On Personal Change, Paradigm Shifts, and Alternation
If friends were all case studies in the difficulties and ecstasies of relating the human experience, or if Hamlet were to play itself out in the most mundane of evenings, like a card game of horror on a Wednesday — all we would have to do is shuffle the deck and tonight, sweet friend, you are Ophelia and I the ghost.
Calla Henkel and Max Pitegoff (*1988 in Minneapolis, *1987 in Buffalo, live and work in Berlin) use photography as their focal instrument for artistic research to explore spatial, economic, structural, and personal change in the context of today’s realities. As both foil and complement to their work as photographers, Henkel and Pitegoff also work with performance, theater and the creation of social spaces, such as New Theater or Grüner Salon at Volksbühne in Berlin.
For the Triennial of Photography in Hamburg, black & whiteand color photographs of actors, performers and musicians who Henkel and Pitegoff have worked with closely form an ensemble of portraits that recall headshots. Multiplied and grouped, the images are swept into different narrative tides, operating as trading cards within fictive collections. The groupings of images pull at the tangle of performance and self, at questions of labor, ownership of image, identity, and the collective narrative in the face of the individual body.
The exhibition draws on the slippery nature of the photo archive; how it ages, how time, material processing, and memory inevitably alter images. Similarly the act of archiving is ever evolving; pasting together photo collages of loved ones, dating and sealing images in plastic sleeves, have given way to the algorithmic engines of Facebook and iPhoto, that, with access to our phones, sort through all the images of those around us. Cropping their faces and ripping them from context, these tools create an indexable catalog of connection. Removing place and purpose to produce a cast — a self-managed sitcom of ex-lovers, friends and people, from long forgotten jobs and blurry weekends. We have in some ways lost who the archive is for, as we have no idea who (or what) is after all processing and grouping our images for us.
Despite constantly taking them, Henkel and Pitegoff have never shown photographs of actors, artists, writers, musicians, and performers they worked with throughout the years. This grouping of framed photos of actors at the Kunstverein in Hamburg holds a thread of a loose ensemble, rearranged as ‘casts’ for different unrealized productions or stories. The images play with the aesthetics of theater placards, headshots and advertisements with their narrative creeping in only through the corners; the shimmering backdrop or a torn t-shirt; the question of costume, of character, of where they are looking and for whom are they performing; the actor offstage, on a break, or still in character. And finally the question of intention and ownership — whose image is this? It lives somewhere between the sentimental and the commercial.
As Janet Malcolm describes Julia Margaret Cameron’s photographs in her essay The Genius of The Glass House (1999): “The way each sitter endures his or her ordeal is the collective action of the photograph, its “plot,” so to speak. When we look at a narrative painting, we can suspend our disbelief; when we look at a narrative photograph, we cannot. We are always aware of the photograph’s doubleness—of each figure’s imaginary and real persona. Theater can transcend its doubleness, can make us believe (…) that we are seeing only Lear or Medea. Still photographs of theatrical scenes can never escape being pictures of actors.”
Aware of this dichotomy of (re-)presentation, the casts shown in the exhibition SHIFT allude to the possible narratives, promising faces, which are granted no words. Each person photographed in this show is someone Henkel & Pitegoff have worked with, developed performance, exercised forms of representation and their relationships to each other—therole of director and the role of artist mixing.
Other exhibitions from the series “Triennale der Photographie Hamburg“: