Photography stripped of its realism

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Photography stripped of its realism

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American poet and philosopher, once said, “Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.” Through a camera lens, the photographer Josef Schulz initiates a fiction that unravels things that are both real and unreal.
For his first exhibition in Korea, “Real & Unreal,” at Gallery Lumiere in southern Seoul, Mr. Schulz, a Polish-born German, brought 11 works. They were selected by both the photographer and the curator, from his “Sachliches” (Objectivity) and “Lost Function” series, which depict vacant factories, warehouses, and national border checkpoints taken all around Europe, but mostly in Germany. He began the series in 2001, but the project is ongoing.
These images are digitally processed on C-Print paper, and Mr. Schulz used the “diasec” frame, in which a photographic print is glued to sheets of plexiglass, making the image high-definition and clean-cut. The minimalist shapes with bold primary colors give the photographs the appearance of being arbitrarily removed from reality.
Each image is processed similarly. Mr. Schulz finds an architectural shape, takes a photograph with an Arca-swiss 4 x 5 large format camera, and then spends two to four weeks digitally reworking the photographs, adding colors, erasing details, and/or emphasizing the outer boundaries of an architectural subject. Details such as the fine texture of grass or the uneven roofline of a building, are no longer present, as they are replaced by simplified blocks of solid shapes and colors. Such touch-ups make his photographs appear less realistic. There is a transcendental and even a haunted feeling in photographs where the background is artificially washed out. Structures in the foreground seem embraced by a ghostly fog.
The director of Gallery Lumiere, Choi Mi-li, discovered Mr. Schulz’s works on a recent trip to Germany. His work suited Ms. Choi’s gallery as she wanted to “bring attention to European, especially German, photographers in 2006.”
The 39-year-old photographer’s focus on industrial architecture and his detachment from the natural objectivity of photography follows in the footsteps of Thomas Ruff, an internationally renowned German photographer, who discovered Mr. Schulz at Dusseldorf Academy. The two photographers, along with Andrea Gursky, Candida Hofer, and the masters of modern German photography, Bernd and Hilla Becher, all make up an important line of influential German photographers that came out of the academy in the 20th century.
What connects these artists lies in their formalist approach to their subject matter ― industrial architecture. However, each artist’s vision tells a different story. Bernd and Hilla Becher concentrate on a straightforward, objective point of view, while Mr. Schulz centers on creating illusions that resemble the architecture that used to be in its place. For example, in the photograph “Halle Blau-Gelb,” (“Blue Yellow Hall,” 2001) from the “Sachliches” series, a vividly colored factory wall in yellow and blue stands in an almost all white atmosphere. The photograph, with starkly contrasting blocks of colors, along with the two-dimensional outline, is both “real” and “unreal.”
When asked about the reasoning behind this, Mr. Schulz, who recently visited Seoul, commented, “I am not interested in saying something about the building. To me, documentary photographs only show a small part of reality. As a result, objectivity or realism in photography is not a goal of mine. I am more interested in conveying emotions with the colors I use and the shapes that I put into context.”
The “Lost Function” series, which is shown along with warehouses and factories of the “Sachliches” series, features deserted check points at the borders of various countries. The series portrays the landscape on which the photographer grew up on in Poland while showing Europe before and after the European Union was formed. “In a way, it is very coincidental that I have the opportunity to showcase this series in Korea because Korea experienced a history that has similarities to Poland,” he said. “This series is a collection of my thoughts and feelings about borders, in which these check points stand useless and haunted.”
Mr. Schultz has an exhibition coming up in January at Galerie Heinz-Martin Weigund in Ettligen, Germany, which will include the same “Lost Function” series shown in Korea, and an exhibition in New York titled “Regeneration, 50 Photographers of Tomorrow.” The latter is arranged by the Musee de l’Elysee of Switzerland, in which 50 photographers from art institutions around the world were chosen as being the forerunners of the future of photography.


by Cho Jae-eun

The exhibition, “Real & Unreal,” runs through Feb. 5, 2006. A discussion, “Gallery Talks,” takes place from Mondays through Sundays at 1, 3 and 5 p.m. in Korean and on Saturdays and Sundays at 4 p.m. in English. Lectures by curators of Korean museums will be available. Gallery Lumiere is located south of the Galleria Department Store in Apgujeong-dong in southern Seoul. The gallery is open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. except for Mondays. Admission is 4,000 won ($3) for adults and 3,000 won for students. For more information, visit www.gallerylumiere.com or call 02-517-2134.
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