Thoughts on the Photographic Works of Björn Behrens

Peter Friese

This essay was inspired by a group of works by Björn Behrens which were created between 2016 and 2019 and whose title is connected with a line of thought pursued by Louis Daguerre from the year 1837. The pioneer of photography formulated and pursued a pictorial technique that was quite new for that era: namely, to present the world as it really is. This was an ambitious undertaking and imposed a high expectation on photography which is still widespread today. Expectation with regard to photography. It is a matter of nothing less than the truthful contents of the photographic image, the responsibility of the photograph with respect to an extra-pictorial reality; it views photography in terms of a proof of existence. The promise of photography—namely that what is shown or recorded by the image generated with a camera also exists beyond that depiction—has since then been not only repeatedly postulated, but also heatedly debated. For almost two hundred years, advanced photographic practice itself has worked to redeem this promise: reinterpreting it, varying it and, in many cases, also contradicting it. In this context, photography acquires the status of art and comes to play a role which is quite illuminating and promotes profound cognition.

For many years, Björn Behrens has been investigating the potential and the limitations of photography as a pictorial medium. Hence he does not consider it to be a mere auxiliary technique for producing desired pictorial results. Nor does he have a straightforward view of the photograph as a “medium” with which it becomes possible to produce a picture corresponding to this world in the sense of Daguerre, and to convey it further in a coherent manner. His interest commences with the physical-chemical foundations of photography and extends all the way to a questioning and investigating, ultimately to a critical examining of its image- and meaning-generating social role. Behrens is also interested in the context in which a photograph arises and comes to be utilized. He devotes his artistic work to research and inquiry with regard to these interconnections. Photography itself is assigned a cognition-promoting and accordingly also crucial role, inasmuch as it not only provides manifest visual documentation, but is simultaneously also an object of investigation and theme of the entire work. One could compare this manner of working with an experimental system and consider the individual works to be experimental arrangements whose results, surprising as they generally are, sometimes cause astonishment and ultimately achieve persuasiveness through the questions they raise. The following text offers a discussion and evaluation of a working procedure which is unusual for artists.

A work series which is typical in the sense of an experimental system even as it speaks for itself is entitled Based on truth I-III and was created in 2014. Here Behrens has recourse to methods  which extend far past the activity of the photographer as the creator and deliverer of images. Ingmar Lähnemann has proposed the apposite formulation of a “hunter in search of his prey” to describe this endeavor; we will see that this comparison proves to be fruitful not only in a metaphorical sense. Several works in this series were created at night, such as the series of burned-out automobiles (Based on truth I). Here the photographer set out like an investigative reporter in search of passenger cars which had been deliberately set alight; it turned out that he brought to light images that are quite perplexing. They are definitely a part of reality but, as visual documents, are removed from public perception. The photographer thereby becomes a sort of paparazzo and hunter of a motif which is present in the public, social domain but is scarcely discernible. He is logically compelled to simultaneously use investigative methods which surpass a pure “search for motifs.” With these symbolically charged images, Behrens ultimately becomes the conveyor of messages which trigger truly mixed feelings.

With Based on truth II, the borders of the photographic medium are literally expanded and then transcended in an investigative manner. It is a matter of an experimental arrangement which operates in terms of image and counter-image, conclusion and contrary conclusion, and in which a decisive role is played by the proverbial “shooting” of pictures together with the concomitant metaphorical framework. In this context, the photographer becomes a hunter, his motif the prey; the photographic procedure corresponds to the act of “shooting,” and the picture becomes a successful “shot.” But this requires a special arrangement that goes far past the traditional concept of a photographic apparatus or studio, but instead comes to resemble a complicated experimental arrangement in the realm of behavioral research.

A hunter’s stand in an open landscape was photographed using a camera with automatic release, something which corresponds to a reversal of the relationship between hunter and prey. In a countermove, the enclosure around the elevated seat is turned into a camera obscura: or more precisely, into a large pinhole camera which, with an exposure time of forty minutes, is capable of recording the landscape in front of it in an unusual manner. In the end, Behrens turns the negative, i.e. the original exposed material, into a picture. And amazingly, this shows not only the landscape that was to be found in front of the hunter’s raised shelter, but also many black splotches and lines which initially look like gestural drawings. What has additionally inscribed itself into the film are scratches in the Plexiglas which must have been made by the hunter’s weapon when the window of the enclosure was raised. Without any artistic intentions, of course. Nonetheless, they now belong to the corresponding picture. Everything which actually occurred in front of the hunter’s hideaway during the long exposure time is inscribed into the photograph along with the scratches, enters unfiltered into the pictorial creation. The surprising result stands for Behren’s readiness to engage with the unknown, for his curiosity-driven search for something which has been concealed up to now and as a rule does not attain the threshold of perception.

At a first glance, the results of such extended exposures seem unintended, as if they arose entirely on their own. Here Behrens shows strong affinities with Concept Art, inasmuch as he takes a big step backwards and leaves his picture to arise out of other factors than his artistic subjectivity. Nevertheless, as a photographer he is and remains the arranger, cause and catalyst of all these processes, ultimately functioning as an “author” in the artistic sense. With this manner of proceeding, he comes quite close to what in 1844 William Henry Fox Talbot called “photogenic drawing,” according to which objects situated in front of the camera are capable of inscribing themselves into the picture without the active involvement of the photographer, as it were: in other words, “as if on their own” and independently of human intention. This is important for our further lines of thought, inasmuch as Behrens’ works are repeatedly linked, in a complex and ultimately experimental manner, to the basic requirements which belong to the history of photography. 

The composite word “photo-graphy,” derived from the Greek, indicates that writing is being done here with light (phos means “light” and graphein means “to write”). But who in fact is it who is doing the writing? And what is being written here? Is it the things themselves which, with the help of light, inscribe themselves into the emulsion of the film or the image memory? Or is it instead the photo-grapher who uses his camera like a pen or brush and thereby imbues his pictures with his unmistakeable handwriting? Do photo-graphers even use long-extant pictorial models in order to achieve the desired result? After nearly two centuries of photography, these questions cannot be answered straightaway so as to avoid ambiguity.

When in 1844 William Henry Fox Talbot speaks about photography as the “pencil of nature” which is capable of inscribing into the picture 1:1 the things situated in front of the camera, the truthfulness and objectivity of photography seem to have already been proven as “writing with light.” But does this in fact fully answer the question as to the writer and the written? At the time of the British pioneer of photography, there arose photographs which are important for our line of thought and which, even though historical cityscapes were represented with accuracy and amazingly high definition, nonetheless bring to light strangely curved lines, mysterious shadows and literally inscribed, semitransparent doppelgängers of chance passersby, even of entire horse-drawn vehicles. These are pictorial inscriptions which, because of the long exposure times, were not only unavoidable but—as we today recognize—belong to the essential nature and history of photography. 

Björn Behrens is familiar with these interconnections and repeatedly finds ways to inject his knowledge into his artistic work. He received his training as a photographer during the 1990s, right during the transition from analogue to digital photography, so that he knows both modes from his own experience. For him, working with analogue photography simultaneously brings an investigation with the past of this pictorial medium. The exposure of a negative, the enlarging and fixing of the photographic image in the darkroom have a significance for this artist that is almost nostalgic. But—as we will see—this basic knowledge continues to have an influence on his handling of digital photography. Independently of whether it is a matter of digital or analogue works, the focus is repeatedly on the technical, historical and social foundations of photography as a source of the inspiration which drives artistic work.

The little series Based on Promises I consists of five black squares, each measuring 6 x 6 centimeters, which are individually framed and are accentuated by white photo mounts. At a first glance, these dark, geometric forms all look the same and could potentially remind a well-disposed observer of the famous Black Square of Kasmir Malevich, to whom it could seem to be playing tribute. But upon closer examination, the black of these small pictures turns out to evince fine details which support the conclusion that here once again, it is a matter of photography as such. One discerns a fine, transparent edge whose upper section shows numbers, a black arrow and the brand name “FUJI”: markings on a roll of 6×6 film. But that’s not all. Upon being examined even more closely, the squares prove to be multilayered pictures upon which may be seen a delicate inner structure, the hint of a motif. Above all, a somewhat laterally shifted gaze is able to discover that these pictures conceal more than they reveal. Björn Behrens photographed five different motifs with a 6×6 camera. In spite of all their differences, what they all have in common is the theme of light and illumination. The motifs which can be perceived in these pictures only as vague hints are a gleaming blue insect trap, a grave candle, the proverbial red light in the red-light district of Amsterdam, the flare of a magnesium flame, and blue neon light of an inner courtyard in Bremen intended to prevent drug addicts from shooting up with heroin there. But these consciously chosen pictorial subjects can at best be surmised in their black-and-white version. It is accordingly helpful to know what these photographic images actually and originally contain. In this series, Behrens covered each 6×6 contact sheet congruently with its own negative. The result is that the actual image is completely covered by its bright-dark reverse image. So it becomes unclear what exactly is shown by the picture which has been blackly equalized in this manner. But for this very reason, these five inversions constitute the conclusive concept for a retreat of the photographic image into a Black Square, reminiscent of Malevich, which concentrates within itself all the possibilities of analogue photography. It is above all in the macabre “drug-use prevention light” that this artistic device becomes plausible, because the blue light, through convergence and neutralization of color, makes it impossible to see the veins of the persons who (for various reasons) want to do an injection. In a paradoxical manner, the blue light fulfills its social function not through creating illumination but by causing disappearance. It is precisely the provocative hermeticism of these five little pictures that is typical for the investigative and experimental procedure as well as the overall artistic attitude which are the subject of this essay.

