i(p+r)/n Conference # 2 : CHANGING FACES I ' shifts ' 06
University of Jyväskylä, Finland | 2006 I plenum talk............. deutsch | english
SEEING AND BELIEVING // a reflection on photography as a medium
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, Finding Oneself, Reflecting Oneself and acker * arable land.
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 individuals right to privacy.
While reflecting on my own youth, the cycle Finding Oneself 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 Finding Oneself
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 Oneself developed mainly in the years 1990 - 1995 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.
In my current work acker * arable land ( 1999 - 2004 ) I follow 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.