By Hans-Michael Koetzle
The date generally regarded as the birthday of photography is the 19th August 1839. This is the day on which the procedure for creating photographs developed by Daguerre was freely made public for the whole world to use. Even though this method of producing images had not yet been given a particular name, it didn't take long for people to recognise its potential. At the time, the French critic Jules Janin, who made a number of contributions to photography, as well being the first to write about it, wrote "Daguerre now hopes that it will not be long before he will also be able to take portraits of people." Janin was also the first to recognize the different subjects that would lend themselves to photography and hence provided a progressive account of the potential inherent in the procedure. However, even though it was still some time before the first successful portrait photograph was taken, Janin's commentaries made it very clear that people photography had always and all along been the main objective of all photographic experimentation. But further still, the very aim of the type of photography that was yet to come was to develop an 'art form' that would and finally did democratise peoples' ability to create likenesses.
To this date, portrait photography - in its widest sense - is still photography's most important endeavour and also its greatest challenge. As is its fascinating range of subjects. Portrait photography also heads the list when it comes to the number of photographs produced and their quality. And, even if the portraits commercially produced during the industrial revolution in the form of the Carte-de-Visites fail - possibly because of their numbers - to elicit much of an emotional response, the pursuit of truth and expression in the great portrait photographs produced by the early photographers never fail to touch. In a nutshell: There is simply no way round the portrait. Further still, the genres created by some of the most significant photographic projects have made a deep impression on our collective psyche. These include such landmark projects as the portraits of Native Americans produced by Edward Sheriff Curtis (1868-1952) over a period spanning nearly half his working life; as well as August Sander's (1876-1964) study of the German people in "Face of our time", which must be one of the most important projects ever to have been undertaken in photographic history. And this is where Hans-Jürgen Raabe's work picks up. While Raabe has no ambitions to see himself compared to the likes of Curtis and Sander or to pursue the one's ethnological approach or the other's sociological interest, his interest also lies in people themselves and hence his lens is trained every so more intently on this 'other'. But Raabe also thinks big - or rather, in terms of long cycles. And, he is not in a hurry. His project is designed to span a period of several years. I.e. he is going to allow this project to unfold slowly, in its own time, while never loosing sight of the question at the centre of his pursuit: How do places shape people and how do people make places special.
In the autumn of 2010, Hans-Jürgen Raabe - photographer, journalist, author, publisher - will travel to Myanmar, the former Burma, for several weeks for the first time. Equipped with a small conventional camera, he will be taking photos with no particular agenda in mind, taking his time and without pursuing any particular objective. He will furthermore be able to check his photos on site, sharpen his focus and quickly create coherence using digital technology, which has come a long way. Raabe is fascinated by people, their cultures and the disarming ease with which they move through their everyday lives. In his photographs, Raabe manages to capture the essence of these strange places as reflected by both the uniqueness and the trust inspired by the various faces of the people that inhabit them. Raabe's photographs are not documentary or press photographs, but more like snapshots of life in these places or messengers of the bizarre. In choosing his subjects, Raabe always seeks that which makes a place what it is. It's essence, coordinates, its particular colours, shapes, light and, in particular, its people. This then is the idea behind this long-term photographic project with its conceptual approach, titled "990 Faces".
Starting in Myanmar, Raabe will, on the one hand, be on the search for what he calls 'magical places' - places with a very particular and special feel, and on the other, aims to approach them as an artist, as opposed to a chronicler or documentary maker, and capture those moments in-between events where people simply relax into being and simply 'are'. Everyday life as opposed to exceptional situations. Poetry as opposed to politics. Over the coming years, Raabe will - as already laid down in his master plan - visit a total of thirty-three select places. At each of these places, he is going to take thirty close-up portraits of the people he finds there. Photographs that could also be called 'environmental portraits'. Portraits of the people that are rooted in these places, portraits that put people into context and that, last but not least, are a reflection of the artist Hans-Jürgen Raabe: His curiosity, humility and desire to see people truly. His motto in undertaking this venture is 'Take a look at who's looking at you'. Each of the series of portraits will be accompanied by ten meditative still photographs from each place as a kind of prelude. Devoid of hard facts and enigmatic, the phantom of an essence that cannot be described.
Although seemingly a paradox, Hans-Jürgen Raabe's project "990 Faces" is provoking precisely because it does not seek to provoke. This project is a conscious effort to create some distance to conventional photography, which aims to capture shock or at least states of surprise. Designed to be executed on the global stage and over a long period of time, Raabe's project calls for a particular kind of 'seeing'. Their simple refusal to focus on anything that might be sensational and conscious exploration of the seemingly mundane, captured during strolls, walks and by simple looking, give Raabe’s photographs an unnerving quality. And this is despite the fact that his photographs are so decidedly no-frills and clear, his look focused simply and straight on the object of his attention: people. Raabe's work is full of empathy and his photographs a conscious effort to capture his audience without disturbing, scaring or shocking them. They are works of art. Beautiful, quiet, full of colour and masterfully composed. Photographs that capture life as it unfolds in those countless moments that are far from spectacular. Set to take photographs at thirty-three select places, Hans-Jürgen Raabe will endeavour to see each person truly - capture them just as they are - starting in Myanmar. Using his camera, the artist and photographer will explore what it means to be a person in a global world.
Two years after Raabe's first trip to the Far East, the first of the planned 33 books, "990 Faces - Myanmar" is now available. An exceptional book in more than one way - from its conceptual approach, the photographs themselves, but also the practical implementation and equipment and - last but not least - its design. Raabe's work - which will be published in 33 editions - is an odyssey. A journey to select places around the world that is full of surprises. And a photographic encounter with the people who represent the magic and wonder of these places.
Hans-Michael Koetzle Having studied German and history in Munich, Koetzle is an established writer and journalist specializing in the history and aesthetics of photography. From 1996 to 2007 he was the editor of the magazine Leica World. He has curated exhibitions internationally including Die Zeitschrift twen at the Stadtmuseum, Munich 1995, the retrospective of René Burri at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris 2004, Theodor Hilsdorf at Fotomuseum, Munich 2007, and the retrospective of F. C. Gundlach at Haus der Photographie, Hamburg 2008. Book Publications include Die Zeitschrift twen (1995), Willy Fleckhaus (1997), Das Foto: Kunst- und Sammelobjekt (1997), Photo Icons (2001), Das Lexikon der Fotografen (2002), René Burri: photographs (2004), Mack: Ruhrgebiet (2009), Photographers A - Z (2012). Most recently he was the curator of the Hamburg exhibition Eyes on Paris and editor of the same publication.
