Reinhold Misselbeck: Thomas Kellner «ARCHITEKTUR UND MONUMENTE», in: Eikon Vol. 38, 2002
German Translation below
When photography was invented 162 years ago, it kindled enthusiasm because it was able to picture reality so precisely and true to nature. Half a century later, photographers emulated painting and endeavored to craft their photographs as unfocussed and impressionistic as possible using complicated fine print methods. Craft would triumph over technology.
Approximately in 1910, the immanent abilities of exact illustration attached to the medium and simultaneously, the possibilities of its experimental application were discovered. The subjective viewpoints of the period after the war evoked intense discussions at the time on the truth of the photographic image. One was aware that on the one hand, optics and photochemistry had registered the refraction of light on actual objects; on the other hand, the identity of what was actually there and what could be seen on the photo was doubted to a high degree.
The more photos were shot, the clearer it became that a hundred photographers could be sent to one and the same place, while in the end, a hundred different images would be the result. If this does not hold true and the images are indeed similar, then photography has often already written its own history. Thus, people going to certain places to shoot souvenir photos have images they have already seen in their heads that they would randomly reproduce. It often goes without saying that we mainly have twentieth-century history in the form of photographic images in our heads.
In 1967, David Hockney discovered that, by putting together several photos, images of reality could be produced that were true to a certain extent, because they represented what the artist had seen or what he knew, but which nevertheless could not have been photographed in the same way with a camera. In 1982, Hockney developed his Polaroid collage from these joiners with which he conveyed the principle of the cubistic image, fixing movement in space and the passage of time into photography.
The seventies were a period in which the fine arts applied photography to a greater degree in order to fix ephemerality, such as actions, spatial changes, processes and actions. During this time, photography developed through such artists as Jan Dibbets, Ger Dekkers, Helmut Schweitzer, Douglas Huebler, John Hilliard, Peter Hutchinson or Jürgen Klauke, to become one of the most important means of expression. Photography was in the position to show one and the same situation in various stages of development or from different perspectives. It fixed the situation - be it through the artist or through the movement in the situation itself.
In his work, Thomas Kellner follows this tradition. In contrast to the afore-mentioned artists, his background is not based on the documentary. In this case, the image has taken over. Kellner stands closer to Hockney and his concept of fixing an object with several images, because it cannot be accomplished with only one photo and definitely not the way the eye would see it. However, Thomas Kellner does not share Hockney’s theoretical reflections on cubism, but instead endeavors to construct the final image the way he photographed it - step by step. Kellner does not cut the negative strips into separate images in order to later insert them in new image compositions; however, he does deconstruct the whole object itself into separate images, so to say, while photographing it. The photo collages thus follow the lead of the camera. This reminds us of the challenges the photographers of the twenties faced when small format photography was discovered along with a new way of seeing that replaced photography from the tripod perspective. A photographer was supposed to hold the camera the way the eye saw the object – from top to bottom, from the bottom to the top, with distorted perspectives and unusual proportions.
What at the time triggered a new way of seeing and led to photography finding its way back to itself, Thomas Kellner has picked up on to compose collages from contact prints. If we look at his landscapes, the difference becomes evident. The images which have been taken from the same or a similar position are compiled. The camera varies its perspective only somewhat, rising only a bit to look into a treetop. Thomas Kellner chooses single images in the traditional manner and sets them together in groups of fifteen shots each. In these compositions, the close-ups complement each other to become a large, panoramic whole. This way, the composition connects the detailed exactness of the close-ups to the scope of a landscape image.
The architectural images, however, convey a new view. The peacefulness of the landscape images is replaced by movement. These architectural images counteract the essence of architecture. Fundamentally, architecture is static and stipulates stability and durability. In his images, Thomas Kellner cannot avoid portraying the danger of these buildings collapsing. As a result, his images do not dismantle the architecture; instead, they reproduce our view of architecture and continue with what the New Vision Photographers of the 1920s’ had called for and what Hockney had continued in his photo collages.
With his mounted film strips, Thomas Kellner goes further by not arranging the photos into one whole but by mounting complete films allowing us to see how his eye moved with the camera. We start at Picture No. 1, follow the row through to Picture No. 36 and realize how he saw the building. From the way he mounts the pictures, Kellner sets together individual moments from memory to make one whole composition. Especially architecture, due to its size, cannot be captured in one glance. The eye moves around and delivers pieces to our brain which rebuilds it to a complete set of information.
As a result, Thomas Kellner does not photograph architecture but perceptions of architecture. He reconstructs our image memory. He does not document but records. Kellner demonstrates to the eye what our memory takes home from our travels - and he unravels our vacation photos as lies: these never show the monuments, the churches and palaces the way we saw them, but rather show a more fixed view, where we nevertheless during the tour require hundreds, or even thousands of glances in order to see the building, to register its details and to keep them in our memory.
In this way, Thomas Kellner only presents us with the concept and does not deliver a reconstruction of vision. If he were to do this, not one of these images would find space in a gallery.
In viewing his architectural photographs, memories of Robert Delaunay continue to come up in my mind. The swaying, instable pile-up of various architectural elements as mounted film strips picks up on the moving lightness of Delaunay’s compositions. Thomas Kellner’s architectural photographs let us feel expressions as we know them from painting. The movement of the arm which transfers itself to the brush there corresponds here to the movement of the camera, which follows the eye and with it the emotion of perception. Thomas Kellner is not only a documentary photographer but simultaneously an expressionist.
Reinhold Misselbeck, Eikon, Vol. 38, Vienna/Austria, 2002.