We encounter an entirely different artistic response to the photographic image in the series Based on Promises II. This is a matter of large-format pictures of the nighttime skyline of New York, mounted on glass and internally shattered, which an unknown photographer (i.e. not Björn Behrens) must have already taken several years ago. Behrens considers them to be veritable found pieces, which he took out of a bulky-waste container with the intention of saving them from ultimate destruction and turning them into art. One could describe these pictures as a hybrid form of found footage, objet trouvé and readymade. And with respect to the activity of the artist, Lähnemann’s notion of the hunter can now be augmented with that of the collector. Furthermore, the entire affair is due to one of those “coincidences” which have nothing to do with arbitrariness in the sense of indifference or randomness. Because in his search for motifs and materials, Behrens made a find in an artistically precise way. The container for construction waste material once stood in front of a former north-German casino near the Dutch border. These large pictures, so laconically disposed of, once decorated the windows of the temple devoted to gambling while it was in operation; they function almost like the windows of a church which are involved in an entirely different pictorial program. This aspect is anything other than insignificant, inasmuch as Behrens considers and accordingly interprets the concepts and associations linked to the Manhattan skyline and ultimately fated to fail as similar to the promises of financial fortune made formerly by the gambling casino. Without becoming overly sentimental, one naturally thinks of the homage to that metropolis once sung by Frank Sinatra, with the meaningful line “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere; it’s up to you, New York, New York.” Here Behrens not only “consumes” something that others made previously, but also attributes to it a collective even if investigable significance in the sense of a myth or dream. One could consider his procedure both as a tribute to New York and as its demythologization. Even in their damaged and dismounted state, these pictures continue to be impressive, black-backgrounded images of the skyline of Manhattan shining brightly above the Hudson River. They were clearly taken before September 2001, because the best-preserved among them shows in its center the two tall towers of the former World Trade Center. The second, fragmented part is presented lying in front of the first one, as if it were laid out like a corpse; the irregularly shattered, residual fragments, assembled like a puzzle, are added as a third component. This impressive work clearly extends the borders of photography into Concept Art. It would be entirely possible here to speak of a conceptual photography in which found pictures, fragmented through destruction, are recontextualized and assembled into a highly expressive work that goes far past mere pictorial quotation.

In its own way, the work Based on Promises III also pursues the path of extending what we traditionally associate with photography as art. We see photographs of painted-over posters from the Hungarian capital of Budapest. At a first glance, these prove to be documentation of an act of public censorship from 2016. Posters of the opposition party Jobbik were painted over with black paint in rapid, broad brushstrokes by unknown persons, and in other cases sprayed over, thereby making them illegible. But what is special about this? The actually intended message of the at that time public posters was clearly critical of the government. Before the words were extinguished, one could read on the posters: “elopják a pénzt” — “they are stealing your money.” Someone was apparently interested in assuring that, in a nocturnal action, this subversive political message would be made invisible as soon as possible. Behrens noticed that regime-critical slogans neutralized in this way had been covered by a sort of “expressive-gestural” painting — something of which the unknown censors were certainly not aware, because they carried out the task with no creative intention. But these instances of overpainting resemble abstract, gestural-expressive painting and sometimes call to mind pictures by Robert Motherwell, Cy Twombly, Franz Kline, Gerhard Richter or other Western artists. Björn Behrens attributes significance to the (state-?) ordered blockage of open channels of communication to the extent that, in their fierce gesture, these overpaintings remind him of pictures which, half a century earlier in Western Europe and North America, were considered to be expressions of individual freedom, subjectivity, spontaneity and immediacy. This recognition, accompanied as it is with a certain knowing smile, also contains a subversive core because, in the framework of an exhibition, the photographs of these botched gestural efforts acquire an exposing, educational impetus. The fact that the series includes not only photographs, but also an original, gesturally painted pane of glass which once covered a city light-poster, shows for its part an artistic affinity with the objet trouvé. The factum brutum painted somewhat in the style of Franz Kline was turned by Behrens without further ado into a commensurate component of the series. Public censorship is transformed into art which is capable of having an impact on several significatory and cognitive levels simultaneously.

With the series Based on Promises IV, Behrens came up with a further conceptual procedure in which the parameters of analogue photography come to light as such. A ground glass screen which, as part of a large-format, analogue camera serves for observing and precisely adjusting the respective motif, was placed directly upon light-sensitive film material. Through exposure, this gave rise to a photogram, the negative of the ground glass screen. After this in turn was copied onto film through the same procedure, the result was a 1:1 photographic correspondence to the white ground glass with its thin black lines. Behrens repeated this procedure with five different screens possessing different grid patterns, then stacked the results one atop the other on a light-table. The complex linear pattern which thereby arose resembles a universal raster which would potentially be capable of generating all possible pictures that were ever made or could ever be made with a large-format camera. Through this additive and experimental procedure, the parameters of analogue photography, which for many years constituted the non plus ultra of the photographic image, are represented in a direct and concentrated manner. Thus the ensuing picture does not show any motif located outside the camera but instead imparts direct visibility to the optical regulatory system that is inside the camera. The geometrical pattern is the pictorial summation of visual approaches made possible by this photographic apparatus. In this work, Björn Behrens engenders a self-relational perspective which is typical for his artistic mode of thought and work. The fact that digital technology has come to guarantee and therefore also to lay claim to a significantly larger range of activity within pictorial production turns the parameters of analogue photography into patterns which, in an artistic sense, can become the subject of aesthetic argumentation.

But art itself, along with the conditions for its institutional presentation, also makes it way into the work of Björn Behrens. The series Based on truth truth III consists of several imposing, glossy, green-and-black pictures which were produced in almost dark spaces through an extended exposure of some fifteen to twenty minutes. These works should be assigned, not so much to the category of the perfect image as proof of visibility, but rather to the realm of experimental photography, which is capable of introducing other insights that go further than simple recognition. Moreover, the dark, light-reflecting, viewer-mirroring Bildtafeln: panel pictures / ?? appear all in all like non-figural art or “abstract compositions.” lFor this series, Behrens photographed several empty rooms of museums and galleries at nighttime and with an extremely long exposure time. Normally, well-lighted art is to be found at these sites. But the empty, nocturnal exhibition spaces are much more interesting for an artistic approach. The only sources of light to be discerned in the otherwise utterly dark rooms are the signs faintly shining in green and indicating the respective exit and corresponding escape path. But their feeble emissions of light are sufficient for generating, over an extended exposure time, impressive pictures which seem at a first glance to be abstract compositions. Björn Behrens selected the vantage point for his camera along with the specific lens and, at the very end, decided to crop the picture in such a way that wall progressions, corridors and ceiling elements — in other words, the entire “empty” interior architecture — give rise to veritable pictorial arrangements which seem like thoroughly organized, abstract painting. This artistic perspective renders modern, functional exhibition architecture capable of imbuing a picture with resonances of the formal vocabularies of the Constructivist avant-gardes (de Stijl, Bauhaus and Russian Constructivism). This is of course no coincidence (something which, in any case, does not exist in an artistic sense), but instead an artistic discovery and precise decision. Photographic means are used to bring to light the foundations of modernism: for example, also the influence of the Bauhaus on the architecture of our present era. Ideally, the glossy, green-black pictures would ultimately be displayed in the very exhibition spaces where they were created. And the fact that viewers are reflected in these high-gloss pictures, so that right from the first they become components of the spatially impacting compositions, helps to facilitate a special aesthetic experience which is connected with them. In the series Based on truth III, the viewer is always in the picture. 

The inclusion of the viewer in the act of perception, however, is one of the basic conditions of aesthetic experience. The possibility, not only of gazing at a picture in front of oneself, but of also experiencing oneself as a viewer, i.e. reflecting oneself in several senses, thereby becomes the indispensable prerequisite for photography as art. Björn Behrens’ experimental manner of working, his to some extent explosive inclusions of found images and objects, varies and extends the theme of found footage in a content-based manner which definitely includes a critique of representation. Behrens is capable of not only fulfilling, but also — through his experimental, media-critical approach — of expanding and fulfilling the criteria formulated by Wolfgang Ullrich with regard to conceptional photography in an age of progressive digitalization, and of transferring these insights onto new artistic pathways.