By Mark Gisbourne
PILGRIMS PROGRESS…….If it can be said that to progress in its purest sense means to move forward towards a goal, it at the same time involves not only a physical external journey but an immanence that encompasses a highly affective and increased state of internal self-awareness. In this context the Hans Jürgen Raabe photographic portraits of various anonymous individuals at the pilgrimage centre of Lourdes in South West France prove a clear case in point, since they are less about the recording of a pilgrim event or social commentary (simple reportage) than an indefinite engagement with individual and collective social presence. What is the creative purpose of this collated set of photograph portraits? Are they not a displaced series of appearances of source, subject and site, a deferment of that which was once seen and now reconvened within our temporal present as that which can now be seen again? After all what is a photograph if not an appearance and manifestation? It is particularly appropriate therefore that the Christian pilgrimage town of Lourdes is a place of a purported series of immaculate apparitions, since the word ‘apparition’ means simply the act of appearing (apparentness made visible), and has accepted temporal presences that in this particular instance have been deferred from their original singularity into trans-temporal moments of universal faith-based identification and association. However, one does not have to embrace or personally accept the spiritual claim of Bernadette Soubirous (1844-79), the illiterate peasant girl who claimed eighteen appearances of the Virgin Mary to her in the months from March to July, 1858. But conversely one has to accept that many millions of faithful Catholics have embraced and come to believe it. However, the notion of religious faith and its assertion is certainly not the main intention of Hans Jürgen Raabe’s thirty portraits and ten supplementary images at Lourdes, and for this reason no photographs of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, and/or the famous grotto as the site of the Virgin’s supposed appearance are not included, and neither does the artist pursue in any great depth related issues as to the world cultus of St Bernadette herself (she was eventually canonised in 1933). What Raabe does accept is that annually five million pilgrims visit Lourdes, and that in so doing they present an extraordinary creative opportunity to represent peoples of a single professed faith with a multi-ethnic and poly-cultural background. The unique portraits that he has realised in the current series are meant to evoke less the faces of an immediate faith, though that is undoubtedly implied, but rather simple human faces of sensory presence and non-defined expectations. These are not portraits of miracle seekers per se, but the photographer’s pictorial engagement with psychical or mental presences in a place of a pre-contextualised historical and spiritualised identity. It follows that in the vibrant instantaneousness of Raabe’s photographic approach to his chosen subjects that we find a desire to capture their engaged social presence, and the actual context in which this takes place becomes simply the given circumstance of the immediate presence that is to be captured. This is not to say that the photographs pursue the deeper psychological contents of the human sitter’s personality, but simply reveal sensory moments of social and contextual aspiration. All photographs are a record of arrested moments of presence, but in Raabe’s circumstance it is not with an intended use of controlled or orchestrated portraiture. The photographs represent a complex collective experience distilled through what are strikingly individual human faces. As a result the portrait faces remain free of any arbitrary typological and taxonomic expectations, and they neither categorise nor predetermine a particular reading of the chosen subject. In this respect it is left to the viewer of the photograph to engage with the indeterminate openness that the portraits portend. And as has been long known any given use of a photographic portrait is fraught with ambiguity. The dialectic between recognition and psychological insight, and in this case the subjects are largely anonymous, remains in the interstices between the ‘looking at’ and ‘looking for’ within a given portrait. It is a feeling of this interstitial or liminal reality (between social involvement and individual presence) that is so evident in Raabe’s thirty portraits, since the accompanying ten site-related Lourdes images remain intentionally indexical. They point towards the contextual content but never fully predefine it; this is to say it is not a documentary record of a particular pilgrimage. The accompanying images are a social pictorial frame that surrounds and inflects the sense of a Lourdes experience, while the particular portrait images of religious sisters, nurses, and the purported faithful, in no way alters or categorises the simple humane presence of the chosen subjects. The simple empathy of Raabe’s photographs is a powerful and intuitive non-manipulative response to the presence of his subjects. He is a photographer who tries to present his subjects with a sense of their literal verity, and though all portrait photography is an excised moment Raabe does not attempt to markedly dramatise the portraits. As a master photographer he is well aware that the selection and editorial process is inevitably a form of personal determinism, and that what is seen is the consequence of choices that have been made. But in many respects the Lourdes images are as the subjects might wish themselves to be seen within the journeyed context, and has the discrete effect of further emphasising a sense of their shared social participation in a collaborative event. If there is any allusion to a spiritual content as such it remains within the quiet interiority of the portraits, within the stillness and presence of each chosen subject. It is a simple inwardness that each portrait image represents, an internal reflection free of psychologised tendencies of interpretation. This furthers the distinction between portraits that are merely a photographic projection, and the chosen subjects of immanent presence found in the photographs of Hans Jürgen Raabe.
Mark Gisbourne (Born 1948) is a former Tutor, Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London; Lecturer, Slade School of Fine Art, University College, University of London; and Post-Graduate Senior Lecturer in Post-war and Contemporary Art, at Sotheby's Institute (Manchester University Master's Programme). He is former President of the British Art Critics Association (AICA), and International World Vice-President, and co-organised the World Congress of Art Critics at Tate Modern, 2000. An international curator and writer he has worked with many of the world's leading contemporary artists, ands published a dozen or more books and well over two hundred exhibition catalogue essays. As a critic he has published articles and exhibition reviews for nearly all leading English Language and several Bi-lingual art publications, and appeared in over twenty languages. A recent focus has been on painting, photography and video art, though he is published on almost all forms of contemporary art media. His books include Berlin Art Now (Thames & Hudson,London; Abrams, New York; German edition as Kunst Station Berlin, Knesebeck, 2006), Double Act: Two Artists One-Expression (Prestel, German and English editions 2007), TERRAE 'Manel Armengol' (Turner Books, English and Spanish editions in 2010), Martin Assig; Vasen, Gipfel, Menschen (Schirmer Mosel English/German, 2011), and contributions to POLISH, a new book on Polish contemporary art (Polish and English editions). His many photography writings include a contribution to Lina Kim & Michael Wesely Arquivo Brasilia (2011), and includes in recent years monographic writings and museum publications on Thomas Florschuetz, Michael Wesely, Hannes Norberg, Ola Kohlehmainen, Carmen Brucic, Warren Neidich, Lorenza Lucchi Basili, Zhang Huan, Thomas Weinberger, and numerous other artist-photographers (2007-12). His latest book that accompanies most recent international three museum tour is I AM A BERLINER (Eighteen Positions in Berlin Painting) English/Croatian/Italian (2011/12).
By Hans-Eberhard Hess
THE BAVARIAN´S GREAT BEER FESTIVAL... A phenomenon like no other. The Munich Oktoberfest is not only the biggest folk festival in the world, but also polarizes people between those who absolutely love it and those who abhor it. The 16 days of celebrating always produce figures that require sobering up: More than six million visitors who will have drunk at least as many barrels of beer. However, officials not only record visitor numbers, but also things like the number of incidents attended to by the Red Cross, the number of lost children, dogs, false teeth, briefcases, keys, items of clothing and other things delivered to the lost property office, a large percentage of which are never claimed back. The Oktoberfest is both a world unto itself and something akin to continuous state of emergency.
Its present shape therefore makes it hard to believe that it actually started out quite innocent and to celebrate a very special occasion. The first Oktoberfest was held in the middle of October in 1810, on the occasion of Crown Prince Ludwig and princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen's wedding, which saw the whole of Munich come together and celebrate - for several days straight - and finish their festive activities with a horse race "in front of the Sendling Gate, on the side of road that will take you to Italy". On that occasion, businessmen, tradesmen, farmers, civil servants, in short, a cross section of Munich's entire population, found themselves a comfortable spot on the slope behind the meadow, which henceforth was always known as Theresienwiese (Theresien Meadow), and settled down to watch and feast. That year’s Oktoberfest proved so popular that it was then repeated again the following year, when it was even attended by King Max Josef and Crown Prince Ludwig in person. From there, it didn't take long for the Oktoberfest to become the national Bavarian festival we know it as today.
