Published in: Gottfried Jäger, Rolf H. Krauss, Beate Reese, Concrete Photography /
Konkrete Fotografie, Bielefeld 2005.
Concrete Photography represents: the concretization of photography, a form of fundamental artistic self-examination and self-reflection aiming to foreground its very own conditions. The photographic means thus become the object of photography, and the medium itself the object.
Concrete Photography is a subdivision of photography, just as documentary, staged and experimental photography are subdivisions of photography. At the same time Concrete Photography is a subdivision of Concrete Art, just as Concrete Painting, Concrete Music, Concrete Poetry or Concrete Film are subdivisions of Concrete Art. Concrete Photography is part of the canon of twentieth-century art. It evolved around 1900, and still has resonances up to the present day.
Its works are pure photographs: not abstractions of the real world, but rather concretions of the pictorial possibilities contained within photography. Concrete photographs exclusively use the most elementary, innate means of the discipline, primarily light and photosensitive paper. Its works are self-reflexive, self-referential, auto-dynamic and universal. They refer only to themselves and exclusively focus on their own and self-made inner pictorial conditions. In this respect they are universally comprehensible. They do not stand for an external reality.
Because Concrete Photography sacrifices all manner of iconicity and symbolism – i. e. every trace of a recognizable extra-pictorial object and any mental correspondence of an extra-pictorial meaning – it expresses itself through a pure, photo-immanent, photographically conceived and ‘photogenic’ syntax. Concrete Photography is a project of formal esthetic.
Concrete photographs are not a semantic medium, but esthetic objects; they are not represented, but presented, not reproduced, but produced. They are objects made of photographic material. They do not want to illustrate anything; they do not want to represent anything. They are nothing but themselves: objects referring to themselves; they are independent, authentic, autonomous, autogenic, photographs of photography.
Concrete photographs always reveal the fundamental possibilities of photography in that they make photography into something absolute and exclude everything which is non-photographic. That is their purpose and their raison d’être. Concrete photographs interpret these possibilities and, at the same time, expand upon them. Their criterion is innovation, the redefinition of form and structure. They create a new world. They are not abstractions of something, but concretize something, something new. They turn their attention onto their own image, on the mental concept of this image, its artistic blueprint, its expressive pictorial power and material realization. What concrete photographs want to transmit is evident. It is not a question of objects, or of subjects, but of the matter, of the inner images of photography itself.
Concrete photographs are narcissistic and egocentric, they see only themselves: absolute photographs. This term, as it were, should be taken into consideration, since it also represents something fundamental, something finite. Concrete photographs are also: pure photographs, photographs ‘in themselves’, photographs without the function of mediation, without an external message. They exist only for themselves and do not carry a ‘message’ beyond that which can directly be seen and recognized on its surfaces and in its orders. They are the message. In this way photography comes ‘into its own’, it does what it wants, not what it is supposed to do, it has liberated itself from each and every purpose of mediation.
Concrete Photography makes its own formal laws, those lying within photography itself, into its very subjects. Although a similar idea had already been developed by other early twentieth-century modes of artistic expression, the same cannot, in general, be said about photography. This is so because the photo still adhered to its function as a mediator; it was not yet deemed an autonomous image at the time, in any way, not too the degree that such a claim would have found widespread acceptance. On the contrary: concrete photographs – those which only refer to themselves, as occasionally seen, for instance, in the experimental photographs of the Bauhaus – were considered by many as mere frivolities. They were regarded as a breach of rules, as an irritation, indeed, as a betrayal of the purity of the idea of mimesis. According to conservative theoreticians they were “pseudo photographs” (Pawek 1960, 96); in the eyes of conventional photographers they were definitively failed developments. They were regarded as a “dubious genre: neither art nor photograph” (Renger-Patzsch 1960, 6). People were unaware of photography’s true potential.
