Fotograf Magazine

Of Bodies and Other Affairs

The youthful reviewer, Jan H. Vitvar, lacks experience. Even had he seen the
retrospective The Body in Czech Photography 1900 – 1986, curated
by Antonín Dufek at the KromûfiíÏ Museum (500 photographs, cca 160 artists), he would not have been able to get an adequate idea. Neither 17 years ago, nor now. While Klaus Honnef was treated to a book of 320 pages, Dufek had to be satisfied with a leaflet of four pages. The photographer and critic Vladimír Birgus in Lidové Noviny (13th August 2003) gives the exhibition a mere three points out of five, listing all the omissions it makes. The headline,too, is eloquent: When the Mind Outweighs the Heart. Since the 325 works by 60 artists have yet to travel to two exhibitions in Germany, more dramatic polemic is to be expected. Still, in spite of the omissions, the line-up of works is sure to attract audiences. We must regret the absence of such remarkable artists as John Heartfield, Horst P. Horst, Hans Bellmer, Otto Steinert, Thomas Struth, Andreas Mueller-Pohle, Thomas Ruff, and others. Even entire movements have gone missing – such as the socialist realism of East Germany as well as the various anti-regime tendencies like documentary photography unmasking propaganda. Photographs made for the Nazis by Leni Riefenstahl and Max Ehlert stylize the scenes into a form in which they could be accepted. And what about Heinrich Hoffmann? If the travelling exhibition does not include the personal photographer of Adolf Hitler, then it seems obvious that the exhibition also lacks the portrait of the most notorious representative of Germany of all times… historically faithful retrospective must take a different shape.

However, the book accompanying the exhibition is conceived as an
essay – its concept is very personal. At the press conference, Klaus Honnef emphasised as his achievement the inclusion of a great number of women artists in the exhibition. They form nearly 50% of the works present. However, what is more important is the message the collection conveys as a whole. It does not illustrate national history, although it is strongly marked by it. It shows the ways of thinking about bodies, representing them visually. At the beginning we find the classic of New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit), portrait photographer August Sander. His Schoolmaster(1910) is the oldest item on exhibit. As we go forward in time, the photographs become increasingly arty. Carnality as a motif grows weaker. The conclusion of the catalogue is devoted to images in which the human being as a theme is present merely symbolically: Claudio Hils uses puppets, or even targets, instead of live models. Max Regenberg sees in a deserted landscape nothing but advertisement billboards with printed figures. Andreas Horlitz and Anke Erlenhoff don’t see even that much. They merely manipulate unpopulated pictures. Is that really the tendency today? And if it is not, why does it become so in the catalogue?

Throughout the last century there were various answers to the question “What is art in photography?“ What the catalogue considers the crucial turning point, the full recognition of photography by the museums, happened only with Conceptual Art, whose key figures appear to be Bernd and Hilla Becher. That wasis the last word in art history in the 1970‘s, when Klaus Honnef cultivated an interest in history. But art can draw more from simple photographs in a far broader scope. It is the construction of Honeff‘s perspective that gradually eliminates and kills the human body. In his cross-section of the twentieth century, the author manages almost without exception to avoid the unstylized, spontaneous snaps of life as captured by traditional cameras using 35 mm film!

 

Josef Moucha