ÜBER DAS REFERENZIELLE UND DAS SELBST­REFERENZIELLE IN DER ÖSTERREICHISCHEN FOTO­GRAFIE – EINE ÜBUNG ZU DEN VORAUS­SETZUNGEN

Ruth Horak

 

Für die letzte Vorlesung vor seinem plötzlichen Tod, genannt die Die Vorbereitung des Romans (1980), hat Roland Barthes eine offene Sammlung von Voraussetzungen angelegt, die die elementaren Überlegungen eines potenziellen Schriftstellers re­­flektieren: dass man z. B. ein gutes Erinnerungsvermögen haben müsse, um über etwas schreiben zu können, oder dass man sich – für genügend Freiraum zum Schreiben – organisa­torische Arbeit vom Hals schaffen müsse. Ob Barthes tat­sächlich die Absicht hatte, einen Roman zu schreiben, bleibt unbeantwortet, aber in seiner Profession als Sprachwissen­schaftler hat er die Voraussetzungen dafür definiert.

 

Für die Fotografie können auf ähnliche Weise die grundsätz­lichen persönlichen, medienreflexiven und kunstbetriebs­eigenen Voraussetzungen gesammelt werden: Wo beginnt eine Fotografie? Mit der Idee oder mit der Umsetzung? Auf dem Display oder auf dem Papier? Soll eine Fotografie ein Motiv haben, an etwas erinnern, oder ist sie unabhängig von einem Ereignis? Fehlt der Zeit etwas, wenn man ihr einen Augenblick raubt? Wie verhält sich das Abbild zum Original? Wie sehen  die Apparate aus, die Filme, die Dunkelkammer, die Silbersalze, Entwicklerbäder, Belichtungsmaschinen, die digitalen Oberflächen, die Screens, die Hohlkehlen, die Ateliers? Wie   die Prozesse – Entscheidungen, Herstellungs-prozesse, Ent­wicklungs­prozesse? Wie das Licht – Tageslicht, Kunstlicht, Licht­empfindlichkeiten, Lichtquellen? Wie die erstarrte Be­wegung, die Verdoppelung der Welt, die Reproduzierbarkeit, der Charakter des Nichtoriginalen, die Stummheit, die Bild­ränder, die ab- und eingeschlossene Szene, der Ausschnitt, das Rechteck, die Mitte des Bildes, die Unmöglichkeit, hinter die fotografierten Gegenstände zu schauen, Schuss/Gegenschuss, die verschwindenden Materialien, Schwarz und Weiß, Pixel und Korn? Und wie sehen die Rahmenbedingungen aus – die Aus­stellungs-situation, die Besucher, die Kritik, die Presse, der Markt, die biografischen Hintergründe, der individuelle Hand­lungsraum, Ressourcen und Quellen, Notizen, Entscheidungen, der Anlass, ein Einfluss?

 

Seit Mitte der 1960er-Jahre die Konzeptkunst diesem periphe­ren Bereich, der das Werk betrifft, ohne es zu sein, gleichbe­rech­tigten Raum gegeben hat, reißt die Kette nicht mehr ab, in der das Material, die Tools und die Arbeit nicht mehr nur Dinge sind, die auf dem Weg zum eigentlichen Werk benützt werden und dann von ihm abfallen, sondern zum Werk selbst werden. Seither werden Ideen materialisiert und übersehene oder igno­rierte Situationen, nebensächliche Materialien und Werkzeuge, aber auch Fehler, die man normalerweise beheben oder löschen würde, nach außen gekehrt: im Louvre die Mona Lisa fotografieren, obwohl ein Besucher genau ihr Gesicht verdeckt (Manfred Grübl), einen Stapel „Ausschuss“ zum Werk machen (Hermes Payrhuber), die Dunkelkammer, die Chemiegebinde, das Licht u. v. m. werden dabei zu Symbolen für eine (selbst-)reflexive künstlerische Arbeit. Ihnen allen liegt eine gewisse Verweigerungshaltung zugrunde, ein Widerstand gegen das Signifikat, gegen ein von außen kommendes Motiv, ein Be­kenntnis zu den Signifikanten. Oft sind es kleine Seitenhiebe auf die Anforderungen, die an ein Kunstwerk gestellt werden.

