April 6: Like litmus paper, a photograph needs to be immersed in its subject to truly test it.
Opening tonight at 7pm at Anzenberger Gallery, Absberggasse 27, Vienna, Austria, and running until June 17 is Klaus Pichler‘s This Will Change Your Life Forever.
He asks “Have you ever had the feeling that you are opposed to something from the bottom of your heart – and precisely because of this begin to develop interest for it?”. This is the motivation for this project by a photographer who has a history of committing himself wholeheartedly to his investigations.
He recounts how he experienced ‘esotericism’ at close quarters when a friend became convinced that it was his only salvation in a life crisis. The friend lost his rational view of the world, started believing in angels and ‘subtle energy’ and invested his time, energy and money on “strange seminars, products and services”, but nevertheless remained helpless and angry.
Pichler pretended to embrace esotericism for a period of two years, attending seminars and buying the products, immersing himself in its social media, in order to photograph what he came to regard as a cynical industry. Its offers hope to the desperate through its products and services that are meant to tap into higher forces and ‘energies’.
Its promises are unfulfilled because they are unscientific and medically ineffective, but they are nevertheless marketed aggressively and with huge profit. To this deception its customers – victims – add further disadvantage to themselves; financial difficulties, psychosocial issues, loss of reality, social withdrawal and other incapacitating baggage.
Only a few images have been released by the gallery at this point, but Pichler provides some idea of what to expect of the exhibition with his statement that;
The photos of this project fit into four categories: photos of esotericist products (ordered in online shops), photos of ‘energetic‘ topics, techniques and contents (visualised from the results of my research), restaged photos of esotericist services (found in online forums) and finally restaged ‘photographic evidences‘ (from social media as well).
Pichler is a successful advertising and product photographer, accomplished in staging and digitally enhancing his studio photography. His imagery for Schock, the German kitchen designer, were designed to live up to the promise of the client’s name and to make the world of sinks look more exciting than our own.
This Will Change Your Life Forever then, consists of such visualisations as Pilcher uses in advertising photography, poetic justice for a subject that itself is an ignis fatuus.
In his previous personal work Pilcher (*1977, Austria) has also employed the immersive strategy that he uses for This Will Change Your Life Forever.
For his book Golden Days Before They End, Pilcher and journalist Clemens Marshall ventured into the seedy world of Vienna’s drinking dens, which are fast disappearing along with their raging clientele.
With their reputation for dirtiness, violence and argumentative drunkenness, the bars and their denizens are working class, a background Pilcher shares. Because these drinking holes are unattractive to the younger Viennese, they are becoming commercially unviable and are gradually dying out, as are their customers.
In 2012 when Pilcher and Clemans began visiting them, they found that the occupants were generally friendly and enjoyed, or at least did not object to, being photographed. They were like a substitute family, he reports, a culture to which its members were steadfast, helping each other out in their dysfunctional, alcohol- and drug-addicted lives. But violence was always ready to erupt over a drunken misunderstanding often between long-standing friends.
There is a degree of manipulation here beyond the use of glaring electronic flash which picks up the surfaces patinated with polished grease. To the harsh lighting and deliberate slight underexposure that makes creased, warty and unhealthy skins all the more so, Pilcher adds a digitally generated drabness.
What this produces is a pervasive light like that which might emanate from the bottom of a beer-barrel; brown and tobacco-stained, that enhances the ugliness of faux-gemütlich heavily-patterned curtains and floor coverings and the dark woodgrain of furniture built to take some serious abuse. The customers’ complexions themselves seem to also take on an overall nicotine tan.
That one of them could carry the name Cafe Alzheimer in jugendstil script almost beggars belief…is it a deliberate dig at its ancient customers who, as Pilcher says, freely indulge in a roughhouse sarcasm?
Clemens Marschall and I took four years to document these places, four years where we experienced fun and laughter, melancholy and tragedies, regulars deceasing, bars closing down, love affairs and divorces, blood brotherhoods and bitter fights, paralyzing tenacity and exuberant euphoria.
I did walk into one of these bars myself on my visit to a small German city in 1991, where they also seemed to abound. I stupidly ordered a glass of red (awful…the Germans don’t do red wine) and sat at the bar beside a threesome of old men who wordlessly, apart from grunts and mumbles played a cryptic, very repetitive game of dice. It was atmospheric. Would I have dared to take photographs? I think not.
Klaus Pilcher is a brave man.