But looking at these ‘irritations’ in context and linking each case historically, a logically consistent development will, in retrospect, become visible, a teleological development that moves on a firmly consolidating and predetermined path. It leaves its original starting point behind in order to create a new center: a new type of photography. It operates according to new signs and semiotic meanings and concentrates around a center to form its own system, a system that has already become a universal pictorial language. It is an expression of the human creative urge which is not satisfied simply to represent the world as it is and as it appears, but which rather strives to create a new world with its very own means. This also applies to the way in which photography is handled. It expresses a self-fulfilling program pushing, as it were, from the inside out: namely, to create free, autonomous works liberated from representational serfdom, and to distance themselves from the contingent tasks and characteristics of the medium.
Seen thus, the concrete photo is a genetically necessary form of photographic self- assertion, self-reflection and self-representation; it is also a form of self-assurance, a reflex of an increasingly self-confident, sometimes self-loving and absent-minded, but also self-critical glance in the very mirror of photography. The esthetics, ethics and logic of concrete photographs, the quality of their beauty, goodness and truth lie proven in the photographs themselves and should be directly recognizable in their works, their ontology, their appearance, their history. Concrete photographs are auto- poietic; they are self-portraits of photography.
It is hardly surprising that the term ‘Concrete Photography’ has only become prominent today, more than seventy years after Theo van Doesburg laid down his Manifesto of Concrete Art (van Doesburg 1930). The photograph as an art form proper is, in general, a new or young idea. Not until 1985 was it considered a product or ‘work’ of personal intellectual authorship according to the German copyright law, and thereby became equal in law with works of the other arts (Engelhard 1985; Ricke 1998). And only in the early 1970s did Germany begin to foster a true appreciation of the pictorial achievements and extraordinary variety of photography by turning it into an academic discipline. One wanted to establish scientific terminologies and theories for photography, to secure and write down its history, as well as investigate and experiment with new pictorial contents and forms (Jäger 2003). The admittedly tedious rise of the photograph up and through the hierarchies and established sites of art was henceforth impossible to stop. Photographs were still regarded as intruders and as ‘illegitimate art’ (Bourdieu 1981), in particular their abstract and concrete tendencies. Art photography was also politically controversial and condemned in totalitarian systems. In the ‘Third Reich’ it was considered degenerate. In the German Democratic Republic (GDR) it was defamed as ‘formalistic’ and ignored. Capitalistic systems usually respond to economic conditions: neither altogether rejecting photography, nor accepting it.
A better recent understanding of the subject under discussion has allowed for a more widespread use and support of Concrete Photography, in both theory and practice. Only in retrospect did one realize that, speaking historically, something similar to what is called Concrete Photography already existed, as it were. However, it is only now that the term ‘Concrete Photography’ is properly being introduced. This is the first most comprehensive publication on the subject. It remains to be seen whether the term will assert itself and whether it will be used and applied properly. But, at any rate, it is obvious that one is still unaccustomed to use the term. Perhaps it is not without significance that concrete photographs are only appearing, and appearing advantageously, in exhibitions and publications today – at a time when the medium of photography is in a veritable crisis, namely in the age of its digital availability. It is in search of its lost image, its roots. However, the practice of Concrete Photography has helped to establish specific characteristics that identify the area as a separate domain within photography and within the wider scope of Art, and they have helped to distinguish photography from its other neighboring disciplines. Concrete Photography possesses a history of its very own kind. It created images which have made us see the world with new eyes, and which have enriched the history of photography and the history of art, contemporary works included.
Concrete photographs demand a new attitude from their spectator. For the eye of the camera directed ‘outwards’ turns ‘inwards’, right into the very camera. The apparatus is now discovered as a world unto itself. Concrete photographs analyze the pictorial system in their own way, dissect and deconstruct it and access its elements and structures. New pictorial systems are constructed from them. Modes of visual analysis and synthesis become themes in their own right. The ‘how’ is important, the ‘what’ and ‘who’ are marginalized. Concrete photographs neither convey an objective outside world, nor a subjective attitude, but the reality of the image (Brandt 1999). They are neither concerned with making visible, nor with points of view, but rather with visibility as such (Wiesing 1997).
