The first photograph I took was a selfie. Somewhere in the early ‘80s judging by my clothes and by the beautiful red Opel Manta in the driveway. I was four or five years old and just pushed on the button of a Polaroid camera that was lying on the table. I then took up photography on a more serious level ten years ago – that’s when I learned to work in a dark room, develop my own negatives and make prints. At the very basic level I just photograph my life: I don’t work in a studio, I don’t do projects, I just photograph whatever I happen to like at a given moment. I shoot landscapes, portraits, or just make snapshots of family and friends. It doesn’t matter – if it interests me, I’ll shoot it. My archive of photographs is actually an archive of my life. On a higher level I try to work with that personal archive in such a way that it becomes more than just ‘my life’. I treat the photographs in my archive as found footage and go to work in the dark room, making compositions of different versions of the photographs I like. I try to find out how to turn very personal photography into something that is universally appealing. My creative process has two parts: the act of photographing itself is spontaneous. I know what I’m doing on a technical level (aperture, light, framing…), but the subject matter is wide open. Garry Winogrand famously said that he photographed to see what something would look like on a photograph. I relate to that. The second part is working in the dark room: making prints and compositions. This is something entirely different. Although it’s still a spontaneous process, it requires focus and ‘métier’ to keep the result interesting. The photographing is personal, but the compositions I make are more universal.
Initially I thought about how a lot of tumblr sites are just copies of other tumblr sites. People re-blog the photos they like; and most of the time the initial creator of the image is unknown because almost nobody actually cares enough to credit the original photographer or artist. And I’m not even talking about copyright issues, although they’re a concern too. I’m looking at it from a history of art perspective. It is the ultimate stage of postmodern artistic creation: it used to be that the author’s intention was not important, now the author itself is no longer of any concern. He or she is gone, left out, removed and deleted. This is ironic because the images themselves are apparently still necessary: the images are re-blogged into infinity by people that do not create any content themselves. That’s an interesting switch: the creative output is still valued, but nobody seems to care about the artist. That got me thinking about the act of copying, and the value of a copy.
Photography is perfectly placed to comment on the act of copying or reproducing, because it is an inherent factor of the medium. Photography is used to make a copy of reality, and then again to make an endless amount of reproductions of that copy. Reproduction is also a big reason why photography is not always perceived as a ‘real’ art form like painting: photography – or so the market tell us – dilutes its own value by creating (and selling) several versions instead of one ‘original’ piece. Obviously, the ability to create editions is not restricted to photography – the same goes for bronze sculptures, for instance – but nobody is able to make bronze sculptures at home, whereas making and printing photographs is a commodity and has been since the 50s. There is a huge difference in perception. These observations fascinate me, so I started creating copies and variations of my own work and presenting them as one piece. The irony is that by using the essence of photography (it can be reproduced) I create ‘original’ pieces: it is impossible for me to make the same composition twice (because of the variations).
My series A Palm Tree is A Palm Tree is A Palm Tree is a play on ‘A rose is a rose is a rose’, a famous sentence from Gertrude Stein who used it throughout her work. It’s a statement on the fact that using the name of a thing already invokes the imagery and emotions associated with it. For me, palm trees evoke history, exotic locations, luxury, freedom, an Indiana Jones-like mystery. But there’s also a certain sense of post-colonial shame, and often palm trees bear testimony to distinct gaps between rich and poor. I may claim that palm trees are palm trees but there are enormous semantic differences between a palm tree in Switzerland and one in North Africa. Reproducing palm trees is not innocent; they can mean a lot of things. Obviously A Palm Tree is A Palm Tree is A Palm Tree also refers to the act of copying and reproducing that we discussed earlier. It’s almost a literal summary of what you see, but it also questions the statement because no two prints are the same.