September 28: Photography is the art of the double, there is no doubt; from the twin image of the lens, to the mating of negative with positive, and the potential proliferation of prints.
Two photographers who demonstrate this are Ute Lindner (*1968) who is launching Pentimenti revisited at Stiftung Starke, Koenigsallee 30, 14193 Berlin, and Patrick Tosani who was born in Paris on this date, September 28, in 1954.
One of the delights of photography is direct printing, whether with polaroid, printing-out paper, gum bichromate or more glorious still, with cyanotype; to lift away the negative and to see it transformed, but clearly, exactly, preserved as the same image, beneath. My partner Lorena Carrington has recently been conducting cyantotype workshops with primary and secondary school students and their excitement vouches that even against the ever-refreshing abundance of the digital screen, the thrill of this photographic fundamental remains.
To mention the double, the doppelgänger, is to raise its uncanny spectre, much speculated upon, and intellectualised since Freud’s 1919 analysis in Das Unheimich (‘The Uncanny’) of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s (1776-1822) short story The Sandman (1817), the latter being not the only neo-gothic literature of the nineteenth century, or pre-historic folk-tale, to employ that spine-chilling device.
No. Photography, and particularly one feature of it, arouses divergent, more subtle contemplations. No alter-ego here, but first principles, though phantom still, in Tosani’s very early work and in Lindner’s current in which they, like others before them, have wondered at the potential of displaying a photograph against the thing photographed. Their solutions are different, one experimental, the other elegiac.
What can we spy, in a photograph of the installation of one of his 1980 works, that we might actually see if we were in the space? We would realise almost immediately that our passage through the doorway of this grungy-looking space above is blocked off by a 1:1 scale photograph of that doorway! Others from the series will explain what is going on;
These provoke the viewer, the one present at the original exhibition, to question whether it honestly records what is concealed behind the suspended paper, or if it, like wallpaper, is covering up. They might easily check by peering around the back.
Yet we, who receive these views via another photograph, are subject to the further revelations and concealments enacted by the photographer’s angle of view and framing of these installations at Espace Avant-Première, in Paris in 1980.
Both at first-, and second-sight, what is evident is the way the translation of reality into print bears evidence of the way the photograph, which we readily accept as realist, abbreviates and abstracts its subject, increasing contrast, blurring detail, translating local tone into grain.
By being presented as monochrome images these pictures-of-pictures compound, and confound, the illusion; we know that if we were present within their installation that these suspended prints would be betrayed in their doubling of their surrounds by their lack of hue. Thus Tosani’s record becomes an enduring amplification of the effect even at a distance of 38 years, and noting that some of the dimensions given for these images on his website are not those of the hanging prints, but of smaller reproductions of them (e.g. 27 x 19 cm for Manipulation spatiale 05 as opposed to 300 x 35 cm for the above), one realises that our seeing these spaces at such a remove is his ultimate intention, which effects a particular perception.
Tosani made this series just after finishing his studies in architecture in Paris (1973-1979), and had started to develop work in photography which continues even now to investigate issues of space and scale raised by architecture. Ever since, he has questioned the photographic process, its potentialities, its limits, and its relation to the real, humbly rethinking his solutions and returning to them anew, as if in self-doubt but energised by it in a sustained practice from which other, more arrogant photographers might learn. He has exhibited regularly since the 80s, with rare breaks, and his latest show P.L.A.N.È.T.E.S, at Galerie In Situ / Fabienne Leclerc, Paris was just last year.
Lindner’s works are also site-specific, the above being in a converted tobacco factory in Vierraden in the city of Schwedt on the Oder river that forms the German border with Poland, the one place in the country where tobacco could be grown. Given its placement, one is prompted to associate this veil-like image with the insubstantiality of smoke.
This semi-opaque cotton curtain wafting before the window has been soaked in the cyanotype (blueprint) solution before being contact-printed (enlargements cannot be printed onto cyanotype) under a negative which is again a 1:1 ratio representation of its background. Lindner however takes her architectural subject matter as a starting point for a dream-like mise en abîme, in which recursions of the window frame contain others, montaged into the image prior to printing.
The curtain acts like a ‘screen memory’, if I may again invoke Sigmund Freud, this time in his 1899 paper, Über Deckerinnerungen, which translator James Strachey translated as ‘Screen Memories’. In the original title Decke means ‘cover’ which in English, as ‘bedecked’ or ‘decked out’, we receive from Middle Dutch dec ‘covering’, and dekken ‘to cover’ denoting canvas used to make a covering, especially on seagoing vessels. Erinnerung translates as ‘reminiscence’ but also, as Hegel interpreted it, to ‘interiorise’, or to internalise a memory as part of an ‘inner life’.
Freud recounts how he often had to work from his patients’ pre-verbal childhood memories which were by nature fragmentary, seemingly trivial and random and disconnected from an overall narrative, but with an importance to the person that ensured they remained unforgotten, but only as an image. Later interpretations of Freud’s paper raise the haunting possibility of ‘false memory’, where Lindner’s image remains a benign fantasy; its physical representation sets its vision against the light of a real window, in that ethereal blue of the cyanotype.
The art-historical term Pentimenti chosen by Lindner is apposite to these images as it signifies a change of heart by an artist who has revised the work, painting over perhaps an entire figure, or merely altering a gesture, seeking greater accuracy or better expression. The marks remain hidden beneath the overpainting and can be revealed in an x-ray, or merely by viewing the work against light reflected from the surface.
This particular 2012 installation of the series at Löwenpalais Berlin, where Lindner is currently showing Pentimenti revisited, explored the idea further. The country mansion, built in 1903 by the renowned architect Hans Sehring for the royal cellarman Habel and his family, now houses the Starke Foundation. In the 1930s, the building was divided into luxurious single apartments in which many famous artists and scholars resided for a few years. Lindner’s windows-in-windows evoke the idea of generations of artists and thinkers gazing through them as they conjured the ideas and images on which they were working.
With remarkable good fortune and perspicacity quite early in her career, and consistent with her later work, Lindner discovered in 1996 that wall coverings from Wilhelmshöhe Castle at Kassel which housed the State Art Collections were being removed in a renovation. On the more than 25-year-old carmine red felt wall fabric (incidentally a return to Tosani’s opaque ‘wallpaper’ prints), light-bleaching to the exposed areas has left the shadows of paintings by Veronese, Titian and Murillo and their original acrylic labels.
So distinct are these phantoms that it is possible to detect where each painting once hung, or was replaced by another, where the rectangles overlap. Entitled Belichtungszeiten (‘Time Exposures’), Lindner had only to attach the material onto canvas stretchers to make them in effect autonomous time-lapse photograms that record museum display itself as the subject of an exhibition.
Tosani and Lindner represent divergent treatments and applications of the life-size photograph and its indexical relation to space and time, one analytic, and the other poetic.