Since those days, the Oktoberfest has been continuously oscillating between tradition and modernity and, for most of its recent history, has settled on developing its very own fashion. Which, of course, is the traditional Bavarian costume. However, there is little regard for whether it's genuinely traditional, a modern take on tradition, a cheap mini-skirt-based costume or a Lederhosen from the stall down the road - everything goes and everybody goes for it. All-in-one outfits are available for as little as 49.90 Euro from the supermarkets, or for as much as several thousand Euros from designer boutiques. Once clad in their festive garb, it’s hard to distinguish tourists from natives. These days, the latter are heavily outnumbered by the former. And these in turn do not just come from neighbouring countries, such as Italy, but even from as far away as the USA, New Zealand, Australia and Asia. By now, offers for short breaks to the Oktoberfest abound, all of which not only include flights, accommodation and a reservation for a table at the Oktoberfest, but also a costume - whether that be a Dirndl or Lederhosen. Those with a love of ritual may also well find their Nirvana in the Oktoberfest. Because this is where simple commands like "one, two, lets booze" and where knowledge of which beer tent is reserved for what clientèle will get you a long way. Käfer's Oktoberfest bar, for example, tends to be home to well-known sports personalities and their wives, as well as TV stars showing off their new girlfriends. The Hippodrom, on the other hand, tends to be haunted by all sorts of other glitter, glamour and underground stars, while the Schottenhamel tent is a clear favourite of younger generation visitors. On the second Monday of the Oktoberfest, the Fischer-Vroni becomes a special venue for gays from all over the world, and come the second weekend of the Oktoberfest at the latest, Italy tends to be bare of mobile home, as everybody will be on their way to the Oktoberfest in Munich.
However, what makes the Oktoberfest so special and the phenomenon that it is, is the fact that it is a melting-pot of humanity, extremely attractive and simply irresistible. Even Ödön von Horvath drew inspiration from the Oktoberfest's former "Human curiosities" and "Freak shows" and directly wove his experiences into his folk play "Kasimir and Karloine". The Bavarian's great beer festival - as the Oktoberfest was once called in an exhibition - has long since transcended national boundaries. Today, it is simply a vast variety show, a theatre - a modern day stage that hosts a circus for just 16 days each year, the popularity of which is reflected by the fact that it and all of its various faces, and fun-loving and star-studded visitor list has already been the subject of countless movies and documentaries. The daily Oktoberfest roundups provided by the local radio and TV stations have also long since become just another set of rituals.
However, under the lens of Hans-Jürgen Raabe, the Oktoberfest becomes a focus of a very different kind, quite removed from the normal emphasis of the dramas taking place both in front and behind its various stages. To Hans-Jürgen Raabe, the Oktoberfest is simply part of his extremely ambitious global project of capturing people in the places where they are at home and that are significant to them as public spaces, regardless of whether those public spaces are about common interests, a set of spiritual believes or particular events. To Raabe, all people are individuals and, wherever a person may find him/herself at any point in time, they are also always centre stage. His photographs do not speculate, are not aimed at uncovering any real or imagined depths, at exposing or discriminating against people. But, his photographs are also just as far removed from any desire to be decorative as they are from being investigative. Raabe's photographs are in fact anything but an endeavour to create a stir or commotion. They are simply images of people who are at one with themselves and their environment; attempts of capturing the very essence of what makes them individuals, what makes them one of a kind, their faces, hearts and souls. The seemingly intangible essence that emanates from each one of us and makes us unique. Raabe's photographs are condensed narratives that give us vast glimpses of the lives of the people we share this planet with and perhaps even insights into our own lives - and manage to do so in no more than the blink of an eye. And, when narratives are this deep, they carry the power to become conversations.
Hans-Eberhard Hess Hans-Eberhard Hess is the editor in charge of "Photo International“, a magazine published in Munich, as well as a photographer and journalist. He has been working as a professional photography author, judge and curator for many years now.
By David Galloway
The very name of this ancient Moroccan capital conjures up visions of opulence and sensuousness, of bustling souks and the perpetual carnival of Djemma el-Fnaa. The largest square in Africa boasts a continuously shifting cast of characters—acrobats and beggars, dentists and water-boys, cooks and mountebanks, snake-charmers and fortune-tellers— that beggars the word “picturesque.” The city’s appeal to writers but above all to visual artists—painters, photographers and filmmakers—has understandably been profound. The very notion of Modernism in the visual arts has much to do with the impact of the North African territory of the Maghrib, where Europe and Africa seemed to converge and where European artists seeking new inspiration delved into the intricacies of Berber motifs and the rich Islamic heritage encountered there. Most of all, it was the dazzling light and the intense colors that bewitched visitors. “Color possesses me,” Paul Klee confided to his diary in 1914. “I no longer have to fish around for it. It has me forever, I know that. It is the sense of this happy hour: Color and I are one. I am a painter.”
That such influential couturiers as Yves St. Laurent and Jean Paul Gauthier would later create homes in Marrakech comes as no surprise. In 1980 St. Laurent acquired the derelict gardens created by the French painter Jacques Majorelle in 1919 and restored them to their former glory. (The Algerian-born designer’s ashes were scattered there in the rose garden in 2008.) One of the most striking aspects of this lavish ensemble is the extensive use of an intense shade of cobalt blue now referred to as “Majorelle blue.” It finds its place among the bright pigments that comprise “Still 34” in Hans Jurgen Raabe’s Marrakech. The image itself, with its glistening jars composed into a bright mosaic, might be seen as a metaphor of the city itself—and of this remarkable volume in Hans Jurgen Raabe’s ongoing epic of 990 Faces. The human countenance, in all its inestimable variety, is Raabe’s central theme, but each volume of this compendium is preceded by commonplace images that set the stage for the human drama that follows.
In the case of Marrakech it is less the specific motifs of the “stills” than their intense coloration that first strikes the eye: cadmium yellow, hot pink, fiery orange, olive green, and various shades of blue. Like leitmotifs, the colors are echoed in muted shades in the portraits that follow: in a headscarf or turban, a wall, a doorway, or a paint-splattered coverall. There is no sense that the artist has treated color as some sort of prerequisite in choosing his anonymous subjects; it is, after all, a ubiquitous feature of the world he explores here. Yet a feeling of randomness is essential to Raabe’s 990 Faces. Indeed, it is what sets his compendious work apart from predecessors like August Sander’s Faces of Our Time (1929) or the Family of Man exhibition curated by Edward Steichen for the Museum of Modern Art and first exhibited in 1955. Like Raabe, Sander and Steichen had captured images of ordinary people going about their own ordinary lives. Unlike Raabe, his predecessors felt a sense of mission both to document and to classify their materials. They had an agenda. Photography, according to Steichen, was a universal language and hence ideal for illustrating universal themes and values. Hence, he divided a corpus of 503 works by 273 photographers into categories like love, work, childhood and death. Sander, who by 1945 had accumulated some 40,000 images, also developed strict categories for his motifs: “The Farmer,” “Woman,” “Tradesmen,” and “The City,” for example.