Einmal für selbstreflexive Themen sensibilisiert, begegnet man ihnen immer wieder, auch und gerade im österreichischen Zusammenhang: im Roman Rampenflucht (Michael Dangl), in der Verteidigung der Missionarsstellung (Wolf Haas), im Standard-Album, wenn Katharina Luger fragt, „Wie soll ich schreiben“, in Artists of the No (Projektraum Viktor Bucher) oder in Matthias Herrmanns Beitrag im Fotomagazin Streulicht – das Reflektieren über das eigene Tun in seinem Handlungsfeld, mit kleinen Gesten, Witz und Charme, das Reflektieren über die letztlich für ein Werk verantwortlichen Voraussetzungen und Mittel reizt immer aufs Neue, Tendenz steigend. Auch wenn die polnische Künstlergruppe Azorro (gesehen in der GFZK Leipzig) zu dem vernichtenden Schluss kommt: Everything has been done (1).

In der Fotografie, in der das sichtbare Bild erstmals latent ist, also nicht zwingend da ist und auch wieder verschwinden kann, ist die Logik der Medienreflexion voreingestellt. Sie ist eine Reaktion auf die Abhängigkeit von technischen Bedingungen und auf das Selbstverständnis, dass eine Fotografie eine Abbildungsleistung erbringen muss. In der letzten Konsequenz sind es gegenstandslose Fotografien, deren Gegenstand die Fotografie ist. Solche Tendenzen zur Abstraktion in der Fotografie haben in Österreich eine lebhafte Tradition, die sich in zahlreichen Ausstellungen und Publika-tionen nachweisen lässt.(2) Ein richtungsweisendes Beispiel in diesem Zusammen­hang ist eine Ausstellung, die 1996 von Jacqueline Salmon für das Pariser Centre National de la Photographie über die öster­reichische Fotografie seit den 1960er-Jahren kuratiert wurde. Sie hat erstmals dezidiert den Antagonismus (2) innerhalb der österreichischen Fotografie zwischen expressiven Körperthe­men und abstrakteren, „sprachkritisch“ motivierten Themen, in welchen das ver-wendete Medium selbst ins Zentrum des foto­grafischen Interesses rückt, herausgearbeitet.

[...]

 

 

Lesen Sie weiter in FOTOS, Österreichische Fotografien von den 1930ern bis heute, 2013, S. 43-47

 

 

 

(1) Azorro, Everything has been done, 2003, http://raster.art.pl/gallery/artists/ azorro/video.htm (zuletzt besucht am 11. November 2012).

 

(2)  Vom Verschwinden der Dinge aus der Fotografie (MUMOK Wien 1991), Abstrakt (Fotogalerie Wien 1999), Image://images (hg. von Tamara Horakova, Ewald Maurer et al., Wien 2001), Rethinking Photography (Forum Stadtpark Graz, Galerie Fotohof Salzburg 2002), Abstraction Now (Künstlerhaus Wien 2003), Fotografie Konkret

 

(3)  Vom Verschwinden der Dinge aus der Fotografie (MUMOK Wien 1991), Abstrakt (Fotogalerie Wien 1999), Image://images (hg. von Tamara Horakova, Ewald Maurer et al., Wien 2001), Rethinking Photography (Forum Stadtpark Graz, Galerie Fotohof Salzburg 2002), Abstraction Now (Künstlerhaus Wien 2003), Fotografie Konkret

 

 

 

 

 

 

ON THE REFRENTIAL AND SELF-REFERENTIAL ELEMENTS IN AUSTRIAN PHOTOGRAPHY – AN EXERCISE ON THE REQUIREMENTS

 

Ruth Horak

 

In Roland Barthes’ final lecture before his sudden death, Preparation of the Novel (1980), he laid out an open collection of requirements that reflect the basic considerations of a po­ten­tial writer. For example, a good memory is necessary to be able to write about anything, as is freeing oneself from organizational work—to have the requisite freedom to write.  Whether Barthes actually intended to write a novel remains unknown, but in his capacity as linguistic scholar, he defined the requirements for it.

