Michael Hallett talks about Thomas Kellner’s photographers: network and enjoys the experience of swopping and sharing
I cannot quite recall how it came about though I remember our first meeting most clearly. We sat in the comfortable foyer of an anonymous hotel in Birmingham and for three or four hours we talked about pictures. We questioned and we queried. We talked of attitudes and we shared ideas. The carafe of coffee long since got cold. There were similarities to our work though how we actually got there was from completely different directions. That didn’t matter as we were both intrigued with pushing boundaries. What was important to us was the intrinsic quality and resonance of the image.
Thomas Kellner’s images are precisely constructed using a formal grid with each individual exposure carefully recorded in his notebook. There is a sense of Swiss graphics about it. Working with film the individual 35mm negatives are built up to provide a master, and this is printed by contact producing the limited edition print. Kellner’s requirements surrounding craftsmanship is awesome. By contrast, the exposing of my ‘photo constructions’ is more organic, or at least I would like you to believe it was. Once exposed the individual frames are layered in photoshop building up a construction where individual frames are frequently emphasised rather than merged to produce a seamless image. Kellner’s starting point is film while mine is digital. Collectively our work has its roots in cubism, constructivism and a touch of Hockney’s ‘joiners’ thrown in for good measure. Kellner tends to avoid people while mine contain elements of L. S. Lowry and Beryl Cook.
Kellner became interested in was in what he referred to as ‘experimental and conceptual photography’ while at the University of Siegen in Germany. Since 2003 which was about the time of our meeting, he had been working on architectural exteriors and interiors around the world and his solo exhibitions have followed them. He explained later that ‘the buildings seem to be broken apart, dancing, and remind us of the vulnerability of our values and creations.’ His work is represented by galleries in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and Cologne through his artist books, monographs, portfolios and special editions.
During our conversation, Kellner talked about his vision for photographers:network. He was talking about an international group of people who hold similar values to himself. They all see the medium as an art form and with an intrinsic commercial value. Their work sells through exhibitions and galleries via an agent or that is the aspiration. Their images have a value and they are keen to establish this in the marketplace. Craftsmanship and archival permanence are important to the collector and that becomes enshrined in the photographers’ judgment. They are anxious that commentators, curators and gallery owners see their work kindly and will search them out for portfolio reviews. Exposure in the market place with editorial coverage is important in promoting the individual brand, and networking is essential to this activity. Kellner explained his simple formula which he saw as a multiple win situation. Once a year, he would invite one hundred photographers he knew personally for a juried exhibition to be shown in his studio in Seigen, Germany. In 2004 and again in 2007 I received an invitation to submit, with my work being selected on both occasions.
On one level photographers:network is about collecting and sharing contemporary photography and on another linking up with photographers with whom there is a shared affinity. Each photographer is invited to submit three jpg images, and from these entries a jury selects 26 photographs for the exhibition. In return for giving a print for exhibition, Kellner would exchange one of his own prints. Kellner’s contacts are of an international scale providing a cultural and geographic breadth of imagery, with the photographs as different as the individuals who make them. The end result is a collection of contemporary work, and a network where photographers can connect and help each other in progressing their careers. The exhibition of the selected work is accompanied by a printed catalogue and part of a portfolio in the German magazine Profifoto.
As with all contemporary art forms, contemporary photography is being of its time, part of the here and now. Each generation and culture has its own form of contemporary photography, with its own impetus and vision for moving the medium forward. Nothing is exclusive. Nothing is inclusive, and The Society needs to be more responsive to part of this continuing xxxx of trauma and reassessment. Consider the past movements of the photo secessionists, the Linked Ring and the f/64 Group. More recently we share an affinity for the 70s photography ethos which has now become an accepted part of ‘independent photography’. With the 21st century there is a new genesis and arguably photographers:network reflects some small part of this.
