Fotograf Magazine

Michael Pfisterer

Hypothetical photography

To write about Michael Pfisterer means to become a critic of science. But of a science, about which no-one knows anything and ranging from a bee to Boeing, but is governed by a single, very stubborn and enigmatic scientist. The abnormal vastness of his works is witnessed in rather bare titles: Modell Internationale Raumfahrt p02 a Modell Internationale Raumfahrt p05 (Models of International Cosmic Flight, 2003), Das Ende des sichtbaren Universums (The End of the Visible Universe, 2004), Block-Spin-Gitter T=2Tc (2004), Nautical Chart Catalogue No. 1 – Panel D (2004).

“These photographs are hermetic still-lifes that continually force us to make guesses but provide no conclusive answers,” wrote Jens Asthoff about Pfisterer’s last exhibition. To try to write about him thus means to append to something that can never be sufficiently or consequently comprehended. I offer here only few guidelines, not to imitate the author, but because more, here, would mean less.

German photography has always been somehow scientifically “dry”, and throughout the 20th century it has produced several influential canons and schools based on a rigorously organised pictorial register. No wonder that the emerging generation wants to spice up this often too-evident approach, not only by inverting such encyclopaedic attitudes or photography itself as well as photography’s self-reflection. In order to accomplish a self-reflection of the image of the world, it became necessary for photography to change: into a layout, a diagram. Into a thermonuclear thought, formulated in trance. Dreams on graph paper.

Michael Pfisterer (born in 1976 in Kirchheim/Teck near Stuttgart) studied Fine Arts in 1996–99 at Johannes-Gutenberg-Universität in Mainz (with Czech professor Vladimír Špaček) and in 1999–2002 at Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Hamburg, where he still lives. In the years 2001 and 2003 he received honorary mentions in the competition “Europäischer Architekturfotografie-Preis” (The European Prize for Architecture Photography). In his free time, he likes to walk around in foreign areas, landscapes and urban situations.

Pfisterer has been using fragments of photographs since 1994, firstly cut by hand, later in the darkroom and, from 2000, digitally. An almost painterly adherence to (in)definite absoluteness of the final shape has been elevated with large formats and maximally minimal adjustment. In addition to single prints, he also creates limited editions of small brochures that represent photography in the context of graphic design. In these, lines and shapes of his synthesized photographs are often reduced as minimal suggestions while their informative value fades into the depths of systems, as if returning to visual poem.

To Pfisterer, photography is not merely an infinitely malleable art form, it is also a medium of power, a mechanism of control and its presentation. They are not really photographs, but rather plans. Pfisterer surveys the difference between photograph and layout, between registration and projection, between synthesis and hypothesis. Instead of documentation, he often offers pure theory alone, unencumbered by factuality, but all the more tantalizing. The functioning of ideal systems is a path to vertigo. But some poetry of the unexpressed occurs simultaneously– a romanticism built up on the grave of the “international style”–where the edges of prefab buildings supplant the tempting horizons of the 19th century.

We might call it a “critique of Modernism”, or we can assume that the photographer has become an autistic scientist who mantrically mimics the found structures of DNA (see the cycle Achterbahn). But all of modernism (or even the whole modern age) seems to be just a new form of shamanism in Pfisterer’s images; without any evident function, they work only as pictorial pattern, a straighter art-nouveau. Minimized pattern with no visible purpose is more senseless and terrifying (or amusing, if you wish). With his synthetic images, Pfisterer shows the obviousness of our thinking, the depth of the structures circulating in our blood. Architecture and other techniques and technologies thus appear here as a rhythm, arousing surprisingly strong resonances. Let us chant with the architecture while savouring the neutrons.

Pavel Vančát