What technological and social conditions define photography today? Anna Voswinckel meets AWC for a conversation on The Fields of Focus the exhibition series at Camera Austria, which runs through 2025, and begins with the two-part project Exposure.
Ciao, Anna, nice to e-meet you. I am glad to have this conversation with you. I know that this year you were designated the new curator of Camera Austria. How does it feel and what are your trajectories?
I joined Camera Austria in January, but I come from a curatorial practice that is not only focused on photography but also on media-specific exhibitions. As a curator, I am interested in a frame that could focus on the components that make photography relevant and thriving in contemporary art. I have been teaching photography as an artistic practice in Leipzig for many years and I always find it interesting to see how photography is molded by different media and approaches, for example, artists who come from painting, such as Sophie Thun, who is very close to Camera Austria. She started studying painting and then entered the field of photography through the analog technique, an old technique that is still an object of elaboration by contemporary artists. This is surprising to me, thinking of contemporary art as a post-photography or post-digital space. What I find interesting in my curatorial practice, and what I hope to develop, is [a sense of] how these approaches to photography combine media reflexive and personal, intimate approaches. So, for the first show, now, at Camera Austria opening in September, Exposure, I wanted to involve artists who combine these traits. And, in the second iteration, Double Exposure, delve into the overlay of works and worlds even more.
We know that the photographic medium is never neutral but rather is guided by the visual and ideological culture of the time, and thus the politics of the images can become visible. I think about how our attention has been shaped and controlled by different media, and how these media have shaped information. I noticed this kind of twofold intention in your way of titling the upcoming series of exhibitions at Camera Austria, Fields of Exposure. Exposure operates both as a photographic parameter and a political gesture of making visible, vulnerable, but also controllable. I am curious to know how the artists selected for the exhibition inquired about the relationship between the photographic subject and socio-political threads.
The artists chosen have a very subtle approach to photography and to exposing people. I would say that what they attempt to do is to create a relationship with their subjects. Visibility, in this case, is a kind of dedication toward the subjects. For example, Niklas Taleb. In his series, Dream again of better Generationenvertrag (2020), he photographs his immediate environment, and every image has a certain frame that he would self-make. It's very delicate, and I found it interesting how in the question of dedication or discarding, tenderness is somehow visible in the framing of the photographs. Stefanie Seufert addresses Marguerite Duras’s essay, “The Photographs,” published in the collection Practicalities, in her four-part series sich selber zu sehen (2021), and the memorializing function of photographs [as] a form of dominance that can override memory. I think that's also an interesting point of exposure: where one sees things through photographs and then they are forgotten, because memories are overwritten.
You are also mentioning the violent aspect of photography, that of holding, grasping, and taking possession, and this makes me think of the work by Sophie Meuresch Mohn (2017), which deals with the question of not getting hold of something through photography. She takes photographs of a poppy field with different exposures and is unable to catch the fluid nature of her object – and that’s the underlying message of this work.
I feel like how you're phrasing the form of intimacy developed between the photographer and the subject highlights a necessity for a revision of the hierarchy of image-making, as dialogue and not as a rapacious gesture of appropriation. But then how does the third party, the public, enter this relationship and say something about the surroundings?
I think the exhibition proposed some positions that really focus on creating a bond with the audience through broader social images, such as family photography. And I think the question is more about how to create an image to which everyone can relate. For example, in Universal Thoughts (or whatnot) (2023), Georg Petermichl uses overexposure to take photographs of his immediate family members. But they are also exposed in a way such that they cannot be seen clearly. Still, the archetype of the Father and the Mother is perceptible. I found this moment interesting, how, again the photographic technique comments on these social questions, and, also, how to position oneself in these social constructs. We know that when things are exposed too long to the sun they can burn. So photography peels off ideological layers. Another form of intimacy is questioned in the series of Flo Maak, who, through his photographs, compares objects with parts of the body in order to connect the human being to a broader ecosystem. For example, in Ground Truthing (2020–present) he focuses on the function of volcanoes as participants in the global energy cycle by comparing them with the human anus. And, it’s also interesting how the audience reacts when the question of desire and non-heteronormativity comes in.
The choice of creating continuity through the two-chapter exhibition also aims to delve deeper into the overlapping layers between documentation, subjectivity, and discursive fields. How will Double Exposure expand the research encompassed by Exposure?