All this naturally alerts the interest of new parties and circles: museums, galleries, collections, archives, auction houses and colleges or universities are specializing on different types of photography, e.g. experimental, subjective and generative genres (Schneider-Henn 2003; Lempertz 2003). A prime example is the Peter C. Ruppert collection “Concrete Art in Europe after 1945” in the Museum im Kulturspeicher (Museum in the Storehouse for Culture), Würzburg, with a separate section devoted to Concrete Photography, the first manifestation of this term in the context of a museum (Lauter 2002). A new and active art scene in Europe and the USA regards the Disappearance of Objects from Photography (Faber 1992) not as a loss, but as a gain in freedom and as a departure point for new experiments – and questions such as: What is photography? What, then, is its meaning and effect if the photograph completely rejects representation and symbolism? What is, thus, won and what is lost?
Questions of this kind were central to a project that preceded this publication: Abstract Photography: The Visibility of the Image, Exhibition and Symposium in Bielefeld (Kellein, Lampe 2000; Jäger 2002). Its focus was similar to the present one: Abstract Photography is evidently a very active and involved field, but no extensive theory, terminology and history have hitherto been written, and so the subject remained to be properly explored. Meanwhile relevant publications have of course appeared. They focus on Concrete Photography still as a distinct chapter within the wide spectrum of abstraction in photography, one which is evidently worthy of discussion.
It should, however, be said that both modes, abstraction and concretion, not only share similarities, but also fundamental differences. Art history shows that concretion (of works) has its roots in the abstraction (of nature). And so abstraction and nuances of nature were historically superseded by the concretization of the image. An excellent example is Piet Modrian’s (1872–1942) artistic development as a painter. Between 1912 and 1917 he moved from figurative landscape painting through studies of trees towards ever more abstract views of tree branches, from which he developed his geometric and ‘concrete’ compositions consisting of only a few primary colors (Haftmann 1955, 187ff.).
Abstraction and concretion are cognitive, epistemological means and methods. Abstraction proceeds in a reductive manner. It starts out from a complex situation and, by increasingly leaving out non-essential elements, moves on towards essential elements, to ‘pure’ knowledge. Concretion proceeds in an inductive manner. It begins at ‘zero’, with an idea or an element, which it links with others by rules, in order to create a new complex situation or a new system. One could say: Abstraction transforms matter into something intellectual (it abstracts and idealizes an object); Concretion transforms something intellectual into matter (it concretizes and objectifies an idea). Abstract Photography idealizes an object; Concrete Photography objectifies an idea. Such metamorphoses ultimate become the very ‘subjects’ of Abstract and Concrete Photography.
Microphotographs provide an extremely vivid example of the similarity and difference of both methods. With their microscopic vision and by focusing in on particular segments of a whole, they abstract their objects to such an extent that they end up creating their very own world. The pictures they generate become autonomous images in their own right, the origins of which are possibly even obscured (Strüwe 1955).
Concrete photographs strive for a different genre of truth, beauty and goodness; their credo is expressed by other means than those of figurative and symbolic photographs. Their logic, esthetic and ethics follow their own laws. They go back to the elementary structures of the image, make them visible and raise the question what, in fact, photography (still) is? And as a consequence also: what photography could in future be – when the hitherto so reliable, analogous principles of the ‘cause and effect’ between light and photosensitive material begin to disappear and dissolve themselves in the digital world; and should, moreover, the vast and formerly so important documentary, realistic and photo-journalistic trade be reduced to only one ‘photo-image’. Perhaps, of all things, it will even be Concrete Photography that will salvage the last vestiges of authenticity in photography, now that it has sold its previously cherished figurativeness to the soul of the computer.
Mimetic fidelity, indeed, was once a central aspect of the medium, a technical-moral term for The Promise of Photography (Groys 1998) that was to serve its objects “in truth and loyalty”. The term is reminiscent of photography’s greatest goods – realism and evidential value – which have characterized it from its very beginnings. They formed the basis for the genre of photographic reproductions, with a great number of categories and sub-categories, all linked by their recognizability. Mimetic fidelity signifies the noticeable similarity of the image with regard to the object depicted. And so, in terms of semantic theory, we are speaking of icons.