Though Raabe greatly admires the achievements of Sander and Steichen, his own approach rejects didacticism in favor of the spontaneous aesthetic of the snapshot. (The degree to which a literal randomness is possible here remains debatable, much as it does in the case of so-called “automatic writing.”) He thus helps to evolve an approach that received major impetus with the introduction of Eastman Kodak’s “Brownie” in 1900—a camera that sold for $1 and was promoted with the slogan: “You push the button, we do the rest.” Inherent in such an approach were formal elements of unsuspected consequence: authenticity, ubiquity, vivacity, and multiplicity. Nonetheless, it would take more than half a century before the snapshot found a truly influential champion in John Sarkowski, who served as Curator of Photography at the New York’s Museum of Modern Art from 1962 to 1991. (Edward Steichen had personally designated Sarkowski as his successor.) Not only did the curator foster such unconventional talents as Diane Arbus, but he also promoted a new generation that included Nan Goldin, Wolfgang Tilmans and William Eggleston. The British magazine The Face was an offspring of this new focus on unmanipulated glimpses of a hard-core reality.
Yet the aesthetic revealed here was perhaps less revolutionary than it at first appeared. As early as 1908—less than a decade after Kodak introduced the first point-and-shoot camera—the Austrian architecture critic Joseph August Lux published an essay entitled “Künstlerische Kodakgeheimnisse” (“Artistic Secrets of the Kodak”), in which he championed the cultural potential of the snapshot to create stability amid the ebb and flow of modern life and provide a bulwark against the encroaching “inconsistency of existence.” But he also praised the gift of the amateur—in its fundamental sense of a “lover” or enthusiast—to achieve results of broader aesthetic consequence and hence to breathe “a new artistic life into the photograph.” Hans Jürgen Raabe’s Marrakech offers fresh evidence of that transformative power.
The faces recorded here might be encountered anywhere in the city. They belong to Everyman and Everywoman: a pretty young student balancing a mobile phone and a lighted cigarette, a Bedouin swathed in silk scarves, salesmen, housewives, curious children, passersby. All are lifted from anonymity by being drawn into collaboration with the photographer. Most, indeed, are aware of being photographed and react accordingly. They thus recall an observation in Elias Canetti’s posthumously published book, The Voices of Marrakech: “They had a way of swiftly glancing up and forming an opinion of the person going past.”
As a crossroads of cultures, religions, and ethnicities, Marrakech was an ideal setting for Raabe’s exploration of the human countenance. In creating 990 Faces, he has regularly favored sites of pilgrimage where a human melting pot is guaranteed. These may be such traditional goals of religious pilgrims as Lourdes or Myanmar, or those that attract cultural voyagers to the Kassel “documenta,” to New York’s Fifth Avenue, or to the world’s most frequently visited monument, the Eiffel Tower. Marrakech has more than its share of backpacking or jet-setting “pilgrims,” yet it also retains a deeply religious goal for many followers of Islam. Since the 18th century, pilgrims have visited the tombs of the city’s seven “protector saints”—one for each day of the week—buried here. Even today, those who have come to worship at these sites form part of the wonderful potpourri of humanity that lends the city its special magic and that weaves it spell about Hans Jürgen Raabe’s Marrakech
David Galloway, born in Memphis, Tennessee, studied at Harvard College and the State University of New York. He co-founded the program in American Studies at the University of Sussex (England) and later held the Chair of American Studies in Bochum, Germany. In addition to numerous academic works, Galloway has published five novels and more than 200 articles on visual culture. In 1977 he became the first Chief Curator of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. As a freelance curator he has organized exhibitions for the Ludwig Forum in Aachen, Germany, the Venice Biennale and the Moscow Museum of Contemporary Art.
by Freddy Langer
It was on several warm days that Google sent its cars driving through Manhattan to photograph Fifth Avenue for Street View, from north to south, just like the one-way streets have been running since January 1966. Only a few clouds hang in the narrow stretch of bright sky between the skyscrapers. The women are wearing short dresses, often sleeveless. The men are running in shorts and T-shirts through the city. Judging by the position of the sun, it's early in the morning. It might be Sunday; at least in several pictures. There's not much going on. Nothing at all in some places. And even the couple at the end of Fifth Avenue, where it runs into Harlem River Drive on the level of 143rd Street and then simply ends, even this couple on a park bench under the trees simply disappears when you move through this picture and around the park bench. It's an eerie moment for anyone who takes a stroll vicariously on his computer screen down Fifth Avenue from no. 2345 to Washington Square, where the street then simply ends again.
From Harlem via the Upper Eastside through Midtown to Greenwich Village, past Central Park, the Guggenheim Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, past Rockefeller Center, St. Patricks Cathedral and the flagship stores of the great American luxury brands, past the Empire State Building, the Public Library and the Flat Iron. Fifth Avenue is considered to be the most expensive street in the world with the highest rents and most exclusive boutiques, but because it is so long, you can ultimately find everything here that characterizes New York, in one form or another, except for the gigantic illuminated signs on Times Square, a magnet for tourists. So we can't even rule out that this is the reason why photographer Hans Jürgen Raabe decided against Broadway in favour of Fifth Avenue when he selected thirty people for the portraits in his long-term global project "990 Faces". He focused on New Yorkers - and not on mere strangers, just passing through. Using a telephoto lens, he peels them out of their environment. Razor sharp, precisely down to the pores in their skin, while the background morphs into fields of colour, with bright splatters here or there that can just barely be interpreted to be a traffic light or the Stars and Stripes.
In Google Street View it's exactly the other way around. There, the facades of building are so clearly visible that you can count the bricks and read the signs on the houses. But as you go down the street on this virtual tour you only gradually begin to realize, click by click, that you can't make out the people. The faces are strangely blurred, rendered unrecognizable: to protect these people as individuals they are deprived of their uniqueness. What remains in your memory are the gestures and poses: like the man with a bandage on his foot and a crutch in hand, in a bright orange shirt standing on the street and waving for a taxi. Or the African-American man at the top, by the end of the street with a shopping cart full of empty cans that he seems to be dragging with his last ounce of strength. Even poses have stories to tell.
People are constantly debating in regards to street photography what may and may not be photographed, where the line of decency and morality is crossed, even the line of legality. The women, who Bill Cunningham has been photographing forever and a day at the crossing of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street because of the conspicuous way they're dressed, they feel flattered and certainly don't mind seeing themselves in the New York Times the next day. Beat Streuli, on the other hand, has endured accusations of voyeurism. He used a powerful telephoto lens to pick pedestrians out of the crowds on Fifth Avenue, many at a moment in which they seemed to be sleepwalking, often with their eyes closed. Philip-Lorca diCorcia was even sued for two million dollars in damages by a pedestrian, whose portrait was taken and exhibited without his knowledge - but was eventually acquitted. Bruce Gilden, who literally holds his camera with a wide angle lens in the faces of pedestrians and then sets off the flash right in their eyes, he has taken the occasional beating from uncomprehending men on Fifth Avenue. Where does protection of privacy begin and where does freedom of art end? Purportedly discussions are currently underway in New York's City Hall on a general ban on photographing pedestrians.