 

Gathering the basic, personal, media-reflective, and art inherent requirements in a similar way for photography would also be possible: Where does a photo begin? with the idea or realization? on the display or on paper? Should a photo have a motif, should it recall something, or is it independent of an event? Is time missing something when one steals a moment of it? What is the relationship of depiction to original? What does the apparatus look like: the films, darkroom, silver salts, developer bath, exposure units, digital surfaces, screens, chamfer, studio?  What about the process: decisions, produc­tion processes, development processes? The light: daylight, artificial light, light sensitivities, light sources? The frozen movement, doubling of the world, reproducibility, the charac­ter of the non-original, the silence, image borders, the finished and enclosed scene, the detail, rectangle, image center, the impossibility of looking behind the photographed objects, shot/counter shot, vanishing materials, black and white, pixel, and grain? And what are the framework conditions: the ex­hibition situation, the visitor, the critic, the press, the market, biographical contexts, individual space for negotiation, resour­ces, sources, notes, decisions, the occasion, an influence?

 

Ever since the mid-1960s, when Concept Art gave equal space to this peripheral area, which related to the work without being it, the chain has remained unbroken in which the material, the tools, and the work are no longer things used along the way to the actual work that then recede from it, but rather, become works themselves. Since then, ideas have been made tangible. Overlooked or ignored situations, secondary materials and tools, and also errors, which one would normally fix or erase, have been turned outward: photographing the Mona Lisa in the Louvre although a beholder blocks her face (Manfred Grübl), turning a pile of “waste” into a work (Hermes Payrhuber); the darkroom, the chemical jug, the light, and much more thus become symbols of a (self-) reflective artwork. They are all based on a certain attitude of refusal, a resistance against the signifier, against an externally-determined motif, a commitment to the signifiers. Often it is minor side blows to the demands that are made of an artwork.

 

Once one is sensitized to self-reflexive themes, they come up constantly, also, and precisely, in the Austrian context:  in the novel Rampenflucht (Michael Dangl), Verteidigung der Missio­nars­stellung (Wolf Haas), in the newspaper the Standard’s culture section where Katharina Luger asks Wie soll ich schreiben?, in Artists of the No (Projektraum Victor Bucher), or Matthias Herrmann’s contribution New Stillifes to the photography magazine Streulicht. Here with little gestures, humor, and charm, artists reflection on their own actions in their field of activity. Reflections on the requisites and means ultimately responsible for a work steadily provides new provo­ca­tion: tendency rising.  Regardless of the fact that Azorro, a Polish artists’ group (seen in the GfzK Leipzig) come to the devastating conclusion: Everything has been done. (1)

 

The logic of media reflection is pre-programmed in photo­graphy, where the visible image is initially latent, thus not necessarily there, and can also disappear again. It is a reaction to the dependence on technical conditions; the implicitness that a photo must serve a representative function. Ultimately, it is abstract photos that take photography as object. The in­clination for abstraction in photography has a vibrant tradition in Austria, which can be proven by the wealth of exhibitions and publications.(2) Trend-setting in this context was the 1996 exhibition curated by Jacqueline Salmon for the Parisian Centre National de la Photographie on Austrian photography since the 1960s. It was the first to decisively work out the antagonism (3) with­in Austrian photography between expressive bodily themes and more abstract language-critical motivated themes, whereby the actual medium used shifts to the center of photographic interest.

 

The current contributions to this book and this exhibition reveal a further antagonism, namely, that between the non­chalance that has always accompanied the theme of self-reflection, and a frequent high-quality image and strict aesthetic line distinguishing the images of the 1990s and 2000s from the early conceptual images of the 1960s and 1970s.