For 2009, Kellner reviewed the entries with a supporting Jury, consisting of Thomas Gerwers from Profifoto, Manfred Zollner from fotomagazin, Beate Cegielska, Galleri Image, Denmark and Johan Sjöström, Göteborgs Konstmuseum, Sweden. Submissions came from more than a hundred photographers from 20 countries, including: Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Denmark, Spain, France, Great Britain, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lithunia, The Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Thailand, USA und Uruguay. photographers:network selection 2009 shows works by Tamany Baker, Dietlinde Bamberger, Suzette Bross, Brian Buckley, Jill Cole, Nigel Dickinson, Kathryn Dunlevie, Lucia Ganieva, Meggan Gould, Daniel Handal, Dirk Hanus, Olga Hoffman, Pernille Koldbech Fich, Ferit Kuyas, Liu LiJie, Silvia Morara, Susanne Opton, Qiu Jun Song, Qiu Zhen, Inger Lise Rasmussen, Elliot Ross, Toby Smith, Alvaro Villela, Wang Xing Liang, Johan Willner and Yunsheng Geng. This year there is a portfolio award which goes to Dirk Hanus from Leipzig, whose work will be shown in the July issue of fotomagazin in Germany. Profifoto, Germany will also publish a selection in the July issue.
If we can accept the argument that for photography to move forward it has to reflect and respond to the society within which it exists then this selection of images does just that. Internationally it appears that our society is in a sombre mood reinforced both on the part of the photographer and how the jury has filtered it. This continuing theme of individual introspection increases the disquiet in a number of pictures. Olga Hoffman’s photograph of the Lonely Dinner is a good example of that while appearing to have its roots in the painterly qualities of American Realist artist Edward Hopper. For her pictures Hoffman builds and lights a studio set and uses a model attempting ‘to create an unreal image in a very real surrounding’. As with other photographs this state of the unreal is not immediately apparent but there is an underlying darker side.
On first viewing, Dirk Hanus’ photographs are of the here and now and they appear delightful inner spaces. That is until you look more carefully and then you realise they are not easily decipherable. The light is illogical, with shadows not relating to the light source. The subject appears alone, captured and lost and there is unease for what is happening outside of the image.
Dreams and storytelling are expanded with Qui Zhen’s Satan’s Wedding and Luci Ganieva’s tryptic Factory. The latter has a cinematic narrative which collectively says more than the individual frames. A different form of storytelling is acknowledged with Dietlinde Bamberger’s Shadows in an antique shop in Wuerzburg. These shadowgraphs have their place in Bauhaus legend and the experimental works of Man Ray and Moholy Nagy. This monochromatic still life depicts a sketch of a situation inviting the viewer to use their curiosity to add in the detail.
Daniel Handal’s photograph of Mother and Child is also a theatrical reality that exaggerates photography’s surrealist qualities. Handal sees his work as having its roots in popular culture while his inspiration comes from the beauty industry. ‘I’ve found... the use of female masks on posed human bodies resembles the frozen expressions we’ve accustomed our minds to associate with beautiful people in fashion magazines. The models that inspire me have been stylized and retouched to where they are no longer real.’
By contrast Nigel Dickenson brings reality and photojournalism to the fore. Fast food mobile vendor selling snack and drinks to a child worker is more a caption than anything else and adds to the narrative of the photograph. The tonality of the image puts detail into the shadow areas which is typical of many of the images in this selection. The sensitivity of the digital capturing media at lower light levels is remarkable and this is a continuing strand through many of the photographs in this selection. That is exactly what you would expect from outcomes with the digital experience and shows how the new technologies have a direct bearing on the nature of the image.
Toby Smith’s photograph of The Pier, in reality Brighton West Pier with a rare coating of reflective snow, has recently been awarded a silver medal in the RPS 152nd International Print Exhibition. Already published in The Guardian and The Sunday Times it was used as a metaphor for Britain’s climatic and economic collapse. It is very much a photographer’s photograph using both a long exposure and a long lens to adjust the image.
The individuals in photographers:network have been struggling with the edges of the envelope. They are pushing the boundaries. For many of them, their values, history and culture has shifted significantly from their predecessors. Only time will move some of them into the mainstream of early-21st century photography. A word of caution. Some photographs make an immediate impact providing a quick fix for the viewer. Others are infinitely more challenging and the Kellner 2009 cohort is of this ilk. Generally speaking their work requires greater effort and more time spent unraveling the hidden strand of meaning. To dismiss them would be unfortunate.
For more information on Thomas Kellner and photographers:network go to www.thomaskellner.com.
photographers:network 2009 is on show at studio Thomas Kellner, Friedrichstrasse 42, 57072 Siegen, Germany. June 27th – July 5th 2009; opening hours Saturday & Sunday between 3.00pm and 6.00pm. tel.: +49 271 238 33 43.
Journal is The Royal Photographic Society's member magazine