1.Luminita Sabau (ed.), Das Versprechen der Fotografie. Die Sammlung der DG BANK, Munich 1998. Publication about the same-named exhibition of the photographic collection of the DG Bank, which was presented to a wide audience in Hanover, Paris, Berlin and Frankfurt between 1999 and 2001. Ibid., Borys Groys, “Das Versprechen der Fotografie,” pp. 26–33.

     2. A further basis for this debate continues to be the book by Roland      Barthes, Die helle Kammer, Frankfurt/Main 1985, wherein the author writes, with a view to the empirical power of photography, “That is how it was.” Ibid., p. 87.

3. Ingmar Lähnemann, Der Wahrheit nach (ihr nach!), in Rose Pfister, Ingmar Lähnemann, Björn Behrens (eds.), Björn Behrens, Nach der Wahrheit, exhib. cat., Berlin 2014, pp. 5-7.

 4.“Found footage” is a term from film studies referring to works which consist of material that was not created or conceived by filmmakers themselves.

5. An objet trouvé (“found object”) is a found object which is treated as a work of art. In the case of Duchamp as well as in Dadaism and Surrealism, the objet trouvé undergoes a contextualization and becomes charged with meanings extending all the way to the unconscious.

6. ”Readymade” refers to an everyday item which is declared to be a work of art. Without being treated further, it is pronounced by an artist to be a work of art and is then presented in an artistic context.

7. Cf. Boris Groys, “Der Künstler als Konsument” (2002), in idem, Topologie der Kunst, Munich 2003, pp. 47–58, here p. 49 ff.

8. Wolfgang Ullric, “Sentimentale Bürokraten. Beschämte Aristokraten – oder: Wer betreibt konzeptuelle Fotografie?” in Christina Leber (ed.) Fotofinish, Siegeszug der Fotografie als künstlerische Gattung, Cologne 2018, pp. 405-442 and website of the author: https://ideenfreiheit.wordpress.com/.



Linda Lendvai

What are your photographs currently about?
On one hand my work is about the essential characteristics of photography that are staying in relation and against oneself; and there are the technical features such as light, perspective and abstraction. On the other hand, the content features why people take pictures, such as a proof of something. According to Susan Sontag, described in her book On Photography, photography gives people the imaginary possession of the past, a proof of existence and our desires caused by advertising photography. With Based on Truth my idea is to indicate that we are all influenced by diverse theses of truth.

Do you think the night is more truthful than the daytime? And what does that mean to you and to your work?
It is true that I feel very alive at night. I work often at night even if I am not taking photographs. Also, the darkness plays a major role in my work. The orientation in the dark is difficult, it demands more focus, and I have to rely on my senses. It combines photography with viewing habits witch we know from classical painting. In addition, the boundaries between staging and found images are obscured.

On your photos light has a very dark mystic aura. Why did you choose these 5 light sources for your series called Light? I feel they all somehow belong to our darkest sides.
I like your interpretation! This work is about reduction and thereby the following abstraction, which comes from the medium of photography itself. In this series of photos, I am concerned with the simultaneous attraction and repulsion of diverse colored light sources. The series consists of five images. Each photographed object is producing light. An insect trap, a small plastic cross that is used in the southern countries in places where people have died, a Bengal fire which is used in football games, and a blue light that prevents to see the veins. These items are captured in medium format black and white negative. Then, I developed a single contact of each of these negatives by hand on a 30,5 cm x 24 cm Baritt paper. Later, the original negative is fixed on its own contact image. The original and the depicted image create together a straight angle of view a black square of 6 x 6 cm.

It reminds me of Malevich’s Black Square.
Yes, however it can be described better with Hiroshi Sugimoto’s portrait of Henry VIII and a work of Jimmie Durham. The court painter Hans Holbein around 1537 painted the King of England, based on this painting there is a wax sculpture at the Madame Tussaud and Sugimoto photographed the portrait of this life-like figure in the style of the Holbein painting. I am amazed that these three art Mediums have bridged 500 years. With photography to awake the association of a painting is still great. In 1996, Jimmie Durham claimed he had poured an egg in a cement block. He describes this piece with the phrase Do not open it before 2996. In this way he has created a 1000- year-old egg. In the series lights, I liked that notion that everything that keeps the spectator from seeing behind the negative is that we collectively learned, art can not be touched, especially not the holy negative of the photographer. Also, I find it interesting to observe the viewer by applying attraction and repulsion on him, which was also the initial idea by photographing these light sources. The viewer has a lot of different ways in which he uses his own experiences and his own imagination to make this work to learn.

Why do you work with the exit light of the gallery?
The images were taken at night by long exposure. The only source of light is the emergency exit light. In the series of empty spaces there are venues in which the images are exhibited later. The large-format photographs are printed on shiny photo paper. As a result, the viewer can see his own reflection on the images. I like to observe the exhibition visitor in the space where the artwork is presented. After a while it becomes clear that the image they are looking at is part of the space in which they are located. This creates a shift in perception. This green light is always there, it is only a matter of light and time to recognize it.
It is a bit scary to find your reflection in the empty version of the gallery space where you are standing at the moment, filled with images. It creates such a lonely feeling to me, especially with the title ‘Based on Truth’.

Tell me about the NY series. The theme is really grotesque.
The pictures show the New York skylines. The images are stuck on a broken glass pane. These pieces were once on the front window of a small casino in a village in the north of Germany. I am fascinated by the thought that the owner of a casino has considered how to tempt people to play with money. These images are articulating the promise that if you win you can finally get out of here.

Is that, where the title Based on Promise comes from?
The group of works from this exhibition called ‘Based on Truth’. Here I am engaged with the idea that photography claims the truth. Based on promises that refer to the concept of what is behind the work. The concept consists of a description and the title, which occupies an important part of the work. The New York images were the first time I worked with found photographs.

Björn Behrens (b. 1976 Bremen, Germany) was educated in Bremen where he received a diploma in fine arts. Behrens had solo shows in Bremen and Brussels also his photographs have been exhibited in numerous group exhibitions in Germany. Based on Promise is his first solo exhibition in Budapest, Hungary. This project includes three of his photo series, NY (2016), Visible Light (2014-2016) and Based on Truth II (2014 -2016).

