The Städtische Galerie Iserlohn and the Galerie infocus am Dom, Cologne show in a joint production the "Monuments" fine art photography of Thomas Kellner. The Siegen-based fine art photograph has in the past shown various pinhole camera projects and montages made from contact sheets. From this work, a special interest in multi-perspective photography has emerged and led to impressive new image inventions.
In the follow-up to the two exhibitions, his central focus will be on architectural monuments, for which a joint catalog will be published. While in Iserlohn the photographs of European monuments will be accompanied by a series of nature tableaux, in the fall the infocus gallery will complement the European monuments with their respective banknotes. In his fine art photgraphy he dissects the formative monuments of European cities photographically and with the help of contact sheets into their individual parts and makes them dance, sets the monuments in motion and brings them down. Apparently. The viewer becomes a smiling accomplice, as the buildings dissolve into a new pictorial form, into the deconstruction of the monuments, or into a collage of individual images from contact sheets, which the photographer assembles already during the planned shot, details of a seemingly already known reality. But what is reality? Clichés in our heads? With his photographic art, he teaches us to see the familiar.
In all countries and cities there are representative monuments that have already been photographed and reproduced en masse; entire cultural contexts are reduced to the denominator of a monument. Paris is the Eiffel Tower, London is Big Ben, Berlin is the Brandenburg Gate. Starting from the limitation of 12s, 24s and 36s contact sheets, the artist approaches these representative monuments by playfully dissolving and fragmenting them, thus reopening them as signs, giving monuments a new vitality. He shows his monuments in tableaus of up to 1296 images as "contact sheets". The reference size of the contact sheet remains part of the fine art photography and the monument on the picture. The initially annoying marginal strip of the film, becomes a grid that fills the image, which makes sense, gives us a foothold.
"The photographs allow one to sense a gesture like that of the painter. The movement of the arm, which is transferred to the brush there, corresponds here to the movement of the camera, which follows the gaze and thus the emotion of perception." - Reinhold Misselbeck in: Eikon Vol. 38, Viena, Austria, 2002
When photography was invented 162 years ago, it sparked enthusiasm because it was able to depict reality so accurately and lifelike. Half a century later, photographers emulated painting and tried to make their photographs as blurry and impressionistic as possible by means of complicated noble printing processes. Craft was to triumph over technique. Beginning in the decade of the last century, the medium's inherent ability to produce exact images was discovered, along with the possibilities for experimental applications that were also inherent in the medium. The subjective views of the post-war period then triggered an intensified discussion about the truth of the photographic image. People were aware of the fact that although optics and photochemistry had registered something in the form of light refraction triggered by real objects, the identity between what was really there and what could be seen in the photograph was doubted to a high degree. The more photos were taken, the clearer it became that one could send a hundred photographers to one place and ultimately get a hundred different images. If this is not the case and the pictures are similar, then often the fine art photography has already written its own history, the people who come to certain places to take their souvenir photos have already seen pictures in their heads, which they reproduce involuntarily. It is not for nothing that people like to say that we have the history of the twentieth century in our minds primarily through photographic images.
The photographic heritage of David Hockney
In 1967, David Hockney discovered that by stitching together several photographs, one could produce images of reality that were true in some sense because they corresponded to what the fine art photographers had seen or knew, but nevertheless could not have been photographed in this way with one image. In 1982 he developed his Polaroid collages from these joiners, with which he transferred the principle of the cubist image, of fixing movement in space and the passing of time, to fine art photography. The seventies were a time when the visual arts increasingly used photography to fix ephemeral arts: Actions, concepts, spatial changes, processes, actions. During this time, the photo sequence developed into one of the most important means of expression for artists such as Jan Dibbets, Ger Dekkers, Helmut Schweizer, Douglas Huebler, John Hilliard, Peter Hutchinson or Jürgen Klauke, in whose list Thomas Kellner joined a little later. Fine art photography was able to show one and the same situation in different stages of development or from different perspectives. It fixed it, whether the artist or the situation moved or changed.
