≡ ‘Has the Düsseldorf School killed photography?’, he asks ≡

I

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Professional Photographer editor Grant Scott popped the question and it stayed with me, not only because it is a very catchy headline for an article, as the author notes, but because his reflection resonated with me.

As I understand it, Scott’s main issue with the Düsseldorf School relates to its heritage not its conquests. The Bechers’ pupils, namely Thomas Stuth, Thomas Ruff, Candida Höfer, Axel Hütte, Laurenz Berges and Andreas Gursky (to name only a few) all gave (and still give!) original and groundbreaking contributions to expand the range of languages one could apply to photography. Struth’s family portraits were innovative in the way he managed to portrait, with a non-theatrical approach, the dynamics between the group, while having them stare at the camera; Ruff’s portraits set the tone for contemporary portraiture and highlighted how the surface of things and the particularities of a person’s face, can grab one’s attention and “hurt” us in many ways; Höfer’s majestic interiors changed the field of architectural photography and highlight her singular approach to natural light as a way to comment on the atmosphere and emotional landscape of each location; Gursky’s large scale depictions of human consumerism and megalomaniac mentality are impressive not only for their appearance but also because of the process and commitment they entail; Sasse’s relationship to color is one-of-a-kind and his photographs of public and private spaces should be taught in every photography classroom.

It’s true that while some of them kept their original perspective and reflection upon the medium, some just kept applying the formula, but what Scott means by the alleged murder is that they “offered” an easy way out to any photography-student-wannabe-conceptual-artist who chooses to lean on the formula of the ‘project-as-serial-work’. This way the task gets simplified: one chooses the subject and the location and then repeats the framing with a distant and seemingly objective eye.

Although I agree with this immediate analysis, for I recognize that this is a problem both in the amateur as in the professional milieu, with major influence on the way photography students approach their subjects, what resonates less with me is Scott’s cynical tone:

I wander off and create an image that I shall call Shopping trolley in supermarket car park on a grey day, or Einkaufswagen im Supermarkt Parkplatz an einem Grauen Tag. It’s not quite as snappy as New Objectivity but it is observationally descriptive and has the all-important element of transformation to verify it. It may just be the Asda car park, but when translated into German it becomes one of a series of images which combine to become a personal exploration of environmental documentation. There we have it: a picture easy and cheap to take, some words to support why I took it and a German title. I am now a disciple of Becher and if my work is criticised I will quote the Bechers’ teaching and their followers’ success.I am now a New Objectivity photographer. I am in a comfort zone.

Scott says he’s fed up with all the supposed neutrality and emotionless conceptual approach, from portraits to deserted landscapes, as I am too, but overall what one misses is originality, and that has always been a problem in every art discipline. So the issue might be that the stage for the so-called ‘artistic photography’ these days is huge, and it’s expected that we have to go through a pile of unoriginal and uncreative work before we find something worth looking at.

Full article HERE.

II

portraits_88_22portraits_88_15portraits_88_16all images © Thomas Ruff, from the series Portraits, circa 1988.

III

The Lingwood & Hamlyn family, London, UK, 2001© Thomas Struth, The Lingwood & Hamlyn family, London, UK, from the series Family Portraits, 2001.

TS-3© Thomas Struth, The Falletti Family, Florence, from the series Family Portraits, 2005.

The Felsenfeld, Gold Families, Philadelphia, 2007© Thomas Struth, The Felsenfeld, Gold Families, Philadelphia, from the series Family Portraits, 2007.

IV

Wiblingen-Abbey, Germany© Candida Höfer, Wiblingen-Abbey, Germany.

Casa Musica Porto V, 2006© Candida Höfer, Casa da Música, Porto, 2006.

IB_S_BASIC_COPYRIGHT =© Candida Höfer, Cuvillés Theater, München, 2009.

V

Paris, Montparnasse 1993© Andreas Gursky, Paris, Montparnasse, 1993.

Chicago, Board of Trade II 1999 by Andreas Gursky born 1955© Andreas Gursky, Chicago, Board of Trade II, 1999.

Kamiokande, 2007© Andreas Gursky, Kamiokande, 2007.

VI

P-91-02-02, Düsseldorf 1991© Jörg Sasse, P-91-02-02, Düsseldorf, from the series Public Spaces, 1991.

W-93-07-01, Marburg 1993© Jörg Sasse, W-93-07-01, Marburg, from the series Private Spaces, 1993.

W-92-06-01, Pelm 1992© Jörg Sasse, W-92-06-01, Pelm, from the series Private Spaces, 1992.

VII

HUETTE 033-A© Axel Hütte, Mandalay 1, Las Vegas, USA, 2003.

Portrait #26, Germany from the series Water Reflections, 2007© Axel Hütte, Portrait #26, Germany from the series Water Reflections, 2007.

Passo Sella, Italy from the series New Mountains, 2012© Axel Hütte, Passo Sella, Italy from the series New Mountains, 2012.

VIII

Erevan - Artashat© Ursula Schulz-Dornburg, Erevan – Artashat, from the series Bus Stops, Armenia., 1997-2011.

Erevan, Yegnward© Ursula Schulz-Dornburg, Erevan, Yegnward, from the series Bus Stops, Armenia., 1997-2011.

Gymri, Spitak, 2002© Ursula Schulz-Dornburg, Gymri, Spitak, from the series Bus Stops, Armenia., 1997-2011.

IX

Altenburg, 1992© Laurenz Berges, Altenburg, 1992.

Wünsdorf II, 1994© Laurenz Berges, Wünsdorf II, 1994.

Hannover, 2005 (# 2282)© Laurenz Berges, Hannover, 2005.

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