Städtische Galerie Bremen

Ingmar Lähnemann

Programmatisch hängt am Anfang der Ausstellung Björn Behrens – Nach der Wahrheit in der Städtischen Galerie Bremen ein großformatiger Print eines sich in verwaschenem Grau zeichnerisch von schwarzem Hintergrund abhebenden Jägerhochsitzes. Das gleiche Bild ziert die Einladung zur Ausstellung. Jagd wird motivisch zu einem zentralen Thema dieser Präsentation und dem Überblick über vier Werk- und fünf Motivserien des Künstlers.
Angesichts seiner bisherigen Arbeiten gehört Björn Behrens zweifelsohne nicht zu den ihren Acker bestellenden Künstlern, die Bilder sesshaft in ihrer Imagination züchten. Er zählt zu den Jägern, findet seine Motive unterwegs, jedoch nicht als Sammler zufälliger Eindrücke am Wegesrand, sondern mit einer klaren Vorstellung von den zu jagenden Bildern. Die Analogie zwischen Künstler und Jäger wird durch die Setzung des Titelmotivs in der Ausstellung bestätigt. Sie liefert einen möglichen Zugang zu seinen Fotografien und verweist auf eine künstlerische Selbstreflexion, die allen Werkserien inhärent ist und zeigt, wie konsequent Björn Behrens seit der Vergabe des Bremer Förderpreises für Bildende Kunst an seiner persönlichen Sprache und einem spezifischen visuellen Zugriff gearbeitet hat.
Jagd ist eine nächtliche Beschäftigung und sämtliche Serien der letzten Jahre vermitteln nächtliche Szenen. Memento Moriendum Esse, 2012, zeigt junge Männer in dunkler Lederjacke und Rückenansicht in Kneipen – angesichts ihres Zustands offenbar zu fort­geschrittener Stunde. Ausgebrannte Autos, deutschlandweit jüngst Relikte einer populären Nachtbeschäftigung, sind in Based on Truth I, 2013, abgebildet. Die zweite Motivgruppe dieser Serie sind Aufnahmen weiß aufscheinender, fliegender Möwen vor dunklem Himmel.
Based on Truth II, 2014, stellt die bereits beschriebenen Jägersitze dar, die Björn Behrens für den zweiten Teil dieser Serie zu Lochkameras umfunktioniert hat, die langatmige Abbilder des Jägerblicks in die Landschaft liefern. Ähnlich lange belichtet und prozessual sind Fotografien der Serie Based on Truth III, 2014. Details von nächtlichen Innenräumen werden nur durch das grüne Licht der Notausgangsschilder beleuchtet. Bei genauerem Hinsehen lassen sie sich als die Ausstellungsräume der Städtischen Galerie Bremen identifizieren. Ihre grüne Farbgebung erinnert wiederum an den Blick durch Nachtsichtgeräte, wie sie vom Militär, aber auch für die Jagd verwendet werden.
Aufgrund ihrer Paparazzifotoqualitäten werden die jungen Memento Moriendum-Männer in Rückenansicht schnell als erjagte Bilder eingeordnet. Dies überlagert zunächst sogar die wichtige konzeptuelle Ebene dieser Serie, das minuziös definierte Grundmuster aller Aufnahmen, die nach einem Ursprungsbild entstanden sind, in dem der Künstler selbst in dieser Ansicht auf nächtlicher Partytour zu sehen war. Er jagt Doppelgänger und legt dies in der Reihung der Einzelbilder offen – ein gegen sich selbst gerichteter Narzissmus, in dem persönliche Merkmale und scheinbare Individualität zum Ausgangspunkt genommen und dann mit jedem Foto wieder und wieder negiert werden.
Ausgerechnet die fotografisch fixierten, „verewigten“ Personen belegen das traditionelle kunsthistorische, christlich ikonografische „Memento Moriendum Esse“ des Titels. Sie unterliegen der Vergänglichkeit in gleichem Maße wie die flüchtigen Fotografien selbst, die Björn Behrens für die Ausstellung zwar großformatig, jedoch auf fragilem Zeitungspapier gedruckt hat. Bleibt man im Bild der Jagd, kommt es in dieser Serie zu einer absurden Identi­fikation des Jägers mit seiner Beute, seinen Opfern. Deren Charakter als Trophäen seiner Bilderjagd ist, obwohl sie unspektakulärer Weise keinerlei repräsentative Funktion erfüllen können, nicht zu leugnen.
Ähnlich trophäenhaft wirken auch die ausgebrannten Autos, von denen viele in ihrer nächtlichen Isolierung aus der alltäglichen Umgebung der Häuser, Straßen, Menschen wie künstlerisch gearbeitete Skulpturen erscheinen. Sublim, also in ihrem Schrecken von besonderer Schönheit, wie die ihnen gegenüber­gestellten fliegenden Möwen, die durch die Autos eine gewisse Erdung erfahren, erheben sie sich aus dem dunklen Hintergrund. Sie sind außerdem fotografisch ähnlich schwierig festzuhalten wie die Vögel im Flug, was allerdings bei den verbrannten Autos daran liegt, dass man sie selbst in Zeiten, in denen das Anzünden von Fahrzeugen eine populäre nächtliche Betätigung wird, selten durch Zufall trifft. Es braucht Geduld, Spürsinn und ein Informantennetzwerk.
Dass demnach diese Motive einer Jagd entstammen, ist eine Interpretation, der Betrachter bereitwillig folgen. Und es ist offensichtlich eine Interpretation, mit der Björn Behrens sich hinsichtlich seiner spezifischen künstlerischen Vorgehensweise, seiner fotografischen Weltaneignung auseinandergesetzt hat, so dass er zu dem Schluss gekommen ist, die Bilder­jagd auch visuell zu reklamieren, indem er die Jägerhochsitze zum Motiv gemacht hat. Wie ambivalent er das Bild des jagenden Fotografen begreift, wie er es gleichzeitig negiert, wenn er es benutzt, zeigen die besonderen fotografischen Verfahren, die er vor allem für diese Serie, für Based on Truth II, anwendet.
Für die Ablichtung der Hochsitze greift er auf Kameras zurück, mit denen Jäger die Landschaft erfassen. Diese Kameras lösen bei Bewegung automatisch aus. Björn Behrens unternimmt nur einen entscheidenden Positionswechsel, indem er sie auf den eigentlichen Beobachtungsposten richtet, der zudem noch ein statisches Element ist, in dessen Umgebung sich etwas bewegen muss, damit sein Abbild entsteht. Obwohl er auf der nächtlichen Lauer liegt, gibt der Künstler als Jäger eines Motivs, dessen Jagdtrophäe das Bild ist, die Kontrolle über sein Jagdergebnis ab – eine absurde Handlung in der Analogie zwischen Jäger und Künstler. (Erst recht, wenn damit wie ein Denkmal der unnatürliche Gegenstand in der Landschaft abgelichtet wird, der nichts anderes als das verborgene Auge sein will, aus dem normalerweise diese Bilder entstehen.)
Der Schritt, dieses zentrale Emblem der Jagd (neben dem Gewehr, dem Hund und was sonst noch dazu gehört) nach seiner Bildwerdung dann auch gleich als Fotomaschine zu verwenden, zu entfremden, indem der Hochsitz zur großen Lochkamera umgewidmet wird, fügt der Analogie noch eine weitere entscheidende Ebene hinzu. Denn die Gleichsetzung von Fotograf und Jäger basiert trotz aller weiteren genannten Entsprechungen wesentlich auf der Analogie des fotografischen Abbildens mit einem Schuss, das heißt einem definitiven Moment, einer definitiven Aktion.
Die Tödlichkeit des realen Schusses verleiht in diesem Bild dem fotografischen Schuss und dem entstandenen Bild eine Form von Endgültigkeit, die angesichts der Materialität des Fotos (als Film, als Druck) maßlos übertrieben wirkt, die jedoch die Bedeutung eines ­Bildes und Abbildes mit all seiner Wirkungsmacht treffend charakterisiert. Auf der anderen Seite erzeugt diese Analogie, die nicht nur durch Paparazzi, sondern zum Beispiel auch durch Fotojournalismus und dabei vor allem durch die ikonenhaften Kriegsfotografien äußerst präsent geworden ist, einen Pathos, mit dem Fotografen seit langem ringen.
Insofern ist es ein weitgehendes Statement, wenn Björn Behrens, selbst noch am Anfang seiner fotografischen Künstlertätigkeit, ausgerechnet die Analogie seines Fotografenblicks mit der Jagd betont. Zumal er sich mit diesem Bild auf eine definitiv vergangene Fotografie bezieht. Denn trotz aller Indifferenzen funktioniert die Metapher der Jagd weitgehend für die Motivwahl ausschließlich analoger Fotografie. Seitdem Bilder jedoch nicht mehr wesentlich durch einen Auslöser entstehen, sondern der Moment des Fotografierens durch die Digitalisierung nur eine von zahlreichen, gleichwertigen Entscheidungen im Prozess der Bildwerdung einer Fotografie ist, ist das Bild des Jägers anachronistisch – auch wenn nach wie vor vollkommen analog fotografiert wird, wie es für mehrere Serien von Björn Behrens gilt.
Gesellschaftlich scheint das Bild der Fotojagd jedoch gerade durch die allgemeine Verfügbarkeit fotografischer Realitätsbewältigung im digitalen Verfahren erst recht dominierend und Björn Behrens beweist mit dem Titel, den er seinen jüngsten Serien und auf Deutsch auch Ausstellung und Katalog gegeben hat, dass ihm sehr bewusst ist, warum die Metapher der Jagd und die unbestreitbare Momenthaftigkeit und Entscheidungsmacht des fotografischen Bildes so bedeutend ist. „Nach der Wahrheit“ oder im Englischen noch weniger ambivalent – Yvonne Bialek verweist in ihrem Text in diesem Katalog pointiert auf das zeitliche Moment, das im deutschen Titel eine „Postveritas“ andeutet – als „Based on Truth“ benennt der Künstler seinen fotografischen Zugang.
Er reklamiert damit genau das, was nach wie vor mit Fotografie assoziiert wird, von Fotografie erwartet wird, wie Fotografie vor allem immer noch meist verwendet wird: ein direktes Abbild der Wahrheit. Jedes Foto sei das bildliche Statement: „So ist es gewesen!“. Ein präziser Schuss in Raum und Zeit, die eingefangen, erlegt wird. Der Fotograf als Jäger ist ein Wahrheitsfinder.
In der Entfremdung der Jagdmaschine und in ihrer räumlichen Nutzung als Kamerakörper mit Belichtungsöffnung in den Lochkamerabildern von Based on Truth II wird dieser Schuss mehr ironisiert und in Frage gestellt, als dass er manifest wird. Es ist genau die Verwendung des Jagdprinzips, die letztlich die Analogie zwischen Jäger und Fotograf, zwischen Schuss und Aufnahme (zwischen Wild und Bild), zwischen Jagd und Motivsuche auflöst.
Ausgerechnet die auratischen Landschaftsaufnahmen, die in sichtbar langer Belichtung entstanden sind, grafisch wirken und im simpelsten fotografischen Verfahren an dessen Frühzeit erinnern, werfen die Jagd als Akt auf sich selbst zurück, spiegeln den Blick (des Jägers, des Künstlers, des Betrachters) und hinterlassen eine äußerst poetische Leere. Die endgültige Wahrheit – eines Schusses zum Beispiel – verschwindet einfach in einem Raum, in den sich die Zeit eingeschrieben hat und der damit trotz seiner gegenständlichen Einfachheit verdeutlicht, dass er mehr als eine Oberfläche, eine Einheit, eine Wörtlichkeit ist.
Die sich selbst beschränkenden Fotografien des zur Kamera umfunktionierten Hochsitzes visualisieren eine Realität hinter der eigentlichen Sichtbarkeit, wie dies auch die merkwürdige Erscheinung der Hochsitze erreicht, die mittels der besonderen Jagdkameras erzeugt wird. Sie wirken wie Röntgenaufnahmen, wie Grisaille-Malerei, wie eine Kreidezeichnung, aber kaum wie ein fotografisches Abbild. Björn Behrens jagt doch der Wahrheit nach, aber diese Jagd hat nichts mit dem Abdrücken des Auslösers zu tun, er ist in diesem Bild eher der Fährtenleser. Er spürt der Spur der Wahrheit nach und bildet diese ab als Erscheinungsweisen der Realität hinter der Realität.
Dies wird besonders deutlich in seinen Raumaufnahmen der Städtischen Galerie ­Bremen, die in der nächtlichen ausschließlichen Beleuchtung durch die Notausgangszeichen eine auratische Erscheinung werden. Obwohl das Licht auch bei Tag durchgehend brennt und vertraute Raumgrenzen wie Wände, Säulen, Fenster sich nicht verändern, wirken die Räume in diesen Fotografien virtuell, reduziert, wie eine andere Kategorie von Raum, eine Abstraktion ihrer selbst. Diese Wirkung als Raummöglichkeit, als Raumteil, als Raum­erscheinung wird noch gesteigert, indem sie von Björn Behrens für die Ausstellung in den selben Räumen produziert wurden, sie also eine Art von Selbstreflexion entwickeln, die auf ihre Rezeption wie ein Kreisel wirkt – einmal in Gang gesetzt, dreht sie sich so beschleunigt, dass sie plötzlich still zu stehen scheint.
Betrachtern müsste prinzipiell schwindelig werden. Der Künstler begegnet diesem Umstand wiederum durch die Form der Präsentation. Zum einen werden die grünen Räume als ­einzige Serie auf Platten vor der Wand präsentiert, heben sich also vom Raum besonders ab. Zum anderen sind sie hochglänzend abgezogen und dadurch nicht nur wegen der Lichtreflexe hinsichtlich ihrer Bildgegenstände schwer zu erkennen, sondern integrieren die Betrachter durch die Spiegelung. Man erscheint in diesen Räumen selbst, allerdings ­ähnlich geisthaft wie die Räume.
In der Ausstellung wird die eigene gespiegelte, sphärische Gestalt zur Steigerung noch den nie zurückblickenden, unindividuellen, sonst jedoch viel klarer sichtbaren Männern mit Lederjacke gegenübergestellt. Und wenn diese schon ein deutliches Memento Mori, ein Bedenken der eigenen Sterblichkeit vermitteln, wie ist es dann erst um die vergängliche eigene Gestalt in den glänzenden Oberflächen der grünen Räume bestellt?
Die Wahrheit ist wahrlich nicht beruhigend. Das ist sie auch nicht als surreale, verfremdete Erscheinung der abgebrannten Autos, die im Kontrast zur Nacht erst ihre Wirkung als womöglich wahre, entkernte, fragmentierte Gestalt eines uns sonst bedenkenlos bekannten Gegenstands entwickeln. Autos, die ihren Status als Jagdobjekt reklamieren, weil sie schwer aufzuspüren sind und sich nur leise aus der dunklen Umgebung schälen, die aber andererseits so wunderbare Bildmotive ergeben, dass man sich schon fragen muss, ob der Künstler sie nicht selbst angezündet hat. Denkt man erst einmal an eine mögliche Inszenierung des Motivs, wird die Wahrheit schon wieder hinterfragt.
Die Wahrheit ist nicht beruhigend in den fragilen, viel zu schönen Möwen vor schwarzem Grund, die wie Papierflieger in die Luft geworfen scheinen und die Autowracks, denen sie gegenübergestellt sind, plötzlich so leicht machen, dass man Angst bekommt, alles, das sich als Asche an ihnen identifizieren lässt, würde gleich weggeweht. Die Wahrheit ist nicht beruhigend in der Ziehharmonikaidentität der Lederjackenmänner, nicht in der Gegenüberstellung von Geisterhochsitzen und Geisterblick aus ihnen hinaus; Bilder, die konstant zwischen einander hin und her zu schauen scheinen, ein automatischer Uhu, um in der ausgiebig bemühten Metapher nächtlicher Jagd und Jäger zu bleiben.
Björn Behrens geht es um mannigfaltige Wahrheiten, um Wahrheit nach der Wahrheit und auch um die wahre Wahrheit der Fotografie, denn wie seine Serien zeigen, ist es gar nicht so einfach, in diesem Medium bloß der Wahrheit hinterherzujagen. Die Wahrheit wird nämlich zu leicht mit der Jagd verwechselt.

