German Photography: Michael Schmidt

Junk for Code : German Photography: Michael Schmidt.

May 30, 2009The dominance of the the Becher students (Gursky, Ruff, Struth, et al) in the art markets in recent years, it would be easy for collectors to come to the conclusion that everything interesting in German photography was and is emanating from Dusseldorf. The work of Michael Schmidt, is an example of some of the excellent work coming from a group of photographers who have been working in and around Berlin/Essen for decades, with loose ties to Lewis Baltz and Paul Graham.

SchmidtMBerlin-Stadtbilder.jpg Michael Schmidt, Berlin-Stadtbilder (Cityscapes) ; 1976-1980.Schmidt also works in serial format, gathering together sequences of images that together provide a more nuanced view of a subject. This sequence doesn’t tell a deeper or more linear narrative or story since it is more the relationships between a group of fragments or moments broadening our understanding of the rhythms of life buried underneath the surface.

A characteristic of his work is the arrangement of the individual photographs — the interplay and dialogue between the multi-layered images — that gives the images their distinct meaning, revealing the correlation between historical events and individual biographies. This leaves his images rather l open for different viewers’ interpretations.

In his photographs of urban architecture, which are not simply physical landscapes but social ones as well, he provides a formally balanced but menacing portrait of the modern metropolis.

SchmidtM-BerlinWedding.jpg Michael Schmidt, Berlin-Wedding; 1976-1978.In the city landscapes of “Berlin Wedding” (1976-78) the artist offers a seemingly factual account of the district, cast in richly nuanced greys. The photographs show deserted sites with pre-war architecture, empty lots, massive post-war concrete building blocks as well as sporadic patches of urban nature. In a similarly objective style, he registers in “Stadtbilder” (1976-77) the many iterations of former-West Berlin’s architecture. In this way, the architecture itself can be read as an emblem of historical and social processes.

The images for Irgendwo” (Somewhere) from 2001-2004 were taken over the course of three years during Schmidt’s extensive journeys through out Germany. The artist has arranged the images in groups of nine photographs for display in the main space of the gallery.”Irgendwo” presents rather bleak views of province-life in the reunited Germany with suburban houses and village pubs, deserted low-cost supermarkets and historical buildings, as well as distanced motorways cutting through the landscape.

Typically for his Modus Operandi Schmidt conflates architectural and landscape photographs with portraits and shots of seemingly unimportant details. It is only through the arrangement in groups – the interplay and dialogue between the images – that the individual images acquire their distinct meaning and the issue of a relation between spatial environment and individual biography comes into view.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 2:04 PM | | Comments (1)


Schmidt’s style is related to the unembellished New Topographic photography of his American peers, Robert Adams and Lewis Baltz, and ultimately descended from Eugène Atget’s existentially-loaded topographies.
Despite the severity of his documentary approach, Schmidt’s photography is intensely engaged with human, and at times, personal experience. He once said: “I need my photographs as confirmation of that which I have experienced”. Waffenruhe (Ceasefire), 1985–87, is a key Schmidt work: his most personal project made in the years immediately preceding the fall of the Berlin Wall.

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