 

In Günther and Loredana Selichar’s 97 Fotogramm (2003/07), for example, a precise implementation of the systematic concept virtually carries the idea. The title indicates namely, two things: on the one hand, it decodes the visible white points as gram pieces, while on the other hand, designates that at issue is a photogram weighing 97 grams.  The title’s initially disturbing grammar, should, in the end, also be understood in the sense of grammar, as the photograms are the staging of photography’s basic rules: a light-sensitive layer, which is presented here in its extreme forms: absolutely no light (white) and all light (black); the need for a form (circle and rectangle); contact between motif and light-sensitive layer; and variation, as the grammage increases systematically from one photo­gram,  two  photograms etc., up to 500 photogram.

The specific realization as UV-LED print also enters into the reflection in Andreas Duscha’s Schwärzestes Schwarz und weißestes Weiß ([Blackest black and whitest white] 2012). In contrast to other photographic methods, this process allows for the printing of white as an additional color. The title refers to the two extremes of the black-white scale. What can be seen in the photographs, however, is not as white or as black as the title would suggest. Instead, we see two non­homogeneous color surfaces with gray texturing. The title accordingly refers to two natural phenomena that are granted as the whitest white and the blackest black: the first is the Cyphochilus beetle, at home in South-East Asia, with its paper thin, uniquely structured white, scaled armor, which has a special way of dispersing light; the other is a butterfly from the Ornithoptera family with wings of blue and the blackest black. However, because Andreas Duscha masks the bodies of the two animals, simply presenting two rectangles in enlarged detail, side-by-side on a wall painted “neutral” gray, both the superlatives, as well as the confidence with which we, as hu­mans, believe that we can reproduce everything, are led ad absurdum.

 

Pascal Petignat’s and Martin Scholz-Jakszus’ series Chemiegebinde (2008) pays homage to Walker Evans, who in 1955 photographed a portfolio of tools entitled Beauties of the Common Tool. “Hence, a hardware store is a kind of offbeat mu­seum show for the man who responds to good, clear ‘un­designed’ forms.”(4) Petignat/Scholz-Jakszus have shaped their 2008 homage to the functional form in a similarly matter-of-fact and picture-filling way, but with the tools of the photo­grapher: commonly used darkroom products, plastic jugs with chemicals for the black-and-white lab, developer such as Rodinal or CPRA Digital Pro, baths such as Hypo Eliminator to remove the fixer solution, and wetting agents like Agepon used as a final bath. Their significance for the era of analogue photography and for chemical reproduction, in general, is ob­vious. Since these tools are from the area of reproduction, Petignat/Scholz-Jakszus also thematized duplication. Before the photographic print, they made a physical print by pouring silicon casts of the original jugs and making plaster models of them. These were then photographed in the studio on 5 x 7 inch color negative film—physical and chemical impressions converge. In the plaster model, the original scale of the jugs remains preserved, whereas in the print, the dimension is inflated to 168 x 120 cm; plaster, as a material, thereby becomes clearly visible: reference and self-reference meet.

With chemistry as the essential requirement for making exposed film and photo material visible and durable, one of photography’s oldest problems of all is activated.  Discovering the appropriate means for fixing light-sensitive images rather than the proper apparatus was one of the relevant stations along the way to the invention of photography. The decisive role of chemicals in photography is also, for instance, part of a film plot. In Killing Fields (D: Roland Joffé, UK 1984), in the central scene, which is responsible for the definitive turn-around, the photo of the Cambodian friend on the counterfeit passport fades due to a lack of chemicals, which results in him being handed over to the Khmer Rouge.