Städtische Galerie Bremen

Ingmar Lähnemann

Setting the stage at the beginning of the exhibition Björn Behrens – Nach der Wahrheit (Based on Truth) at the Städtische Galerie in Bremen is a large-format print of a high-seat hunting platform, whose faded grey provides a strong graphic contrast to the black background. The same image adorns the invitation to the exhibition. In this way, hunting is shown to be a central theme of this presentation and the summation of the four series of works and five motif series by the artist. Björn Behrens’ previous work shows that he does not belong to the classification of ­sedentary artists who till the soil of their imagination to come up with ideas for pictures. Instead, he is a hunter who discovers his motifs on the go – but one with a clear idea of the images he is tracking rather than a collector of random impressions found along the way. The analogy between artist and hunter is confirmed by the placement of the cover image in the exhibition. It provides one way to approach his photographs and refers to an artistic self-reflection inherent in all his series of works, demonstrating how consistently Björn Behrens has focused on developing his own personal vocabulary and a specific visual repertoire since receiving Bremen’s Visual Arts Award in 2010. Hunting is a nocturnal activity, and all Behrens’ recent series display night scenes. Memento Moriendum Esse (2012) shows young men clad in dark leather jackets and seen from the back, in pubs whose condition suggests that the hour is late. Burnt-out cars, relics of Germany’s latest popular nocturnal activity, are one motif of Based on Truth I (2013). The second motif is a group of images of glowing white seagulls aloft against a dark sky.
Based on Truth II (2014) represents the above-mentioned high-seat hunting platforms, which Björn Behrens converted for the second part of this series into pinhole cameras. The latter’s long exposure time produces images corresponding to a hunter’s patient gaze into the landscape. The photos from the series Based on Truth III (2014) are also exposed in a lengthy, procedural way. Here, details of night-time interiors are illuminated only by the green light provided by emergency-exit signs. Upon closer examination, viewers can identify the interiors as the exhibition rooms of Bremen’s Städtische Galerie. Their green colour is reminiscent of the view through night-vision goggles, which are used by the military and also by hunters.
Because of their paparazzi-photo qualities, the back views of the young Memento Moriendum men can quickly be classified as images of the hunted. Initially, this impression overlays even the important conceptual level of this series: the minutely defined basic pattern of all the shots, which arose from an original image of the artist himself in the same pose on a night-time pub-crawl. He is hunting doppelgangers and reveals this in the sequence of single images – a narcissism directed against himself, in which personal characteristics and apparent individuality are taken as a point of departure and then, with each photo, repeatedly negated.
Ironically, the photographically fixed, “immortalised” people represent the traditional art-historical Christian iconography of the title, Memento Moriendum Esse.
They are just as ephemeral as the fleeting photographs themselves, which Björn Behrens printed for the exhibition on large-format but fragile newsprint. Returning to the metaphor of the hunt, this series relates to an absurd identification of the hunter with his prey, his victims. Their character as trophies of his hunt for images is undeniable, although, being rather unspectacular, they can by no means fulfil a representative function.
The burnt-out cars have a similar trophy-like quality. In their nocturnal isolation from their everyday environment of houses, streets and people, many of them seem like artistically crafted sculptures. Sublime, exceptionally beautiful – if horrible – objects, they stand out from the dark background like the flying seagulls facing them, bringing the birds, so to speak, back to earth. Photographically, the burnt-out cars, like the birds in flight, are difficult to capture, because one rarely comes across them by chance, even nowadays when the igniting of vehicles is a popular night-time activity. It requires patience, intuition and a network of informants.
The interpretation that these motifs derive from the hunt is one that the viewer willingly accepts. And it is obviously an interpretation with which Björn Behrens himself has grappled, with regard to his specific artistic approach and his way of appropriating the world photographically. We know this because he concludes that he also should visually capture the hunt for images itself, by making the high-seat hunting platform a motif. The ambivalence with which he views the image of the hunting photographer – how he negates it while using it – can be seen in the special photographic processes that he uses especially for this series, Based on Truth II.
To photograph the high seats, he draws on cameras that hunters use to capture the landscape. Movements trigger these cameras automatically. Björn Behrens adopts a significant reversal of position by directing them towards the actual observation post – a static element in whose environment something must move in order for its picture to be taken. Although he lies in wait like a night-time hunter whose trophy is the image, the artist cedes control over his prey – an absurd act in the analogy between hunter and artist (especially given that the unnatural object in the landscape, whose only aim is to be the hidden eye that usually captures these images, is illuminated like a monument).
The step of using this central emblem of the hunt (along with the rifle, the dog and everything that goes with them) as a photo machine immediately after it has become an image itself – of alienating the high seat platform from its own identity by converting it into a large pinhole camera – adds another decisive aspect to the analogy. For despite all other named correlations, the identification of the photographer as a hunter is based mostly on the analogy between picture-taking and shooting – in other words, a definitive moment, a definitive action.
In this image, the deadliness of the real shot lends the photographic shot and the resulting picture a form of finality that appears grossly exaggerated, given the materiality of the photo (as film, as print). Yet with all its impact, it aptly characterises the meaning of a picture and its contents.
On the other hand, this analogy, which has become ubiquitous not only because of paparazzi but also through photojournalism and especially iconic war imagery, generates a pathos with which photographers have wrestled for years.
Hence, Björn Behrens is making a far-reaching statement when he chooses, while still at the beginning of his career as a photographic artist, to emphasize the analogy between his photographic gaze and a hunt. This is especially true, since he refers with this metaphor to a definitive photography of the past. For despite all indifferences, the metaphor of the hunt works mostly for choosing motifs exclusively in analogue photography. Since pictures, however, are no longer primarily taken by pressing a shutter button but rather through digitalisation – where the moment of photographing is only one of numerous, equivalent decisions in the process of making a photographic image – the metaphor of the hunter has become anachronistic. This is true even when only analogue photographs are shot, as is the case with many series by Björn Behrens.
Socially, however, it is precisely the general availability of photographic reality management in digital processes that makes the image of a photo-hunt seem even more dominant. With the English title he has given his most recent series and the German version that appears in the exhibition and catalogue, Björn Behrens proves that he is entirely aware of why the metaphor of the hunt and the undeniable impermanence and decision-making power of the photographic image are so significant. In her essay in this catalogue, Yvonne Bialek refers pointedly to the temporal moment, which in the German title, Nach der Wahrheit, suggests a “post veritas”; in his English title, Based on Truth, the artist describes his photographic approach in an even less ambivalent way.
In so doing, he claims for himself precisely what continues to be associated with photography and expected of photography and the way photography still is mostly used: to be a direct likeness of the truth. Every photo is a visual statement – “This is the way it was!” – as well as an accurate shot in space and time that is captured and bagged. The photographer as hunter is a truth finder. In the pinhole-camera photos of Based on Truth II, with the altered hunting machine and its spatial use as a camera body with a light-admitting aperture, this “shot” is not so much manifest as it is ironic and questioning. It is precisely the application of the hunting principle that ultimately dissolves the analogy between hunter and photographer, between shot and recording (quarry and image), and between hunt and search for motifs.
Ironically, the auratic landscape photos, which resulted from visibly long exposures, seem composed, and in their most simple photographic process reminiscent of photography’s earliest days. They throw the act of hunting back on itself and reflect the gaze (of the hunter, the artist, the observer), leaving behind an extremely poetic emptiness.
The ultimate truth – a shot, for example – simply disappears in a space into which time has inscribed itself; thus, despite its representational simplicity, the space shows itself to be more than a surface, a unity, a literality.
The self-limiting photographs of the hunter’s platform-turned-camera visualise a reality behind the actually visible; this effect is also achieved by the strange appearance of the high seats, produced by means of the special hunt cameras. The photos look like X-ray images, like grisaille paintings, like chalk drawings but scarcely like photographic images. Björn Behrens may hunt for truth, but this hunt has nothing to do with pulling a trigger; in this picture he is, instead, the tracker. He traces the path of truth and portrays it as an appearance of the reality behind the reality. This becomes especially clear in his interior shots of the Städtische Galerie in Bremen, which convey a distinctive aura in the exclusive nocturnal illumination of the emergency-exit signs. Although the lights also burn throughout the day and familiar spatial boundaries such as walls, columns and windows remain unchanged, the rooms in these photographs appear virtual, reduced – like another category of room, an abstraction of themselves. This effect of resembling a spatial option, a spatial aspect, a spatial appearance is enhanced by Björn Behrens having produced these photos for the exhibition in the very same rooms. They thus develop a kind of self-reflective quality, which works like a spinning top: once set in motion, it rotates so swiftly that it suddenly seems to stand still.
In principle, observers would have to become dizzy. The artist responds with his form of presentation. For one thing, the green rooms are the only series presented on panels in front of the wall, setting them off clearly from the rest of the room. Secondly, they are printed on high-gloss photographic paper, creating light reflections that make their visual contents difficult to recognise and that integrate the viewer into the picture. We appear in these rooms ourselves but – like the rooms themselves – in a ghostly form.
In the exhibition, in order to enhance this self-reflecting, spherical effect, this series is placed opposite the faceless, non-individualised but otherwise much more clearly discernible men in leather jackets. And if the latter images convey an obvious memento mori, a reminder of our own mortality, how much more so must it be with the ephemeral reflections of our shapes in the glossy surface of the green rooms?
The truth is truly not reassuring. And certainly not through the surreal, distorted appearance of the burnt-out cars, which only develop their impact as possibly real, gutted, fragmented forms of otherwise familiar objects through their contrast to the night. These cars reclaim their status as hunting targets because they are difficult to track down and only separate themselves quietly from the dark environment; yet they provide such wonderful pictorial motifs that one wonders if the artist himself weren’t the arsonist. It only takes one such thought about a possible staging of the motif, for the identity of “truth” to again be questioned.
The truth is not reassuring in the images of the fragile, far-too-beautiful seagulls against their black backgrounds; they appear to have been thrown into the air like paper airplanes, and they make the car wrecks opposite them suddenly seem so light that one fears that everything that could be identified as ashes would immediately be blown away. The truth is not reassuring in the paper doll-like, accordion effect of the leather jacket–clad men, nor in the juxtaposition of the ghost-like high-seat platforms and the ghost-like gaze from them – pictures that seem constantly to look back and forth at each other like an automated owl, to stick with the oft-used metaphor of the night-time hunt and hunters.
Björn Behrens’ works are about diverse truths, about truth after the truth, and also about the real truth of photography, for, as his series show, it is far from easy in this medium to hunt only the truth. In the end, the truth is too easily confused with the hunt itself.

