public.
My photography primarily intends to translate an individual impulse on life into images. Working with photography`s ability to document, I transform views and impressions which I perceive into single photographs that aim to reflect on universal human experiences through a sequenced accumulation. The significance of each image is the result of a long-term working process. During these periods of intensive artistic research and reflection I make myself sensitive to the atmosphere characteristic of each subject.
Sequence as IMAGE
The successive combination of single pictures reveals the understanding of the IMAGE as a singular object within a sequenced, fragmented combination of photographs conveying a more complex understanding of reality. The panoramic presentation becomes the IMAGE.
My choice of subjects is a reflection of my own biography. I have concentrated mainly on four projects: Deutsche Volksfeste, Colossal Youth, Reflecting Oneself and The Good Earth.
Deutsche Volksfeste I photographed in the years 1985 – 1991 at festivals and traditional celebrations. In reminiscence of my own childhood, I looked at children in situations in which I could become emotionally involved. My primary interest was to show how children are utilized by their parents as signifiers of social status. I am aware of a conflict here between my work as a photographer, and an individual’s right to privacy.
While reflecting on my own youth, the cycle Colossal Youth developed from 1988 – 1990 in Essen. The philosophy of life held by the people I photographed during this time reminded me in a way of my own philosophy as a young person, that of not seeing in society a chance for one`s future. But as this work developed, I became aware of my own subjective interpretation of the situation; I could no longer compare the lifestyle of those represented in Colossal Youth with that of my own youth. Rather, I recognized that I looked at their lifestyle with the eyes of an adult. My youth had been more than 10 years prior. Out of this tension between sympathy and distance I developed my photographic message.
After this intensive analysis of other people’s way of life I wanted to explore my own identity.
Reflecting Oneselfdeveloped mainly in the years 1990 – 1997 in our home in Essen. I chose for this limitation of space in order to sensitize myself to the impressions I receive from my surroundings. The work was inspired in part by the interaction of familiar living spaces and changing light and shadow. Growing flowers illustrate the passage of time. My intention was to reflect upon my frame of mind and to creatively deal with it. I aimed to photograph the step-by step changing of my feelings. I wanted to make selfportraits which resemble my gaze into a mirror. I wanted to fix a familiar sight.
The Good Earth 1998 – 2006 follows the cycle of the seasons reflecting on the human relationship to nature. I portray a 75 and 78 year old retired couple, who together with a friend of 75 years have farmed organically ( biodynamic ) for 20 years. These photographs show people who realize their dreams and are also very open minded. My interests are focused on their affinity with the growing of their plants and animals. I portray the organic process of life and work, striving to give a positive insight into getting old.
Result and Outlook
My understanding of the photographic process of creating pictures lets me compare it with the production of a theatrical play. In a theatrical play the human characters are played by actors. In photography the picture takes the position of the actor. Photography fascinates us with its ambiguity of content. The presentation of a photographically fixed picture results in decoding by the viewer.
It is my enthusiasm to photography to use the camera like a magnifying glass to look with it at life, starting where I stay and go on while being fascinated and inspired. It is this creative play, the calculated use of photographic skills in order to construct the reality of the image, that stimulates my interests.