 

Werner Kaligofsky’s Dunkelkammer ([Darkroom] 1999) conti­nues from here: “The space in which the photo develops, in which it is exposed and fixed again, withdraws from repre­sentation. Depicting it requires what it excludes: light. …,”(5) writes Georg Schöllhammer as accompaniment to the contri­bution realized specially for Eikon. Werner Kaligofsky recalls:

 

The darkroom was too dark, the warm orange-red operating light alone was not sufficient to make the space visible enough on the film. Nonetheless, I didn’t want ‘day for night,’ or to work with a manipulative filter technique. I chose an additional light in the area of the enlargement device, the working lamp that is constantly turned on and off in the course of enlarging to check the quality of a negative or a print.(6)

 

As a document of its era, the darkroom has now also become a symbol of analogue photography.  In 1999 it was still working to capacity, since autumn of 2010 the instruments have been dismantled and put in interim storage and Kodak has discontinued production of EPY Ektachrome 4x5 inch large-format transparency sheet film, as well as all other formats of this film: “Currently unavailable. We don’t know if or when this item will be back in stock.”(7) The relevance of the material for self-reflective themes cannot be overlooked.  At the very thre­shold to digital applications, it is possible to observe numerous recourses to disappearance: the installation Das letzte Labor (2008) by Petignat/Scholz; the final large-format Polaroids as used by Inge Dick, or Last Print (2011) and EI FAR GOT OF (2012) by Horakova & Maurer made on the final Ilfochrome classic material before the Ilford factory in Marly/Fribourg stopped production in late 2011.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Coming before all of the hitherto mentioned requirements are personal, physical ones— Roland Barthes confided that at half past 3 p.m., overwhelmed by exhaustion, he could not possibly work.  Then there is the theme of self-reflection taken literally, and transferred back onto oneself, for example by Klaus Scherübel in Untitled (Der Künstler bei der Arbeit) [The Artist at Work] (2008/10). Here we see the artist in situations that could be granted only creative people as working time: at the tennis court, in the cinema, at the wine store, etc., rather than as expected, in the darkroom or taking photos, at the desk or between piles of his photos. The comicalness of the situation opposes the view that the labor of art is defined only through work on the artwork, and demystifies the aura-charged work of art. Reflection and self-reflection are carried out at the level of contexts that drift around the work and cull peculiarities from the system, observe its most common procedures, seize it on its most familiar side and flip it over. Motif: photography. End of text.

 

(Translation: Lisa Rosenblatt)

 

(1) Azorro, Everything has been done, 2003, http://raster.art.pl/gallery/artists/azorro/video.htm (last visited 11 November 2012).

(2) Vom Verschwinden der Dinge aus der Fotografie [The Dissapearance of Things] (Mumok Vienna, 1991), Abstrakt (Fotogalerie Vienna 1999), Image://images (edited by Tamara Horakova, Edwald Maurer, et al., Vienna 2001), Rethinking Photography (Forum Stadtpark Graz, Galerie Fotohof Salzburg 2002), Abstraction Now (Künstlerhaus Wien 2003), Fotografie Konkret (Gmunden 2006), (Not) A Photograph (Obalne Galerie Piran 2008), apparate arbeiten by Thomas Freilers (Salzburg 2012) are some of the titles of group exhibitions and publications that deal with self-reflective themes.  

(3) Jacqueline Salmon (ed.) Antagonismes – 30 ans de photographie autrichienne, Paris 1996

(4) http:www.fulltable.com/vts/f/fortune/aa(tools/a.htm (last visited on 11 November 2012).

(5) Georg Schöllhammer, “Werner Kaligofsky, Das Licht auf den Leser richten”, in Eikon no. 29, Juni 1999, p.39.

(6) Werner Kaligofsky in e-mail correspondence with the author, November 2012.

(7) As seen in Autumn 2012 on Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

 

PHOTOS - Österreichische Fotografie von den 1930ern bis heute

 
Hg. Agnes Husslein-Arco, Severin Dünser, Axel Köhne, Bundesministerium für Unterricht, Kunst und Kultur
Vorwort: Agnes Husslein-Arco, Claudia Schmied
Texte: Severin Dünser, Miriam Halwani, Ruth Horak, Axel Köhne, Margit Zuckriegl

 

German/English

272 pages

200 ills. in color

Paperback

 

Verlag für Moderne Kunst

ISBN 978-3-86984-403-9
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© Ruth Horak