bis 11.07. | #0437ARTatBerlin | Heidi Specker is a leading protagonist of contemporary photography. The exhibition at the Berlinische Galerie is her biggest solo show in a museum to date.
The exhibition IN FRONT OF shows two very different groups of work by the Berlin photographer Heidi Specker: her latest project IN FRONT OF, and probably her most significant work to date IN THE GARDEN, which won her a bursary at the Villa Massimo in Rome and has never yet been exhibited in its entirety. IN FRONT OF is a series of 70 pictures where Heidi Specker explores the framework and detailed circumstances in which portrait photographs are created. The series was made specifically for this exhibition at the Berlinische Galerie, and it is her first venture into portraits. For this purpose, she withdrew from the urban environment where she usually goes about her work and brought the world inside her studio. It became a kind of laboratory, where she tested the options for taking a person’s picture. This procedure is quite unlike conventional practice, shaped ever since photography was born by the sitter’s desire to project an image and a status. Instead, these pictures convey the mutual dependence and balance of power which evolve between the photographer and the sitter during a session. Above all, they show people of the artist’s own generation aged between forty and fifty, friends and acquaintances from her personal sphere.
Like all portrait photography, IN FRONT OF tells us things about the person behind the camera. In this new series, Heidi Specker is not only exploring the role she sees herself playing and her own attitudes to life, but the enigma of life in general. The people here are so uninhibited and natural as they move around that we cannot help feeling we are being offered a glimpse of their everyday world. That includes imperfections and vulnerabilities, but also longings and a lack of illusion. IN FRONT OF consists not only of portraits but of other types of image too; the artist has photographed body fragments, art postcards and symbolic items standing around her studio. With these seemingly casual and awkward shots, she also prompts us to ask how close we can ever get to another person and to what extent we can capture their personality.
The second section of the exhibition displays her series IN THE GARDEN, produced in Berlin in 2003/04. It resembles a walk through the city, reflecting on the city as landscape and on the remnants of natural landscape that survive there. Architecture and urban living are threads that weave their way through all Heidi Specker’s work, right down to her latest series IN FRONT OF. IN THE GARDEN consists of images of trees and bushes, very different shapes, which look strangely alien, neglected and even artificial within an urban structure. At the same time, there are ubiquitous clues that the forms found in nature are also being used for aesthetic purposes, and that urban designers themselves make frequent reference to the natural landscape. Her visual idiom, with its technical precision, fondness for extracted detail and tendency to systematise, recalls photographers of Neue Sachlichkeit such as Albert Renger-Patzsch and Karl Blossfeldt. Her pictures suggest that the architecture and vestiges of nature around us establish parallel structures. To present those connections in strong imagery, Heidi Specker makes use of abstraction, just like in her earlier works. In this respect, her photographs are like collage, composed in our brains in an act of imagination that draws on fragmented pieces of information.
The exhibition and catalogue were financed by the Capital Cultural Fund.
Exhibition period: Friday, 11th March to Monday, 11th July 2016Zur Berlinischen Galerie
Image caption: Heidi Specker, Katze, aus der Serie IN FRONT OF, 2015 © Heidi Specker / VG BILD-KUNST Bonn, 2016