Mishka Henner, Strada Provinciale 3, Apulia, Italy, 2013. Aus der Werkgruppe: No Man’s Land, 2011-2013. Pigmentdruck, 61 x 51 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Carroll / Fletcher, London © Mishka Henner.
Since its founding, the Photography Collection of the Pinakothek der Moderne has consistently engaged with current work in international art photography, both as a collecting and an exhibiting institution. A new long-term series of exhibitions, held every two years, introduces a new, specific format to this aspect of the museum’s activity. As well as incorporating individual exhibitions, the series also establishes a wide-ranging forum for discussion and information.
As digitization brings massive changes to almost every aspect of life, photography too finds itself in an inexorable process of redefinition. As an autonomous mode of artistic expression, photography has long had processes of exchange with classical art forms. Today, it is also marked by intensifying relations with the image-worlds created by multimedia and digital technologies, and their innovative forms of presentation and distribution. The medium is undergoing an inevitable reformation as it absorbs this rapid technological development. Change has reached a new level thanks to the worldwide circulation of virtual images, as well as ongoing dialogue with other media and systems of images; and the transformation demands a continual reassessment of photography’s theoretical and aesthetic parameters. Is photography today still the same medium which viewers think they know and see? How is photography going to define its relationship to reality and to authenticity, on the one hand, and to the autonomy of the image, on the other? How do more general digital processes overlap with specifically photographic modes of image creation and with photography’s modes of presentation and reception?
To tackle these questions, the series Photography Today starts from central themes and strengths within the museum’s own collection, using these to trace contemporary developments and examine new artistic approaches. The museum’s extensive collection of topographic photographs – encompassing works of American and European photography from the 1970s to today – was the starting point for the selection in distant realities. The analytical and descriptive visual surveys, as articulated by Robert Adams, Bernd and Hilla Becher or Zoe Leonard, for example, interrogate both the status quo and the transformation of urban, suburban and rural living environments, and trace the marks left behind by time and history.
The works by Ilit Azoulay, Mishka Henner, Inga Kerber, Mykola Ridnyi and Erin Shirreff also investigate specific places, often social or political hotspots, but abandon the narrow borders of a documentary style and make use of the diverse possibilities of digital technologies and their artistic forms of expression. Analogue photography, its history and the ideas and expectations that go along with it remain a central point of reference here. The artistic approaches of these artists is always focused on a contemplation of the medium and the status of the image, of perception and the act of seeing as well as the complex conditions under which both of these occur. The referent here is thus not direct reality but rather its mediated image, located within a complex web of influences, shaped by a wide variety of forces.
Mishka Henner’s series No Man’s Land (2011–2013) translates the tradition of photographic road movies into the early 21st century. For his documentation of street prostitutes in Italy and Spain, Henner makes use of Google Street View rather than personal observation. In doing so, he dissects the visible but unperceived margins of our globalized society, a society which threatens to turn everyone into a kind of ‘resource’ for capital. ‘Seen in this way,’ says Henner, ‘No Man’s Land is a detail from the map of technological capitalism, a cartography of its scope and its complex interactions.’
For his 33-part series Under Suspicion, Mykola Ridnyi photographed public spaces in his home town of Kharkiv (Ukraine), including city squares, supermarkets, and subway stations. Markings added to the images give them the appearance of potential crime scenes. Random people caught on camera come to seem like possible criminals. Ridnyi’s work reacts to state surveillance in the Ukraine, which has increased since the protest movements, and to the generalized mistrust creeping into private life in the wake of armed conflict with Russia. According to the artist, Under Suspicion is an imaginary archive of the civic gaze, created at a moment when much of everyday life has come to appear suspicious.
Ilit Azoulay is a sensitive seismographer. As material she uses architecture: fragments of built and rebuilt space, from which she filters out history’s blind spots. Imaginary Order is a group of works made between 2012 and 2016; this exhibition marks the first public showing of the last two works in the series. The panoramic photo-assemblages take as their starting point the conversion of a 1960s public sanatorium into a luxury hotel, as well as the changes to Israeli society that this process makes visible. In doing so, Azoulay also lays bare the hidden history which links this location to a wider national trauma.
The cinematically-animated photographs of the American artist Erin Shirreff challenge traditional forms of perception and temporal experience. Shirreff uses analogue photographs: some taken herself, some found elsewhere, and some photographed from online sources. Using digital techniques, she then composes the images into video sequences which suggest a filmic continuity, but not a temporal one. Her specific visual representations frame our experience of a landscape in Canada or an architectural icon in New York, creating particular physical and psychological conditions which allow new imaginary spaces to emerge.
The Leipzig-based photographer Inga Kerber operates within classical art-historical genres, including landscape, portrait and still life. Each of Kerber’s multi-part works—all of which have the word ‘cliché’ in their title—assiduously investigate the (supposed) essence of photography. Hers is a complex process of making and reproducing images, a process which inscribes material traces within the image, linking together analogue and digital elements. In this way, her photographs not only foreground their subject, but also the process of the image’s creation.
Curator: Dr. Inka Graeve Ingelmann, Director of the Collection of Photography and New Media, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich.