German Arts Scene Graduates with Fresh Crop of Talent
The “gute aussichten – young german photographers 2008/2009” exhibition at the Goethe-Institut highlights a German competition for graduate photography students that has itself graduated into a fascinating annual showcase, which says a lot, indirectly and directly, both about Germany and the cultural institute here in Washington.
This year’s installment of works by nine prize-winning young German photographers illustrates the shift toward emphasizing photography among the visual arts exhibits at the Goethe-Institut, which is now under a new director, Ulrich Braess. It also fits into an established trend at the institute of drawing on Germany’s rich culture in all its facets — including cutting-edge displays such as a recent one on the growing cult of anorexia — reflecting a remarkable and even challenging diversity of interest, style and themes.
The “gute aussichten” exhibition itself is a touring example of a project begun five years ago by Josefine Raab and Stefan Becht as a private initiative to support young German photographers through a nationwide competition at German institutes, technical and professional schools, foundations, and universities of applied sciences. There are no monetary prizes, but winners have their work exhibited in special touring shows all over the world, including D.C.’s Goethe-Institut.
The competition, with more than 100 entrants this year, is also a fresh indicator of the rising visibility of Germany as a center for up-and-coming, talented young photographers. But that doesn’t mean these new photographers coming out of the “gute aussichten” competition are stereotypical in any shape or form. By now, the question posed by several years ago by this competition of what and who is a German is getting answered differently every year, and every day. For instance, the influx of immigration — tackled by one of the photographers in this show — has dramatically changed the makeup of German society, and therefore its culture and arts.
Photographers Maziar Moradi and Reza Nadji, both Iranian natives raised in Germany, speak to the changes in Germany’s population. Their subject, however, is Iran — in Moradi’s case, big, bold, even dramatic photographs illuminate Tehran, as well as the many contradictions and dualities in a city that is at once modern with one repressive foot planted firmly in religion. In Nadji’s case, thoughtful portraits depict Iranians leading their lives in times of war and upheaval, their faces revealing, but also in hiding.
Heiko Schäfer, meanwhile, presents pristine photos of boats against a white, blameless background. The images almost seem like drawings or precise watercolors, until you realize that they’re the actual boats used by North African and Middle Eastern refugees fleeing their homelands and making their way to Europe.
In addition to topical works, “gute aussichten” exposes a powerful diversity and willingness to experiment with methods not usually tried by artists wedded solely to the camera or the dark room — resulting in a sort of laboratory of their own creation.
This approach can be seen in Juergen Staack’s foray into photography as a kind of conceptual art. Staack, a 30-year-old artist from Kirchhain, Germany, created a photograph and then recorded non-German speaking viewers talking about their impressions of the image. Afterward, the photograph was blotted out in bold, black strokes, leaving only the impression of the viewer and creating a new work entirely. Is the result photography or even art? You can probably start an argument about that.
The subject matter throughout the exhibit could also easily provoke more than a few debates. Katrin Trautner, in a series called “Morning Love,” examines sexual intimacy among the senior set in beautifully, fleshly lit photographs, in which emotion and a joy in the senses seem to supersede ideas about what’s considered sexy or beautiful in the society at large.
Markus Georg takes the route of the traditional starving artist by turning his work into postcards (for sale at ), while also devising ways to capture familiar imagery and iconography using unlikely materials, such as a Stonehenge formation that looks like a laundry clothesline or packing boxes grown into the Brandenburg Gate.
All of the “gute aussichten” photographers shoot straight from the gut. They are original and forward looking, discovering art that a pointed camera alone doesn’t catch. And just as these rising visionaries see no limits to what their lenses can do, there seem to be no bounds to Germany’s pool of artistic talent.
“gute aussichten – young german photographers 2008/2009” through Sept. 2 Goethe-Institut (which will be closed through Aug. 10) 812 7th Street, NW. For more information, please call (202) 289-1200 or visit www.goethe.de/washington.
About the Author
Gary Tischler is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.