With Hans Jürgen Raabe every motif appears to have been made with the consent of the people in them. It's hard to believe that these are snapshots. Taken as quick as a flash, recorded in response to a facial expression, a pose, a look. Sometimes it's pride, sometimes a moment of reflection and scepticism. But ultimately we are left with an impression of joy, of warmth, beaming almost as if these people were reacting to the camera - and not the other way around.
Raabe does not tell us where he began his walk down Fifth Avenue and where he ended. We really don't need to know. It is equally unimportant that he shows us nothing of the streets, no buildings or parks in these portrait photos. Representative of these surroundings, he shows several "stills", as he calls them, before the portraits: with an old brass clock in front of the Flat Iron Building, with fine displays in store windows and with a detail of the relief on the façade of Rockefeller Center. We have Google Street View for everything else. There we can look up every single address at our own pace. What Raabe shows us in no uncertain terms, on the other hand, is an echo of these surroundings in the faces: the facial expressions of the big city. It's almost as if these people were wearing the city in their facial features.
We see business people, employees and workers, men and women, young and old and in every colour of skin. No one is like the other. But if you must call them prototypes, then not for their profession or their race, but for the big city whose social model is no longer compared to a melting pot, but rather to a bowl of mixed salad. These are people who everyday share the streets and subway, the shops and offices with thousands of other people, who have learnt to move with the crowd without drowning in it. What characterizes them is their self-confidence. And this is perhaps nowhere in the world as pronounced as it is on the wide sidewalks of Fifth Avenue. And hence Raabe's New York photographs are marked primarily by the fact that these penetrating glances are what remain with you. They are often directed right at the viewer. An invitation and a challenge at the same time.
Freddy Langer (F.L./La.) was born on 19 December 1957 in Frankfurt where, except for one year of school in England, he also grew up. After leaving secondary school and serving his community service as a paramedic, he studied in Frankfurt and the US, majoring in American Studies, English Studies as well as Film and Television Studies. While still a student he wrote for the feature and magazine sections of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (F.A.Z.), in particular about film, photography and American topics. After graduating with a thesis on Moby Dick, he joined the editorial staff of the F.A.Z. subsidiary Die Neue Ärztliche in 1987. On 1 September 1989 he joined the travel journal of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, in April of 2002 he assumed the management. He also supervises the photography part of the feature section. He is the author of several books on America, including Route 66 - The Final Cut. A collection of his stories, commentaries and feature articles from the travel journal was published under the title So weit. So gut. (So far. So good), stories from his hiking and mountain adventures are summed up in the books Alles zu Fuß (Everywhere on Foot) and Weitergehen (Keep Going). He was awarded the "BergWelten" prize in the autumn of 2003; in 2012 he received the Münsterland award for journalism. In his spare time Freddy Langer photographs celebrities wearing a sleeping mask. There are even books on this subject. Married, with two children.
By Klaus Honnef
Under the influence of technological hegemony in (post)modern societies the relationships between people and places have changed entirely. The umbilical cord that once held them together, previously for a lifetime, is torn. People are constantly changing the places where they stay. And this trend is on the rise as well. Voluntarily and involuntarily – in equal measure. As commuters, tourists or refugees. As users, nearly unfathomable numbers of people surf effortlessly in the World Wide Web across national and cultural boundaries or beyond shielding walls. They are in close contact with people they will probably never physically meet. The embodiment of the (post)modern human is a nomad who always returns to his permanent, yet changing place of residence, only to leave it soon again; an ambulant sedentary person.
“990 Faces” is the unusual, yet sophisticated project by Hans-Jürgen Raabe, photographic examination of this new type of human. The essential question: Can this human be identified and if so, by what? Does this type of human even exist or is it merely a product of the usual hasty generalizations? In any case Raabe’s intent is to explore in photographs whether there is something in each face of 30 people (and sometimes even their entire bodies) that reflects something like a relationship to the place in which they were photographed. Throughout the world. Regardless of whether they are visitors, temporary residents or locals. Perhaps in the end they are all different and that is the only thing that they share? The intuition of the photographer alone is what determines the selection of persons who appear in front of the camera.
In the end Raabe actually visited 33 places. In most of the locations selected by the photographer, the people in front of his camera are present in those places only sporadically, but not without a motive. An eminently photographic theme. Photography as a visualization of the absent. But even the places chosen by Raabe have an inherently changeable character. Their geographical location plays only a minor role. The mobilising aspect of Raabe’s undertaking is more important. An aspect that reveals a certain power of attraction that is not just linked coincidentally to these respective places, but in which a dimension of time pulsates. He sets these selected places apart from most other places and is thus so influential, giving them a special character all their own. A recurring event that serves as a kind of trademark, or a specific aura that makes these places an attraction for “foreigners”, for tourists and visitors. Yet these phenomenal things are either limited or lasting and at times public interest in them actually overshadows everything else in and around these places.
The documenta is undoubtedly just such a case for the City of Kassel. For almost 50 years it was undisputedly the most important vehicle for advanced contemporary art. Meanwhile many other major international art events are vying for this place at the top. Yet without ever seriously endangering its position. Quite the contrary, the competition actually helps. Initiated in 1958 by Arnold Bode and held every five years since 1972, the documenta has given an ever increasing number of people from all over the world a reason to make their way to this German province. To a city lacking everything that makes Venice, the setting of the Biennale Venezia, a place of yearning. At the same time the 100 days of the documenta have doubled and the population in Kassel has trebled in the meantime. Contemporary art is an unparalleled success story.
Hans-Jürgen Raabe has taken his camera among the visitors of this major art event, like he did previously with pilgrims on the streets and locations of Lourdes, among monks and pilgrims in Myanmar or carnival operators, waitresses and visitors of the Munich Oktoberfest. And he looked into their faces. He faces an additional challenge with the documenta . Through the camera the observer suddenly sees the faces of people in these surroundings who themselves are observing; people who came solely to the city in North Hesse just to have a look. If there are any residents of Kassel among those photographed, which is not obvious, then they have come to these districts for no other reason than to look at contemporary art. Some with attentive or contemplative expressions, others with critical, confused, doubting and some with sceptical expressions, yet all gazing with watchful eyes; some looking directly into the camera, most seeing past the camera and beyond. Two listen with headphones to explanations of what they see. Either before or after viewing a picture, one visitor seems to consult the green catalogue with several notes tucked between the pages. Another appears to sketch an exhibit in a drawing pad. A visitor in a faded jeans jacket, with two pairs of glasses and headphones draped around his neck, explains to one or more visitors an exhibit located just outside the field of vision. His left index finger points to it. Do they represent this type of ambulant nomad?
We do not see what the subjects are really looking at. It is doubtful whether they noticed the camera at the time they were photographed, which would help us to explain their expression. Yet this seems to be the case for a handful of exceptions. But even here there is no ultimate certainty. The long focal length of the camera lens makes sure of this. What captivates the attention of most people is not the camera of the photographer, but rather – and that at least is what the images suggest to us – the art objects presented here. What does stand out is the amount of relaxed, albeit expectant (but not tense) faces. Many are smiling, or are at least captured with a hint of a smile. It soon becomes clear to the insider that Hans-Jürgen Raabe could not have simply taken traditional preliminary pictures for the art scene, the so-called professional previews. Not because these faces cannot be associated with known figures of the contemporary art scene, but while the usual sullen facial expressions are missing with his pictures, that sense of professional “ennui” normally observed at these previews brought on by an endless marathon of international art exhibitions and only signalling a sense of deja vu.
What sort of public in Kassel is expected during the 100 days of the documenta ? The photographic images are only able to convey meagre information directly through the human eye. The physiognomies reflect those who also (still?) characterise the streets and places of any medium-sized city in Germany. The clothing does not denote any differences in social standing. It is casual, comfortable, rarely elegant or unusual. Middle-class, mainly workers and civil servants, people who are no longer required to adhere to strict dress codes, to a lesser extent of foreign descent, people of every age. Because faces were not chosen according to any representative sociological criteria, any conclusions drawn must remain approximations; they should not be lost in pure speculation. Even the poses captured by the photographer are not of much help.
Perhaps the actual social dimension of the images is contained within the virtual uniformity of the clothing, with diversity only manifesting itself in nuances, and this unearths a surprising discovery. Especially since they are also reflected in the faces, which is why they are portraits in this sense because they show people we are familiar with (or at least think we know), although we’ve never met them. The democratising effect of photography in the story of pictures. This is revealed by a brief comparison with Raabe’s pictures from Lourdes, Myanmar and Munich. As opposed to the afore-mentioned places, even the clothing in Kassel does not provide any indication of specific occupational groups, status or folkloristic references. No nurses, clergy, monks or ostentatious representatives of Bavarian compatriot associations populate the scene. The focus of the documenta is universal, appealing in principle to all people.
Contemporary art – and this is the sociological finding of the pictures – has arrived at the centre of the (still) civil society and no longer encounters the remnants of educated middle-class reservations as was the case in the beginning and well into the 1970s: This is not art! An exclamation that has become outdated. In earlier times even Kassel’s residents did not speak highly of the documenta or simply paid it no attention. In light of the exhibits presented here, it is simply unthinkable that the friendly faces gazing at the portraits by Hans-Jürgen Raabe could possibly turn once again into angry faces full of disgust. The artistic avant-garde with its potential for provocation is merely a previous chapter in the great history book of art, and the species of outraged citizens has meanwhile transformed into a form of mere everyday imposition.
Klaus Honnef, born in 1939, art critic and curator, editor of the newspaper Aachener Nachrichten, director of the Westfälischer Kunstverein, Münster, and director of exhibitions of the Rheinisches Landesmuseum Bonn. In 1972 and 1977, he served as co-organiser of the documenta 5 and 6 in Kassel – for the first time displaying photography in an artistic context. Through numerous publications and exhibitions, he has anchored photography in the art scene. Professor emeritus of the theory of photography in Kassel, visiting professor and lecturer at German colleges and universities. Since 2000 independent curator and author. He is responsible for more than 500 exhibitions worldwide, is the author or numerous books. Klaus Honnef was awarded the “Chevalier de l’ordre des arts et des letter” by the French Republic and in 2011 received the cultural award of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Photographie. www.klaushonnef.de
Depiction of Time: In Between Portrait, Image and Spirit
By T. Melih Görgün
In the conceptual framework of the 49th Venice Biennale, whose main theme was “Plateau of Humankind,” Harald Szeemann argues the following:
“The term »platea« has several meanings in Italian: a raised surface; a base and foundation; a platform. The Visual Arts Biennale as a platform of humanity. This is the idea. In the 1950s an exhibition entitled Family of Man travelled around the world. We would like to reconnect to this at the beginning of the new millennium, but the chances of all individuals constituting a family are not promising, despite the faith in globalisation and the breaking down of all kinds of walls. Each day new conflicts are born - for ethnic, religious or political reasons - which give rise to wars.” (*)
With his text and preferences for the exhibition, Szeemann created a realm of performance, which addresses human beings and the culture and the violence produced by them. This gave us an opportunity to further realize and discuss our conflicts, projections, ideologies and their spheres of influence in the context of “living as human beings.” This curative "work", which can also be considered the final piece of Szeemann’s “gesamtkunstwerk”, develops an intellectual realm of discussion about seeing humankind and its beyond. In his work, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Michel Foucault addresses active and passive fields and by developing a contemporary definition to the concept of “observation” in today's world through a particular emphasis on panopticon, he points to the modern surveillance society and universally violent perception of it. Without disregarding the problematic of controlling the “moment” and sustaining the object by a single definition, Foucault further emphasizes the politics of the new world order and his suggestions for the future. In addition to the eradication of diversity, the control mechanism of order also suppress the freedom in identified places and makes us witness the transformation of the individual. While it was a insight of Foucault at the first instance, the practice of witnessing has become a fact in today’s world. At this particular moment, we can address the relationality of the works of Szeemann and Foucault with an emphasis on the “individual and the role attributed to her.”
As the future world is made to be perceived in the context of diversity, equality, and difference, we can no longer deny the very existence of major displacements. What can we do against this peril of destructive menace? We are on the edge of a substantial period. Everyday we either hear about new mass displacements or we further witness them. Like the figurants of a movie scene we find ourselves in an antagonistic situation. Moreover, the media enables us to further observe and dwell on the hermeneutics of this paradox of deterritorialization. There is one thing for sure: the power of image is rising. Against the reality of this virtual reality, which we are consuming on a daily basis, the reality itself has become virtualized.
Photographs, which are depictions of moments, are re-interpreted and re-read as classical paintings and reveals the definition of photography in the reality of a painting. The semantic completeness of this hybrid transitivity and the semantic singularity realized by us as it is, represents the following: what is identified in photography’s own reality is not the unique reality. Through all the period from the publication of the first black and white photos to today, the reality condition of the photography phenomenon also brings other reality definitions into question.
The instances of August Sanders’ photos tells us more than the social life of a society: they inform us about science, environment, relations, and many others. The aesthetic pleasure of the black and white reality conveyed to us in a moment is infinite and indisputable. In this context, we observe satires about daily life, hopeless characters, expressions, and many other in these portraits. Through the portraits body symptoms are being perceived aesthetically and this enables us to feel close to those who are far away and dissolve the “distance.” Furthermore, it becomes possible to make perceptive differences pellucid among different cultures and be really “democratic.” This distantless and egalitarian approach also invites the “other” to become “one of us” in an indescribable manner.
The portraits of Hans Raabe, on the other hand, are a lifelong project independent of time. New Guinea to Hong Kong, İstanbul to Mississippi, this project covers all the world. By means of representing the concepts of space and time in balance, the project shows us how close is the unknown.
Faces in portraits present an undescribable truth; they are real just because they exactly represent a state that belongs to their own realities. Instead of Cindy Sherman's portraits, which imitate the fictiveness of prominent works of art in art history, Raabe’s portraits in his Bosphorus project ensure a direct, face-to-face contact with the audience. The elimination of the intermediaries at this stage also emphazises the significance of the state of “being one of us” in Raabe’s portraits.
Correctly determining the preferences in a cosmopolite city like İstanbul, where East meets West, supports the diversity and truth of Raabe’s portraits in his project Bosphorus. The plurality of these portraits can be perceived without any intermediary. The nonuse of after effects in these photos emphasizes the realness of them.
Yet since the the real state in Raabe’s portraits depends on finding the decisive moment, it also represents a complex situation that can be analyzed as the difference among identities, religious symbols, moments of joy, private spaces, the condition of human being in city traffic, city existences, diversity, cultural diversity, the problems of glocalization and globalization, and social reality. The decisive perceptiveness of the portraits underlines a solid truth without a single need of manipulation.
As Alain Badiou states this will be the century of splits and antinomies. In this particular context, İstanbul, whose historical significance is identified with Eastern Renaissance, gains another attitude with its diversified civilizations. At this moment, we have a chance to see that the significance of worlds’ this primeval city has never been abandoned. When men and women face the lens their preference appeared to become the image itself rather than wearing a mask of their own. In this century of images, these “real human portraits” gives us a chance to transcend the commercial photos and the fictionalized, joyful instances represented with them. These portraits welcomes us as a depiction of real emotions and gives us an opportunity to go beyond and feel the pain, share the blues, and welcome the joy.
*) Szeemann, H. (2001), “Plateau of Mankind”, 49 Biennale di Venezia, Published: 2001by la Biennale di Venezia, Venice, Italy, ISBN 88-435-9607-1
T. Melih Görgün, born in 1962, Sinop. He lives and works in Istanbul and Sinop. Independent curator, artist, working on cultural studies, performances and city and art. He works as a curator on research based and participative references interdisciplinary projects, with a focus on difference, memory, identity, cultural codes. Professor at the Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts in Istanbul. He is the founder of the SINOPALE International Sinop Biennial, which is the title of an international project that, in the context of local development, draws the civil society together with the purpose of building dialogue through culture and arts, within the framework of the model of “artistic production based on sharing.” He realized different performances in Oratorio di San Ludovico, Venice, Museums Quartier Wien, Maximilian Platz München, in ZhDK, Zürich. He curated exhibitions in Turkey and abroad. His articles have been widely published in newspapers and art magazines. He is one of the entrepreneur of an international cooperation project “City and Art” which is realized with several art academies including the Fine Arts Academy of Vienna-Austria, London St. Martin School of Art – UK, Malmö University – Sweden, Fine Arts Academy München, Den Haag Royal Academy of Arts, Art Academy Burg Giebichenstein Halle and many others. Since 2007 he is the co-curator of Siemens Sanat.
Georg Stefan Troller
One day long ago, when I was a young documentary filmmaker in Paris, I had the idea to set up our camera somewhere on the Champs-Elysées. And then to accost precisely the tenth person who happened to come by, no matter who it would be. And to ask that person to let us film his or her life. Being myself deeply convinced that any human being on earth could in the end provide us with a good film. Somehow I never carried out this plan. Hans-Jürgen Raabe, however, is carrying it out, or at least something comparable to it. 990 ordinary faces from 33 of the most exciting or meaningful places on earth. Sites where people gather to feel something, to feel the spirit of the place. And to me, as a professional Parisian, Raabe’s Eiffel Tower is obviously the most exciting of the lot. A building which actually should be called the Boenickhausen Tower – this being the actual name of the family that originated in the Eifel region of Germany. Half a century ago, in honor of the 75th anniversary of perhaps the most famous work of architecture in the world, I had the privilege of interviewing the builder’s grandson, Monsieur Legrain-Eiffel, in front of the guilded bust of his grandfather. And surrounded by innumerable tourists all aiming for the top. Which by the way, as the old gentleman told me, will sway at most 10 centimeters in strong wind … as compared to 18 centimeters under the influence of strong sunshine.
But back to the tower’s visitors. Were they the same faces back then, as the ones that Raabe has now captured with such skill and patience? I doubt it. Not only because the visitors at that time consisted mostly of French tourists, while his present-day photographs show a strong mix of different origins and backgrounds. But something else is even more striking. Raabe’s faces are modern, are from our time. These faces appear less enthralled by location. They display less of a sense of duty to the place, are less concerned to measure up to it. These are people of the electronic age. People perfectly capable of taking their own pictures, even if they won’t reach the quality of Raabe’s work. These are people of the selfie-age. No longer mere objects for the camera, no longer our “victims” (as we pretentious filmmakers used to refer to them). They are also less “typical”, less “picturesque”. Their status, their position in the world, their destinies, their inner lives … none of these, it seems to me, are reflected as strongly in their faces as they used to be. Does that mean that these people are less dependent on these things, less under their sway? More likely the opposite is true. They just don’t display it outwardly any more, these people. If they don’t have “camera faces” any more as they once did, it is because they hide them inside! I believe that in another fifty years – if the world survives that long – Raabe’s faces will stand for this moment in time. Yes, that’s how we were back then, around the second decade of the 21st century, on the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Georg Stefan Troller, born in 1921 in Vienna, is a living legend. He became an ideal for many journalists, documentary filmmakers and producers. His subjective perspective in about 1,000 interviews and more than 180 films were groundbreaking.
Troller says, he switched from a poet to journalism, because of his work as a translator for the US Army in postwar Germany. He later became famous with the TV show "Paris Journal". As a young man and son of a Jewish furrier in Vienna, he experienced prosecution by the NS-Regime, excile in Czechoslovakia and the emigration to the USA.
Despite of the love for the German language he did not move back to Germany nor to Austria after the war. He settled down in Paris were he and his family is living now for decades.
Only in the most recent chapter of its long history has the Brandenburg Gate become a place where someone can bring together faces of all kinds from all over the globe, as Hans-Jürgen Raabe has done with his portrait exhibit. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 the Brandenburg Gate finally became accessible to the public again, after being blocked off within the prohibited border strip since 1961, the year the Wall was built. What was a symbol of the Cold War for three decades has now turned into an attraction for travelers from all corners of the world. 30 of Raabe’s 990 Faces were taken at this very location and give a vivid impression of the overwhelming international character of the site: people from the Far East, the Southwest, visitors from Japan, China, Central America, and many other regions; among the young faces are bound to be a few students from the USA, Israel, and other countries, who come to the city by the thousands to spend their summer vacation; and here and there a few Berliners, possibly employees from one of the bank buildings on Pariser Platz or from one of the nearby embassies. And all these people with their diverse backgrounds are not only present at the same location, the also convey an extraordinary sense of presence in the photos.
The fact that Hans-Jürgen Raabe was able to capture these particular faces that we find in his portraits would not have been possible just a decade ago. For it was not until 2002 that the site became an inviting place for lingering and reflection, when the three thoroughfares were closed to car traffic following the laborious restauration of the monument. Immediately after reunification, traffic zipped through the Gate, and anybody with a car could drive through it, just like the royal family used to do, who, up until the beginning of World War I, were the only ones allowed to ride their carriage through the wide, middle passageway. – Hans-Jürgen Raabe’s subjects’ poses are, however, diametrically opposed to ‘tourist’ behavior; nowhere do we see people snapping pics of each other in front of a world famous work of architecture with their cellphones. The eye is instead first struck by the majority of contemplative expressions in the portraits. As if having dropped out of the hustle and bustle of the street merchants, hip-hoppers, and tourists who populate the square when the weather is nice, many of the men and women photographed by Hans-Jürgen Raabe make a markedly serious impression. The hint of a smile that can be detected on a few faces is evidently due to their awareness of being photographed. Only one of them flashes the photographer a big, wide smile: The lady with the stylish glasses turns her head directly to the camera – en face. Yet almost everyone else who does not appear to know they are being watched seem deep in thought; they are predominantly engrossed in contemplating their surroundings. For there is no stone, no square meter at this site that is not contaminated with German and European history. The historical layers of the site apparently invite reflection.