Motive in und hinter den Fotografien von Björn Behrens

Yvonne Bialek

Mit der Wahrheit ist es ein schwieriges Unterfangen. Es ist nicht bewiesen, dass sie existiert. Dennoch bauen wir unentwegt auf sie. Ob bei Banalitäten des Alltags oder lebenswichtigen Entscheidungen: Wir glauben an die Wahrheit, Vertrauen der Wahrhaftigkeit des Wetterberichts, nehmen die Versprechen von Autoritäten für bare Münze und stellen die Äußerungen unserer Vertrauten im Allgemeinen nicht in Frage. Wir werden oftmals eines Besseren belehrt. Dennoch „halten wir an der Wahrheit fest“, verwandeln also etwas zutiefst Abstraktes metaphorisch in eine Stütze, die uns Halt gibt und vor dem Fall bewahrt.
In unserem Verhältnis zur Wahrheit weisen wir Fotografien eine paradoxe Rolle zu. Das fotografische Verfahren wurde im 19. Jahrhundert aus dem Geiste der Wissenschaft geboren. Forschungserkenntnisse aus der Physik und Chemie lieferten die Grundlagen dafür, erstmals ein Bild zu fixieren, ohne dass die menschliche Hand den Ausdruck auf dem Trägermaterial formte. Das Abgebildete würde sich – so die Annahme – von selbst, wie eine Spur der Wirklichkeit in der Fotografie abdrücken und deshalb ein unverfälschtes, wahres Abbild seines Selbst wiedergeben. Einer der Pioniere dieser Zeit, William Henry Fox Talbot, erläuterte 1839 die Bildwerdung seine Hauses „Lacock Abbey“ auf dem Salzpapier damit, dass es sich hierbei wohl um das erste Gebäude handeln müsse, das von sich selbst ein Bild gezeichnet hat.1 Talbot nannte diesen Prozess „Photogenic Drawing“: nicht der Mensch, sondern allein das Licht schuf im fotografischen Verfahren diese Zeichnung – aber eine Zeichnung blieb sie für ihn allemal. Durch diese Wortwahl rückte die Fotografie in die Nähe der Kunst, zu deren Medien die Zeichnung zählt. Die Anerkennung als künstlerisches Medium jedoch widersprach ihrem dokumentarischen Wesen und ließ Zweifel an ihrem Vermögen der wahrheitsgetreuen Wiedergabe der Wirklichkeit aufkommen. Der Debatte um die Definition des Wesens der Fotografie als Dokument oder Kunstwerk war der Weg geebnet. Die Frage nach dem Verhältnis dieser Bilder zur Wirklichkeit treibt den Diskurs seither an und es ist genau jenes Spannungsmoment des Entzugs von Gewissheit, der ihn zu einem einflussreichen Denkmodell unserer Gegenwart macht.
Björn Behrens fügt diesem Diskurs in seiner fotografischen Arbeit beachtenswerte Positionen hinzu. Der gegenwärtige Kontext, in dem diese zusammenkommen, trägt den Titel Nach der Wahrheit. Und er ruft von Beginn an Irritationen hervor. „Nach der Wahrheit“ muss bedeuten, dass die Wahrheit hier ein vergangenes Moment ist und wir uns in einer post-wahrhaften Phase befinden. Ein Zustand ohne Wahrheit aber kommt dem freien Fall gleich: „Imagine you are falling. But there is no ground,“2 schreibt Hito Steyerl in ihrem Text In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective, in dem sie unseren Gesellschaftszustand als „societies as free-falling urban abysses“3 beschreibt und fragt, „if there is no stable ground available for our social lives and philosophical aspirations, the consequence must be a permanent, or at least intermittent state of free fall for subjects and objects alike.“4 Folgt man Steyerls These, dann ist es nicht verwunderlich, dass das Greifen nach Halt ein wiederkehrendes Motiv in den Fotografien von Björn Behrens ist.
In der Serie Trost der Anderen konfrontiert er Motiv und Betrachter mit einer riskanten Situation: ein Strang der Bilderzählung findet in der schwindelnden Höhe eines Sprungturms statt. Zu sehen sind nackte Körperpartien von jugendlichen, männlichen Turmspringern, die sich im grellen Blitzlicht gegen die dunkle Umgebung abzeichnen. Ihre Gesichter sind von der Kamera abgewandt, ihre Mimik bleibt verborgen und so ist es ihrem Antlitz nicht abzulesen, von welchem Gefühl ihr Warten auf den Absprung begleitet wird. Ist es Vorfreude oder Angst, die sie antreibt? Eine inhärente Spannung wird in den Bildern spürbar, je länger man sich als BetrachterIn in die Situation der Protagonisten begibt. Der Bildaufbau, der aus steilen Perspektiven konstruiert ist, verstärkt dies zusätzlich. Versucht man, den Standpunkt des Fotografen bei der Bildproduktion zu lokalisieren – er scheint noch oberhalb des Sprungturms zu schweben – so wird die Szenerie vollkommen prekär. Und sie wird zusätzlich durch die Paarung mit ihren Doppelgängern oder Widersachern – die Interpretation wird hier bewusst offen gehalten – potenziert: jedem Turmspringer steht das Bild eines Hundes zur Seite. Der beste Freund des Menschen, hier als einsamer, zerzauster Einzelgänger dargestellt, ruft in der Analogie mit den Adoleszenten verschiedene Assoziationen hervor, von Vertrautheit und Freundschaft bis zu Wildheit und Gefahr. Alle Deutungen scheinen, wie der Fotograf selbst, in der Schwebe zu verweilen.
Vielleicht strahlen die Bilder gerade deshalb eine erhabene Ruhe aus. Die Körper halten die Spannung. Das Moment des Wartens ist im Bild eingefroren. Nicht der spektakuläre Sprung, nicht das Fallen, sondern die physische und psychische Anspannung vor dem Ereignis werden abgebildet. Das An-Halten ansich wird zum Hauptmotiv dieser Bilder. Die Figuren stehen still, für die Fotografie – aber ebenso in ihr. Darin verweisen sie auf das fotografische Vermögen, den Zeitfluss zu unterbrechen und die Ereignisse dieses präzisen Augenblicks in ein Bild zu formen. Im spannungsvollen Warten vollführen die Protagonisten zugleich eine Handlung: Ihre Hände greifen nach den Balustraden des Sprungturms, umschließen die Sprossen, halten sich an ihnen fest. Die architektonischen Strukturen, die im Bild eher abstrakten Ornamenten ähneln, erfüllen doch einen konkreten Zweck: sie sind den Protagonisten eine Stütze. Ihre Hände suchen nach ihnen, finden und umfassen sie.
Das Motiv des Greifens taucht in der Serie Memento Moriendum Esse erneut auf. Betrachten wir zunächst die Szene, in die uns der Fotograf mitnimmt: In der rauchschwangeren Spelunke mit kaputtem Zigarettenautomaten und zerschlissenem Mobiliar, umnebelt von Alkoholdunst und Schweiß, betäubt vom Bass und den heiseren Stimmen der Gäste, die sich gegenseitig ins Ohr lallen, schält sich eine Gestalt aus der Dunkelheit. Allein das Blitzlicht lässt sie Form erlangen, löst sie aus ihrer Umgebung, in der sie, in der Bewegung von der Kamera abgewandt, wie gejagt erscheint. Als nötigte sie ein natürlicher Impuls, sich dem Bild zu widersetzen. Sie sucht ihr Antlitz dem Bild zu entziehen, als würde das Abbild einer Endgültigkeit gleichkommen, der sie entschwinden will. Doch genau in diesem Augenblick drückt der Fotograf auf den Auslöser. Der Augenblick des fotografiert Werdens ist das Ereignis, das dieses Moment trotz allen Widerstands bannt. Was dabei entsteht, sind eine Art Negativporträts. Wenig eindeutige Informationen über die Identität der Abgebildeten sind zu sehen. Die Bilder ähneln eher den bekannten Serien von August Sander, der Typen von Menschen (bezeichnenderweise unterteilt in Kategorien wie „Der Künstler“ oder „Die Frau“ usw.) in seinen Fotografien durchdeklinierte. Hauptsujet von Behrens sind jedoch nicht die Typen, sondern ihr Attribut – die schwarze Leberjacke –, eine Art inoffizielle Uniform, die sie fast mit ihrer Umgebung verschmelzen lässt. Sie ist gleichzeitig Tarnung und Schutz. Das Blitzlicht jedoch lässt all ihre Falten und Spuren des Verbrauchs deutlich werden. Die Lederjacke als Symbol für Rebellion und Freiheit scheint in die Jahre gekommen zu sein5. Die Helden von einst suchen Halt, das Motiv des Festhaltens kehrt zurück.
Es ist interessant, zu bemerken, dass Behrens für die Präsentation dieser Bilder des Taumels ein Trägermaterial wählt, das eindeutig konnotiert ist: Die Fotografien sind auf Zeitungspapier gedruckt. Der Schwere des Bildinhalts kommt eine Leichtigkeit im Material entgegen. Im Ausstellungsraum bekommen die Bilder dadurch Schwung, scheinen fast unbeschwert, widersetzen sich dem Moment des Fallens in einer angedeuteten Aufwärtsbewegung. Im Bezug zur Wahrheit drängt das Zeitungspapier eine vertrauensvolle Lesart auf, schließlich ist das Medium der gedruckten Zeitung von jeher als Garant für die Verbreitung glaubhafter Informationen verstanden worden.
Folgerichtig lautet der Titel des nächsten Werkkomplexes, der sich aus drei Serien zusammensetzt, Based on Truth. Die Bezeichnung ist eine Umwandlung der englischen Wendung „based on a true story“, die im Schmutztitel von Romanen oder als Vorspann von Spiel­filmen die Beziehung des kommenden Inhalts zur Wirklichkeit beleuchtet: bei dem Folgenden handelt es sich um etwas, das der Wahrheit entsprang, nun aber etwas ganz anderes ist, nämlich Fiktion (das englische Wort für Belletristik ist „fiction“, also etwas „Erdachtes“). Weitere Widersprüche werden in der Serie durch die Paarung von Gegensätzen auf der Motiv­ebene formuliert. Leichtigkeit und Schwere treffen aufeinander: vor schwarzem Grund sind im ersten Strang der Bilderzählung Möwen im Flug dargestellt, im zweiten ausgebrannte Autos. Diese Bilder, die an Tatortfotos erinnern, zeugen von Zerstörung und Gewalt. Sie sind Zeugnisse eines Autobrandes, der tatsächlich stattgefunden hat. Wir können das Ereignis in den Fotografien nachvollziehen, ohne das es dargestellt ist, indem wir die Spur deuten, die der Brand hinterlassen hat. Was wir sehen sind Autowracks, doch ebenso sehen wir Charles Sanders Peirces Erklärungsmodell für den Index: Rauch verweist auf Feuer und diese Kausalkette kreiert Bedeutung6. Hier ist dieser Deutungsprozess im Bild exemplifiziert und er verweist gleichzeitig auf die Definition der Fotografie als Spur der Wirklichkeit. „Wo Rauch ist, ist auch Feuer“, sagt der Volksmund und meint, dass in jedem Gerücht ein Quentchen Wahrheit steckt. Die Fotografien jedoch zeigen nicht den lodernden Brand, sondern eine erkaltete Spur.
Ganz anders verhält es sich mit den beinahe abstrakten Bildern in Schwarz und Grün. Sie verkörpern die unmittelbare Gegenwart des Kontextes, in dem sie entstanden und gezeigt werden. Sie sind ortsspezifische Werke, die Entstehung- und Präsentationsort vereinen. Zusätzlich verbinden sie zwei weitere Komponenten des Bildes zu einer Medaille, deren eine Seite nicht ohne die andere zu haben ist: das grüne Licht ist Motiv und Agens dieser Fotografien. Es erfasst Strukturen und lässt sie darin sichtbar werden, indem es sich selbst zu sehen gibt. Die Architekturteile reflektieren die grünlichen Lichtstrahlen und kreieren ein Bild – man ist versucht zu sagen – von sich selbst. Unwiderruflich kommen Talbot und die Bilderwerdung von „Lacock Abbey“ in Erinnerung. Es ist jedoch nicht das Haus, sondern es sind die Ausstellungsräume des Fotografen, die hier ihr eigenes Bild zeichnen und diese Verschiebung impliziert, ohne dass sie benannt wird, eine fundamentale Entwicklung des Kontextes der Fotografie seit ihrer Erfindung.
Wie eingangs beschrieben, begann diese Geschichte mit der hypothetischen Analogie von der Fotografie als Spur und daher Zeugnis der Wirklichkeit. In der letzten Serie von Based on Truth, die gleichzeitig die letzte Serie von Nach der Wahrheit ist, zeigt Björn Behrens, dass die Fotografie beides sein kann, ein Dokument und ein abstraktes Kunstwerk, und liefert hierin den Beweis, dass darin kein Widerspruch besteht. Eine Reihe der Bilder zeigt hölzerne Hochsitze, wie sie Jägern als Aussichtspunkte während der Jagd dienen. Die Aufnahmen lassen die Konstruktionen gerade so erahnen, es dominiert Dunkelheit, böswillig könnte man von schlecht ausgeleuchteten Fotos sprechen. Und tatsächlich war das Licht, das in der nächtlichen Umgebung vorhanden war, um diese Bilder zu formen, spärlich. Es entsprang einer Feldkamera, die ein Infrarot-Licht auslöst und ein Foto schließt, sobald ihr Sensor Bewegung registriert. Von diesem Moment des Auslösens, dem sekundenschnellen Lichteinfall im nächtlichen Feld, zeugen die abstrakten Bilder, die den Hochsitzen zur Seite stehen. Behrens montierte lichtempfindliche Fotopapiere in den Ausgucken der Holzhütten. Das Papier reagiert unmittelbar, wenn es von Lichtstrahlen getroffen wird, gleitet darin von Weiß zu Schwarz, es entsteht ein Fotogramm. Dieser Gegenschuss zur Feldkamera also zeichnet das Moment des fotografiert Werdens auf, das abstrakte Bild dokumentiert den fotografischen Prozess, indem Licht ein Abbild auf einem Trägermaterial formt. Die Anordnung ist größtenteils kamerabasiert, kommt fast ohne die Hand des Künstlers in der Bildwerdung aus. Dennoch begegnen uns diese Fotografien im Kunstraum. Sie sind gleichzeitig sichtbare Dokumente eines wahren Ereignisses, ebenso wie sie höchst konstruierte, nahezu abstrakte Kunstwerke sind.
Die aufwendige Konstruktion der Bilder möchte am Ende etwas sehr Simples zeigen: eine Begebenheit, die wirklich stattgefunden hat. „(…) falling does not only mean falling apart, it can also mean a new certainty falling into place,“ schreibt Hito Steyerl als Fazit zu ihrer These vom Fallen7. Wenn Fotografien, wie sie uns hier begegnen, das Vermögen haben, einerseits etwas zu bezeugen und zweitens materielle Bilder zu sein, vielleicht sind sie deshalb nach wie vor genau das, worauf wir im Zustand ohne Sicherheit und Halt, in dem nichts wahrhaftig oder festgeschrieben zu sein scheint, buchstäblich immer wieder zurückgreifen.