In the exhibition Double Exposure, the title serves as a metaphor for processes of memory politics that are explored and transformed through randomly found images, or specific archive viewings. The artists on the show all deal with histories connected to either images or image production. They are not necessarily photographs, but they operate [in a register] between, archives or narratives connected to image production. Sara-Lena Maierhofer’s series Kabinette (2018–19) is a comment on archives, collections, and European museums of African arts. Her work is about how to deal with these archives from a colonial past from the perspective of a white European artist. She's inscribing her own practice in a question around decoloniality. Then there is Sim Chi Yin’s artistic intervention into a colonial picture archive. As the basis for her work, the artist used found magic lanterns and glass slides from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, designed in the UK to advertise the British Malaya colony. By inserting her grandfather and her child into the glass slides in the form of barely perceptible details, Sim subjectifies the objectifying gaze inherent in colonial projection and expands the photographically mediated, cross-generational process of memory work. The third artist, Rebekka Bauer’s, mixed-media installation Die Aufstellung (The Constellation), (2020–present) brings together hundreds of homemade metal objects from her grandfather’s estate and a collection of private photographs from the National Socialist years with family photos spanning several decades. Die Aufstellung is an experimental arrangement that changes depending on the exhibition context. The work inquires into the artist’s relationship to her grandfather’s legacy, which is historically and psychologically complex. Using methods of composition and montage, the installation searches for clues as to how unprocessed history and violence carry through family biographies and leave their mark on bodies and relationships. In a joint artistic research project, Oliver Husain and Kerstin Schroedinger combine material experiments, historical research, and performance into a multi-channel installation entitled DNCB (2021). The chemical dinitrochlorobenzene, used for color development in photo labs, was discovered by doctors and patients in San Francisco in the 1980s during the AIDS crisis as an alternative treatment for Kaposi’s sarcoma; in risky experiments, it was directly applied to the skin. In their video installation, the artists draw parallels between the surfaces of skin and film, between color developing, exposure, poisoning, and healing, and between self-medication and independent film-developing labs. Their work speaks of the body as an archive, too. I think that the formats of the artworks on show, many of which are installations, will invite the public to move [about within them] and connect narrative threads.
What you're portraying is a different posture toward archives. Some need to be freed and some need to be preserved, as they are always dealing with fear of loss, memory, or power. On a last note, Camera Austria is a publication, too. How does it relate to the exhibition and operate in your curatorial project?
Historically, the different projects of Camera Austria have always been intertwined. Again and again, artists featured in the magazine were also presented in an exhibition context or vice versa. These overlappings in the program sometimes tended to be closer, sometimes less. The editor-in-chief of the magazine, Christina Töpfer, and I intend to continue this tradition and the spring issue 2024 will take up the topic of exposure. We hope to continue this exchange in the long run.
Anna Voswinckel is curator at Camera Austria in Graz since this year. With a background in visual arts as well as cultural studies and gender theory, she has realized numerous exhibitions in recent years, often in collective contexts. Furthermore, she has taught at various art colleges. For her past curatorial projects, see www.annavoswinckel.com.
- IMAGE CREDITS
Cover: Lisa Holzer, Family (Clouds), 2023. Courtesy: die Künstlerin & Layr, Wien. Copyright: Bildrecht, Wien, 2023.
fig. 1: Stefanie Seufert, Untitled, 2015. Courtesy: die Künstlerin und Laura Mars Gallery, Berlin. Copyright: VG Bildkunst, Bonn, 2023.
fig. 2: Sophie Meuresch, aus der Serie: Mohn (eins – fünf), 2021. Courtesy: die Künstlerin
fig. 3: Georg Petermichl, Universal Thoughts (Vater), 2006/2023. Courtesy: der Künstler & Wonnerth Dejaco, Wien. Copyright: Bildrecht, Wien, 2023.
fig. 4: Flo Maak, Untitled, 2023. Courtesy: der Künstler & Bernhard Knaus Fine Art, Frankfurt am Main. Copyright: VG Bildkunst, Bonn, 2023.
fig. 5: Sara-Lena Maierhofer, Tablar (Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum), 2018. Courtesy: die Künstlerin / the artist & FeldbuschWiesnerRudolph, Berlin.
fig. 6: Sim Chi Yin, from: The Suitcase Is A Little Bit Rotten, 2023. Courtesy: die Künstlerin / the artist & Zilberman, Berlin. Photo: Daniel Terna.
fig. 7: Rebekka Bauer, installation view (Detail) from: Die Aufstellung, 2020–present/2023.
fig. 8: Oliver Husain and Kerstin Schroedinger, Still from: DNCB, 2021. Courtesy: the artists.