Friday, 24 December 2010

The Düsseldorf School of Photography

Have come across several references to the Dusseldorf School since beginning this course, the most recent – and most thought provoking being an article in Professional Photographer arguing that, as an industry, photography needs to be careful that the Dusseldorf School does not ‘kill it’.
So what is the Dusseldorf School? As usual there’s a Wiki article here which describes the school itself , with a link to the School’s website (in German only). In photographic terms the school is famous for Bernd and Hilla Becher, who developed a style of photography which could perhaps be described as ‘photo-entomology’ which appears to have started the New Objectivity Movement. They collected, for want of a better word, images of industrial structures – water towers and blast furnaces being the two most famous examples – which they took in very flat lighting and in very similar perspective and composition. The aim was to capture as objective an image as possible so that when displayed side-by-side the photos would allow viewers to compare the design and functionality of the individual buildings.
A number of their students have also become (very) famous photographers in their own right – Andreas Gursky, famous for very large . dead-pan, photos of large architectural spaces, Thomas Ruff who initially gained a reputation for his architecture and portrait photos, done in a dead-pan style, but has more recently been noted for a series of very large pixelated images originally lifted from the internet. There’s an interview here that will bear further reading when I get a chance.
Another photographer of the Dusseldorf School, Candida Hofer, also produces large scale images of interiors which could perhaps be described as sumptuous but soulless. Even her zoo animal photos give the impression that the animals themselves are stuffed.
The Professional Photographer article mentioned above (it’s not on the net so I can’t link to it) argues that because this movement has produced some exceedingly well paid photographers, many students of photography faced with looming deadlines resort to ‘objective’ photos of supermarket car-parks, give them pretentious German sounding names and hey presto – they’re part of a movement with artistic credentials – without actually having some any thinking for themselves. How much this is a fair assessment is largely conjecture for me.
I do know however, that it is difficult to avoid being influenced by this school of photography as it is widespread in ‘photos as art’ books, as opposed to the consumer photo mags. For example – my Assignment 5 – could perhaps be seen in this context, although in truth I had not heard of the Dusseldorf School, or New Objectivity, until I was almost at the point of submitting the project. Whether this is good or bad is really a matter for my tutors and the assessors – but I’m fairly certain that I was not attempting a totally objective view of the objects I photographed for that project –initially I was more concerned with developing something visually interesting from the relatively unpromising surroundings and over time this developed into a more personal reaction to the similarity of the locations.

1 comment:

  1. An interesting article/blog, which i enjoyed reading.

    I too have struggled with objectivity/subjectivity issue within my practise, and to be honest i have no idea which direction to go or how to balance my work- i have always wanted my images to be as objective as possible, but then get caught up in a kind of aesthetic dilemma regarding how to add my own touch to an image whilst keeping the objectivity, as far as i can see it, objectivity and the photographers touch(the subjective element) are mutually exclusive.

    I think i will have problems over this topic for a long while yet :-)

    Thanks for enlightening me on a few things, and introducing me to the 'New Objectivity' movement, which tbh, i had never heard of