However, the mimetic fidelity and recognizability of the photograph are not its only pictorial qualities. Just as important is its capacity for expressive representation, which over the years has become more and more understood and appreciated. The photograph can likewise be an expression of human ideas and fantasies, a symbol: a pictorial equivalent of abstract ideas, visions and dreams. Alfred Stieglitz (1864– 1946) introduced the term Equivalents for such photographs. And, in 1929, he used the term for a series of photographic shots of irregular cloud formations, which he regarded as pictorial parallels of his contemporary state of mind. His biographer Doris Bry later even went so far as to say that “...the ‘Equivalents’ are his autobiography” (Bry 1965, 19). Indeed, the symbolic function of a photograph is due to what can be conceptually attributed to it, namely to what can be seen on the photo. However, for this to succeed there needs to be a certain cultural agreement between the image-giver and image-recipient. Semiotic theory refers to such a sign as a symbol.
A third genre constitutes structure-based images (Strukturbilder, Schmoll 1979; Jäger 1991, 2002). In their pure form these are: Concrete Photography. But they are not the only type of structure-based images, since they include other types of pictures that also create structures, such as Abstract, Experimental, Serial, Constructive or partly Conceptual Photography, too; and certain visualistic projects of the 1970s could also be referred to as photographic structure-based images. Common to all is their intention to create structures, and this aim lies above all other intentions. Structure-based images, like concrete photographs, strive to be autonomous images. Semantic theory calls them symptoms or traces.
Semiotic literature also calls these indices or indexical signs (Brög 1977; Nöth 2003). For they indicate and announce something – without having familiar, similar or equivalent connotations attached to them (at least, for the time being). They are nothing but signs, indications of an original correlation between appearance and reality. In this way, structure-based images are to be compared with symptoms in the
field of medicine and clues in the field of criminology. They need to be discerned and diagnosed as signs, their traces need to be secured and their meaning determined in an indexical way. They cannot be understood without the explanation of signs. At first, therefore, concrete photographs might at first appear insignificant, alien and without any content proper. However, they can hardly be interpreted as nothingness. For they evidently reveal an extraordinary and ambitious manner of engaging with the photographic process, and thereby make human activity visible.
Structure-based images, in their purest form, are objects of themselves, and so they need not be signs in all circumstances: in the first place, they have the character of objects and, secondly, of signs. Should we, however, have recognized them as signs, then they have already appealed to our interpretative ability. And so they can, for instance, point to an ‘other’, a different and creative way of using the ‘apparatus’, which had initially only been applied for the purposes of photographic reproduction. This is an altogether optimistic theory, which influential protagonists in the field have not ceased to underline (Moholy-Nagy 1925; Flusser 1983).
III. Method, Style
The early days of Concrete Photography were characterized by experimentation, by an open-ended playing with new pictorial means. In 1917 the London photographer Alwin Langdon Coburn (1882–1966) undertook experiments with his camera and optics, prisms and mirrors. Influenced by English ‘Vorticism’ he was the first to create concrete photographs, which he called Vortographs, pictures of whirls or eddies (Steinorth 1998; Deppner 2002). One year later, influenced by the Zurich Dada movement, Christian Schad (1894–1982) produced the first photograms or camera-less photographs as so-called “playful inventions” (spielerische Inventionen; Schad, Auer 1999). They could at first hardly have meant the world to him, otherwise he would not have “given them away almost like bastards” (Neusüss 1990); never was he to see them again. Today the approximately thirty small-scale images represent valuable incunabula for the history of photography.