Thomas Kellner's contact sheets
In this tradition, Thomas Kellner from Siegen moves with his works far beyond the Siegerland. Unlike the last-mentioned fine art photographers, however, his background is not documentation. With him, the image has taken on a life of its own. He is closer to Hockney and his idea of capturing a thing with several pictures, since it cannot be captured with one photo, at least not as one sees this thing in reality with one's eyes. However, he does not share Hockney's theoretical reflection on cubism, but instead pursues a concept of constructing the final image as he photographed it after and also as he photographed it, i.e. not cutting up the contact sheets into individual images and only later putting them together into new image compositions, but rather reconstructing the object in individual images, as it were, while photographing it. The photo collages thus follow the ductus of the camera movement. One is reminded of the old demand of the fine art photographers of the twenties, when they discovered 35mm photography and a new way of seeing replaced fine art photography from the tripod perspective. It was demanded that photographers like Thomas Kellner should hold the camera as the eye looks. From top to bottom, from bottom to top, with distorted perspectives and unusual proportions. What at the time triggered a new way of looking at things and led to fine art photography finding itself, Thomas Kellner takes up in order to produce his collages of contact prints. If we look at his landscapes, the difference becomes evident. There, pictures are put together that were all taken from the same or a similar position. Even the camera varies its line of sight only slightly, merely pointing up a little to look into a treetop. Thomas Kellner has selected individual photographs in the traditional manner and assembled them into groups of fifteen. In this composition, the detailed views complement each other through contact arcs to form a larger whole, joining together to form a panorama. In this way, these images combine the detail of the close up with the vastness of the landscape image.
New perspectives through reconstruction
The architectural images by Thomas Kellner, on the other hand, convey a new perspective. The stillness of the landscape photographs gives way here to movement. These architectural photos counteract what architecture actually is. Basically, it is static, presupposes stability and durability. Thomas Kellner's fine art photography cannot be about portraying these buildings as in danger of collapse. Thus, his contact sheets do not dissect the architecture, they rather reproduce our view of them and continue to pursue what the photographers of the New Seeing had demanded, what Hockney had continued with his photo collages. With his mounted contact sheets, Thomas Kellner goes beyond this, in that he does not subsequently assemble his photos into the whole, but rather lets us follow how his gaze has wandered with the camera by mounting complete films. We start at image 1, follow the series up to image 36, and know how he looked at the building. When the films are mounted, Thomas Kellner shows us what he took home as a memory after looking at the building. Just as he assembles the overall picture, he also assembles the view of the whole from individual moments in his memory. Because architecture in particular cannot be captured in a single glance due to its size. The gaze wanders and provides the data from which we reconstruct the whole in our minds.
Focus on perception
Accordingly, Thomas Kellner from Siegerland does not photograph architecture, but perceptions of architecture. He reconstructs our pictorial memory, is not a documentarist but an archivist. With his fine art photography, he shows us what we actually take home with us in our memories from our travels and exposes our vacation photos as lies. Because they never show us the monuments we visit, the churches and castles, as we saw them. They show us a fixed view, although during the visit we needed hundreds, even thousands, to see it, to register the details and to keep them in our memory. So Thomas Kellner also only demonstrates the principle to us, does not provide a reconstruction of seeing. If he would do this, a single picture would not have a place in this gallery. When looking at his fine art photography, memories of Robert Delaunay keep coming back to me. The swaying, unstable piling up of the various elements of architecture by means of mounted contact arcs picks up the moving lightness of Delaunay's compositions. They let us feel a gesture like the painter's. The movement of the arm, which there is transferred to the brush, corresponds here to the movement of the camera, which follows the gaze and thus the emotion of perception. Thomas Kellner is thus not a sober archivist, he is at the same time an expressionist.
The orinigal speech was later published by Reinhold Misselbeck in Eikon Vol. 38, Viena, Austria, 2002. Reedited for better readability.