Some of the portrait figures find support in their contemplation by leaning against the 15-meter-high Doric columns, which were made out of Elbe sandstone from quarries not far from Berlin during the Gate’s original construction at the end of the 18th century. One young woman even crouches down to gaze up at the relief sculptures high on the 11-meter-long inside walls of the passageways. But her eyes don’t tell us whether she is trying to decipher the deeds of Hercules depicted there or whether her gaze is directed towards a historical past. – The signature of the past, the presence of history that can be felt here, that is what attracts so many visitors to the center of Berlin, – and this aspect is also a recurring source of motivation for each new generation of artists interested in depicting the Gate in their own way. To be sure, the structure itself is not such a prominent architectural masterpiece that it alone merits such great admiration. It is not a sight-seeing attraction in the regular sense.
When the Brandenburg Gate was erected over 200 years ago by order of Friedrich Wilhelm II, it embodied a piece of Ancient Greece in the middle of Prussian Berlin on the waves of a rediscovery of antiquity at the end of the 18th century—an antiquity sanitized and reshaped by classicism. In planning the distinguished structure that was meant to replace the old city gate, they took inspiration from the Propylaea, the atrium to the holy district of the Acropolis in Athens. The passageway through the Brandenburg Gate did not, however, lead to holiness; back then the passage led – from east to west – outside the city gates, where one could stroll through the Tiergarten. The structure’s design corresponds to this topography; the front side with its attic and long relief faces east towards the grand boulevard Unter den Linden, which is lined by prestigious building like pearls on a string – Humboldt University, the State Opera, numerous palaces, just to name a few – all the way to the Schlossbrücke, cathedrale, and the City Castle (which is currently being rebuilt).
After 1989 the Gate regained its symbolic meaning for the city of Berlin as a site of transit between east and west. In fact, the east-west topography of the place has its own unique and very concrete history. Whereas today the colorful buzz of activity takes place on the eastern side, in earlier times the area ‘outside the city’ (on the western side) was used for public entertainment with street performers and equestrian spectacles like the ones in Heinrich Heine’s Letters from Berlin (1822): “Blondin with his company still gives his delightful and much frequented exhibitions of equestrian skill before the Brandenburg Gate. He represents, among other things, Columbus landing at Otaheiti.”1 Exotic displays like this are no longer in demand given that the people who gather around the Brandenburg Gate themselves come from the farthest reaches of the globe. Instead, today the hottest products on the global toy market are being hawked by street merchants here, the same products that can be found at St. Mark’s Square in Venice. – While during Heine’s times the gate still led people from east to west, the direction switched after the erection of the Gründerzeit houses in Charlottenburg at the end of the 19th century with their luxurious 200-plus-square-meters apartments. On a Sunday stroll back then people would go from west to east, in order to walk along the tree-lined middle pavement of Unter den Linden. Since this boulevard was already occupied with an unbroken chain of royal Prussian architecture Hitler, for his megalomaniacal architecture project of the “World Capital Germania”, instructed to built a seven-kilometer-long axis through the western portion of the city, stretching from the Brandenburg Gate straight to the present-day Theodor-Heuss-Platz, which during the Nazi period was called Adolf Hitler Platz. Looking out from the Brandenburg Gate in any given direction leads to a different layer of German history.
The first of the ten stills of the Brandenburg Gate that accompany Hans-Jürgen Raabe’s Faces could be seen as an emblem for this turbulent and changing history, extending right up into the present with the construction work on the Pariser Platz: Set against the deep blue evening sky, the famous quadriga that crowns the Brandenburg Gate stands out as a black silhouette with a white contrail passing through it like an arrow. Here Walter Benjamin’s dictum about history wandering onto the stage (die Geschichte wandert in den Schauplatz) becomes concretized through photography. Shot from below, the lance with the Iron Cross and the Prussian eagle towers over the four powerful bodies of the horses and the (from this perspective) tiny figure of the woman. These insignia were mounted there in place of the laurel wreath and Roman eagle when the group of figures was returned from Paris after Napoleon had stolen it in 1806. What is more, these symbolic attributes were added on top of this already allegorical figure; the sculptor Johann Gottfied Schadow had to adorn the sculpture with them after he had already completed the chariot group. With the Iron Cross and Prussian eagle, the iconographic controversy finally came to an end between the champions of victory and the champions of peace. For after the sculptural group was mounted in 1793, a heated debate ensued among Berliners as to whether the female allegory, who is driving the four-in-hand chariot into the city towards the City Palace, was meant to represent Eirene, the goddess of peace, or Nike resp. Victoria, the goddess of victory.
The next six stills by Raabe show the quadriga from different angels. They are in part taken from the buildings that currently border the Pariser Platz on three sides. Here we see the quadriga’s reflection twice in the windows of bank buildings that dominate this prime real-estate in the capital city: once reflected on the South side of the square where the DZ Bank building stands, designed by Frank Gehry, and then again on the North side in the Allianz Stiftungsforum built by the Dresdner Bank. In another still, the Gate and quadriga can be admired in all their glory through the windows of the Akademie der Künste (The Academy of Arts). And yet another still gives a frontal view of the chariot from a window in the Hotel Adlon, a Berlin tradition that, like all the other building on the square, was destroyed in the war; it reopened in 1997. – The Brandenburg Gate has seen a quite different neighborhood in times past when residents such as Max Liebermann lived there, who set up his studio in the building just to the right of the Gate, at a time when Prussian state ministers, like Friedrich Karl von Savigny, lived on the square, along with the Armin family, authors, like the playwright August von Kotzebue, and musicians, like the composer Giacomo Meyerbeer. - Today, as Hans-Jürgen Raabe’s Faces show, the Brandenburg Gate welcomes guests from near and far, but nobody calls it home anymore.
1 Heine, Heinrich. Heine in Art and Letters. Translated by Elizabeth Sharp. London: W. Scott, 1895, here p. 150.
Sigrid Weigel Since 1999, Prof. Dr. Dr. hc. mult. Sigrid Weigel has been Director of the Zentrum für Literatur und Kulturforschung Berlin (Centre for Literary and Cultural Research Berlin), Chair Person of the Board of the Geisteswissenschaftliche Zentren Berlin (the umbrella organisation of centres for the humanities in Berlin) and Professor of Literary Research at the Technische Universität Berlin. Previously, she was Professor at the German Department in Zurich and Director of the Einstein Forum in Potsdam from 1998-2000. She was also a member of the Institute of Advanced Study in the Humanities in Essen. She has been a visiting professor at Basel, Berkeley, Cincinnati, Harvard, Stanford, and is Permanent Visiting Professor at Princeton University. In 2013 Sigrid Weigel published „Gesichter. Kulturgeschichtliche Szenen aus der Arbeit am Bildnis des Menschen“ and was a speaker at an international conference on the occasion of „Hans Jürgen Raabe - 990 faces“ at Photography Museum Istanbul in February 2014.