Such spontaneous play was soon to be replaced by empirical methods according to the principle of ‘trial and error’, that is, by techniques that were becoming increasingly more popular: the luminogram, the photogram, the negative print or copy, solarization, etc. New contents were also added. Bauhaus teacher László Moholy-Nagy (1895– 1946) considered light a central motif. He called himself ‘light-maker’ (Lichtner) or he who draws with light. And so he was able to distance himself from being tied down by the pigment in painting and from being too committed to the idea that photography had to depict objects; he was even able to distance himself from the camera, in order to create non-figurative, camera-less images of light: “the essential tool of the photographic process is not the camera, but the photosensitive layer” (Moholy-Nagy 1978, 75). Here, in the photographic emulsion, its ‘object’, the immaterial and transient electromagnetic rays, could find their direct, immediate and objective imprint. The German art historian Franz Roh (1880–1965), himself a practitioner in the field (Roh 1964, 11), later described these pictures as ‘light emanations’. From 1937 onwards, during his time as a student in the photography class of Henry Holmes Smith (1909–1986) at the New Bauhaus in Chicago, Nathan Lerner invented his so-called ‘Light Box’. This was a portable box with slits and holes and equipped with photosensitive paper which, when exposed to light and then moved, and after
development of the photosensitive paper, would reveal unpredictable pictorial results that were altogether esthetically surprising. In 1971 the German photographer Timm Rautert undertook similar experiments with his analytical pictorial studies (Rautert 2000).
These few examples show that the genesis and manifestation of concrete photographs have always had something to do with technology, which determines the appearance of the images. This is why we must also address the subject of technology when assessing the creative achievements of Concrete Photography. Recent experiments with self-made camera-obscura systems immediately spring to mind, as well as numerous other experiments; for the ‘apparatuses’ are often just as remarkable and worth seeing as the pictures they make. Concrete photographs are procedure-oriented. They do not aim so much at particular or previously determined outcomes. They rather use new means and methods that leave results altogether open – somewhat like the experimenting researcher who works step by step and then waits, full of expectation, for the results of his endeavors to become visible.
This can also be seen in ‘concrete’ works of the Czechoslovakian photographic avant- garde of the inter-war period, who produced a voluminous range of pictorial innovations – albeit more under the ‘classical’ auspices of concrete artists. This avant- garde worked more intuitively than strategically, closely following surrealist programs. But they adhered to the principles of structure-based images and their works renounced all figurative, representational and symbolic traces (Birgus 1999, 2002). Today they are being rediscovered and appreciated as is, for instance, at present Jaroslav Rössler (1902–1990; Langer 2004). And the work of Czech photographer Milos Korecek (1908–1989) is yet another example of an unconventional use of the photographic material. The phenomenon of ‘chance’ allowed Korecek to invent new technical procedures, the results of which he called ‘Fokalke’. This expression derived from ‘decalcomania’, a surrealist technique invented by Oscar Dominguez in 1935 (Jaguer 1982), comparable to the graphic frottage in that wet paint is rubbed between two pieces of paper. Korecek used old photographic plates which he first soaked, heated, then exposed to further tortures and which, when developed, resulted in peculiar, pseudo-spatial and altogether very effective pictorial structures.
A wide range of photo-graphic techniques – using, for instance, multiple exposures, ‘diaphanous collages’ and ‘lucidograms’ – were developed by the German experimental photographer, Heinz Hajek-Halke (1898–1983), who convincingly combined creativity and technical expertise to an impressive compositional degree. His works, too, are only today receiving the more widespread recognition and appreciation they deserve. Decisive for Hajek-Halke was the theoretical concept and artistic execution of ‘intended chance’ (Hajek-Halke 1955, 1964). His works are based on years of experiments with chemical materials and optical devices using, for example, twice- refracting crystals held in polarized light, glue residue and streak-like optics. He not only adopted chance as a creative principle, but he himself also manipulated his pre- constructed image-generating system. In this way, his works approximate the surrealist principle of ‘automatic writing’ by incorporating the optical subconscious into the procedure of creating images.
