“The Dusseldorf School of Photography” by Stefan Gronert

I bought this book to learn more about the famous Dusseldorf School of Photography.  The book does a good job of reinforcing and dispelling some myths about the school.  It consist mainly of large format printed photos and an essay titled “Photographic Emancipation” written by Stefan Gronert.  The photos are divided into three parts: part one focuses on the school’s founding gurus Bernd & Hilla Becher; part two its more famous pupils; and part three its lesser known practitioners.  There is a very well researched and comprehensive “Biographies, Exhibitions and Further Reading” section by Isabelle Matz and Maria Muller at the end of the book.

Stefan Gronert’s essay serves as a legend for the photos by covering the 11 approaches of “Photographic Emancipation”.  Although Gronert doesn’t spell out these 11 approaches exactly one can assume they roughly follow his headings.  These sections effectively sets up a dialogue between the artists.  Gronert points out that it was Axel Hutte who first started to do portraits but Thomas Ruff and Thomas Struth who later became more well known for them.  The author also compares and contrasts: the library photos of Candida Hofer with Andreas Gursky; and the street photos of Petra Wunderlich with Thomas Struth.  Gronert seems to dedicate a special section to Thomas Ruff’s work due perhaps to his more diverse oeuvre.

The insights in Gronert’s essay adds more flavor to the photos.  Some examples being Thomas Struth’s pictures of pictures or as Gronert refers to them as meta photos.  These photos of paintings in museums (the bottom photo on the book’s cover) are given another dimension when you learn that each scene was methodically captured over and over until one image “fit the bill”.  This according to Gronert gives the photos a much more authorial constructed reality.  For me personally they look somewhere between staged and found.  Jorg Sasse’s “Speicher I” is a photo-sculpture and image database system that allows the viewer to organize photos by themes.  In this day and age of The Cloud it’s interesting to see how artist physically interpret these concepts.

The Photos

Here are some personal observations about the photos by the various photographers in the order they are presented in the book:

Bernd & Hilla Becher

In so much as the photos are seen to be reproductions of reality, the repetitive nature of the photos’ subject matter are also reproducing themselves as well.  The repetition also encourages you to stop seeing the subject matter all together and start seeing the abstractions.

Andreas Gursky

By having AG follow B&HB’s work in the book helps to emphasize B&HB’s influence of scale on AG’s photos.  This arrangement also helps to contrast the non-monumentality of AG’s photos when compared to B&BH’s .  In AG’s photos it is the tableaux that becomes the monument.  One of my favorite photos from this series is “Baharain I” for its “all over-ness” and abstraction.

Candida Hofer

In contrast to AG, CH’s focus is more on space and depth.  There’s also a fractal thing going on in the photo of the room with boxes on the shelves alludes to the further subdivision of space in to smaller and smaller modules.  He seems to use this compositional strategy quite frequently.

Axel Hutte

Perhaps it’s the influence of Gronert’s essay but AH’s work seem to contain the seeds of the work of his peers.  There are fractal like spaces, deep voids, all over hill side/jungle foliages and icebergs, atmospheric environments, objects in far off distances.

Thomas Ruff

First time in the book that portraits appear in the artists’ represented photos.  And also one of the first to incorporate found “objects” (space photos, jpegs from the internet) in his photos shown in the book.  As mentioned before TR’s photos cover a diverse range of subjects.

Thomas Struth

His work deals with the topic of public spaces in his museum photos and also private spaces in family portraits taken in homes.  In the former the people are seemingly unaware of their presence in the photos whereas in the later there is a direct confrontation between viewer and subject.  It’s interesting to see these polar opposites side by side in the book.

Petra Wunderlich, Laurenz Berges, Elger Esser, Simone Nieweg, Jorg Sasse

PW has a series of stone quarry and stone buildings which I like for their negative and positive spaces respectively.  There’s an awesome photo by LB called “Delmenhorst” that has a snow laden tree against a blue wall that looks like a silkscreened sky.  EE’s photos are very painterly and I particularly like the one of the ocean wave called “265 Dieppe”.  Of all the foliage themed photos I think SN’s are the most successful.  I particularly like “Garden Fence with Rug, Gelsenkirchen” which has an all-over and consistent feeling that is present in all her photos.  Three photos from Jorg Sasse which I absolutely admire.  There’s the photo of the yellow vase against a purple background that is very abstract and Escher-esque.  The volcano and the butcher photos (actually two photos) for their texturing and patterns.  And I also like the speeding train photo for the strong horizontal composition and color contrast.

Conclusion

The book serves as a good overall guide to the key figures of The Dusseldorf School.  It’s a good starting point to help the reader explore more about the individual photographers.  The book is also very effective at putting everything in context so that influences and offshoots can be seen more clearly.  Most importantly it enables the reader to discover and appreciate the work of the lesser known students of the school.

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2 thoughts on ““The Dusseldorf School of Photography” by Stefan Gronert

  1. Pingback: “Eigenzeit” by Elger Esser | Adventures in Photography

  2. Pingback: “Thomas Ruff Stellar Landscapes” by Melanie Bono and Thomas Palzer | Adventures in Photography

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