The Constructive Concepts (Rotzler 1977, 1991) of modernity, photography included, are to be contextualized and interpreted in contrast to the above – albeit less as a coincidence and more as an act of conscious refutation of surrealist metaphysics. Prime
examples are the works of the young Swiss avant-garde at the time centering around Roger Humbert, Jean Frédéric Schnyder, Rolf Schroeter and René Mächler. In 1960 the Basle exhibition Ungegenständliche Photographie (Non-objective Photography, Hernandez 1960) had brought their work together with those of Subjective Photography. This was also the case with issue 8 (1960) of the programmatic ‘spirale’, internationale zeitschrift für konkrete kunst und gestaltung (‘spirale’, international journal for concrete art and design; Bucher 1990). Then, in 1967, the above four artists exhibited their work at the ‘galerie actuelle’ in Bern under the title Photographie concrète (Rouiller 1967) – this is, as far as I know, meanwhile acknowledged as the first proper public mention of the term. Between 1966 and 1968, the first European gallery for photography, the Zurich gallery ‘form’, and also shortly thereafter the first German gallery for photography, the Hanover gallery ‘Clarissa’, became veritable trend- setting galleries; as such, they became the centers for concrete European photography of their time, especially in terms of their ‘constructive’ tendencies (Clarissa 1968). The gallery ‘Clarissa’ also supported the interaction between ‘generative’, avant-garde photography and computer art (Franke, Jäger 1973), and it was therefore a very important location for the early days of contemporary apparative art (Piehler 2002).
Concrete Photography was originally seen as ‘pure photography’, freed from figurative or symbolic signs, created by light and photosensitive material. This is initially nothing more than a description of an artistic method, and not of a particular style. It is modeled on Theo van Doesburg’s Manifesto of Concrete Art: “An element of a picture does not mean anything but ‘itself’...” (van Doesburg 1930). His simultaneous demand, however, that “the painting’s construction and its elements” must remain to be seen in a simple way, that its technology be mechanical, exact and “anti-impressionistic” and that the work culminate in its “striving for absolute clarity”, gave the author reason to express the distinctive stylistic features of his art. He united the methodical elements of concrete art with the stylistic ones of constructive art. And nothing has changed even today. It is significant that the double term ‘concrete-constructive’ is frequently used in reference to this kind of art. The two aspects of the term are, however, not (necessarily) congruent. Max Bill (1908–1994) intelligently combines them in an open way: “Constructive art”, as he claims, “is that type of concrete art which makes use of systematic, constructive means” (Bill 1978). Concrete art could very well, therefore, produce other so-called ‘constructive’ works – and this it did, as the Czech avant-garde shows. Its representatives work in a ‘concrete’ manner in the sense that their works mean only ‘themselves’; they are created out of their own means and according to their own laws. They do not work in a constructive, analytical or methodical way, but rather in an experimental, intuitive and spontaneous fashion.
For this reason I would suggest that one should make use of the term and practice of Concrete Photography in a more non-dogmatic and non-ideological way, and not to pin both nominalistically down to the historical origins of Concrete Art – particularly since they refer to another discipline, namely to painting. One should rather keep all possibilities of finding stylistic forms open for both – and this within the limits of autonomy and self-referentiality. In this way Concrete Photography becomes a higher term delineating a method, not a style, a term which might also pass as ‘constructive’. Because otherwise one would have to sacrifice essential elements of that which defines photography: chaos and shade, irritation and dust, ruin and death, the Dionysian opposed to the Apollonian in photography, elements which receive a new lease of life as they disappear on their way to concretion.
Seen this way Concrete Photography is nothing but an autonomous, auto-dynamic, self-referential and self-reflexive art – in other words, an art totally absorbed with itself, a genre which incorporates numbers, rules and systems just as much as gesture, spontaneity and chance. Photography is not only an art form that plays with, but against the apparatus as well! This is perhaps best seen in the works of the Czech avant-garde of the 1920s and 1930s, and in the contemporary works of the German performer Ralf Filges, in his flowing images and filigrams (Jäger 2004, 192ff.)
Generative photographs, on the other hand, articulate radical and constructive positions, and embody the desire to combine photography with a distinctive esthetic. Generative Photography is a reaction against subjective photography (Steinert 1951) and Total Photography (Pawek 1960) – the dominant West German movements in photography during the 1950s and 1960s – in that it offered a new and contrasting concrete photographic language liberated from the restraints of realism and symbolism. Herbert W. Franke’s book, Kunst und Konstruktion (Art and Construction), pioneered the concept of Generative Art as it united the rational world of physics and mathematics with subjective photographic experiments (Franke 1957).
In 1968 the Bielefeld Kunsthaus exhibited works of this kind for the first time. Kilian Breier, Pierre Cordier, Hein Gravenhorst and the author of this text, who also introduced the term, programmatically dismissed the representation of external reality and symbolic function in their works. Their overarching motive was the democratic participation in the artistic process by means of a lucid and comprehensible esthetic program (Jäger 1968, 1973).
The theoretical basis for this was provided by what is known as the Generative Ästhetik (Generative Esthetics) of Max Bense (1910–1990), a philosopher based in Stuttgart at the time. His program aimed “at generating esthetic conditions, which fragmented what was generated into many individual parts, finitely distinguishable and describable” (Bense 1965). This led to the concept of the Programmierung des Schönen (Programming the Beautiful; Bense 1960), which was made possible by means of an exact technology, that is, through photo and computer graphics (Nees 1969). Thus, Generative Photography is simultaneously a form of Concrete Photography, and includes those of its features that appropriate systematic-constructive elements. In this way, moreover, generative photographs articulate the idea of artistic constructivism onto which has been grafted the numerical programming of apparative systems. This is Generative Photography’s innovative contribution to the field, linking it also to the modern world of computers. Therefore, generative photographs not only represent an important platform on the Path towards Computer Art (Wege zur Computerkunst; Franke 2001, 172ff.), but they also build a bridge between the two cultures of art and technology.
Other alternatives to Concrete Photography are image-analytical examples of photography, a subdivision of Concept Art of the 1970s, which made its own rules and regulations into subject matter. Photography is always about exposure times, aperture settings, focus/out of focus correlations, general handling of the camera, such as manipulation and movement, and so forth. This genre of image-analytical works analyzes existing photographic technologies, but also introduces new rules. It investigates instruments formerly used as technical aids – such as tripods, cameras and optics – in terms of their capacity as objects. The representative (medium) becomes the represented (object). In the context of this publication, Jakob Mattner’s self-referential
installations provide fitting examples, as do the image-analytical photographic works of the English concept artist John Hilliard.
It can be said, in conclusion, that artists working in Concrete Photography today have access to all discoveries and experiences of photography throughout its history. Their works can be found in collective exhibitions such as Abstraction in Contemporary Photography in the USA (de Sana 1989), Abstract Photography in Germany (Kellein, Lampe 2000), in programmatic titles of exhibitions and publications, such as New Reductionism in Austria (Horak 2002), Optic Nerve in England (Packe 2003), Un monde non-objectif en photographie in France (A non-objective world in photography) in France (Herold 2003) or in extensive booklets on Abstracción in the Spanish journal EXIT (EXIT 2004). In contrast to early concrete works, color now plays a dominant role, as well as the striking format of the single print and the generous ways it draws with light. Elementary structures and fundamental concepts often determine the overall form and design of the photographs. These new pictures are not as complicated and complex as they were in the days of Concept Art. They do not necessarily demand explanations and instructions for us to perceive and comprehend them properly, but rather seek a direct, immediate and convincing pictorial effect, a simply accessible and, quite literally, concrete pictorial language. These works have absorbed the knowledge and experience of history just as much as they strive to transcend it and leave it behind. The unique formal advantages of the photograph are therefore accentuated: the particular structural capacity of the photograph, extolled by Moholy-Nagy, its richness of detail and its fine, intricate particles, the iridescent, shimmering nature of its chemical surfaces, the elegant transition from light to dark and from white to black, the smoothness and the reflecting, glistening, colorful, indeed, magnificent saturation and brilliancy, but also: the haptics, roughness and plasticity of the photographic material itself – if it is being allowed. It can be bent into plastic objects; it resists and transgresses. And we have not even mentioned the myriad of photographic gadgets from the fund of the past – such as lenses, cameras or tripods, instructions, pictograms or tables, all formerly indispensable means and media, which later enabled original, occasionally humorous or ironic pictorial reflections referring back to the photo and the photographic process. They are images and objects that are here to stay. They will not disappear into the virtual world, and will stand steadfast Against the Esthetics of Forgetting (Deppner 1995).
Translated by: Ariane Kossack, M.A., M.Phil.