1 Vgl. William Henry Fox Talbot, The Pencil of Nature. Facsimile-Reprint der Londoner Aus­gabe von 1844. Hrsg. von Colin Harding. Chicago, London 2011, o. S.
2 Hito Steyerl, „In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective“, in: (dies.) The Wretched off the Screen, Berlin 2012, 13.
3 Steyerl 26.
4 Steyerl 13.
5 Bezeichnenderweise wirbt der Bekleidungshersteller GAP in seiner aktuellen Winterkollek­tion für eine Lederjacke mit dem Slogan: „The universal symbol of rebellion. Or not.“ Und verweist damit – wahrscheinlich unbewusst – auf die Verwandlung des Symbols in ein Produkt der Warenindustrie.
6 Justus Buchler (Hrsg.), Philosophical Writings of Peirce, New York 1955, 107–111.
7 Steyerl 28.

Motifs in and behind Björn Behrens’ photographs

Yvonne Bialek

The truth is hard to grasp. It has not been proven to exist. Nonetheless, we rely on it constantly. Whether it concerns banalities of everyday life or existential decisions: We believe in the truth, trust in the truthfulness of the weather forecast, take the promises made by authorities at face value, and in general do not call the utterances of people we trust into question. We are often proven wrong. Still, we “hold fast to the truth,” in other words, we metaphorically transform something deeply abstract into a crutch that gives us stability and keeps us from falling. In our relationship with the truth, we accord photographs a paradoxical role. The photographic process was born in the 19th century from the spirit of science. Advances in physics and chemistry provided the foundations for fixing an image without being formed by human hand. That which was depicted would – according to the assumption – impress itself in the photograph on its own, like a trace of reality, and would therefore reproduce an unadulterated, true representation of itself. A pioneer of this time, William Henry Fox Talbot, explaining in 1839 how his house “Lacock Abbey” became an image on salt print, noted that this must be the first building that “was ever yet known to have drawn its own picture.”1 Fox Talbot called this process “photogenic drawing”: Not the hand of a man, but light alone created this drawing through the photographic process – but to him, the result remained a drawing once and for all. His choice of words brought the photograph close to art. But the recognition of photography as an artistic medium contradicted its documentary character and raised doubts about its ability to represent reality truthfully. This paved the way for the debate about the nature of the photograph: As either a document or work of art. The question as to the relationship of these images to reality has since driven this discourse, and it is precisely that moment of tension of withdrawing certainty that makes it an influential model of thinking.
Björn Behrens adds noteworthy positions to this discourse with his photographic oeuvre. The current context in which they come together is titled Nach der Wahrheit – “Based on Truth”, which right from the beginning, triggers irritation. “Based on Truth” must mean that the truth is a bygone moment here and that we find ourselves in a post-truthful phase. A condition without truth, however, is equal to free fall. “Imagine you are falling. But there is no ground,”2 writes Hito Steyerl in her text In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective, in which she refers to “societies as free-falling urban abysses”3 and asks, “if there is no stable ground available for our social lives and philosophical aspirations, the consequence must be a permanent, or at least intermittent state of free fall for subjects and objects alike.”4 If one follows Steyerl’s hypothesis, it is not surprising to find the motif of grasping recurring in Björn Behrens’ photographs.
In the series Trost der Anderen (Consolation of the others), he confronts the motif and the viewer with a risky situation: one strain of the picture story takes place in the ­dizzying heights of a diving board. One sees parts of naked bodies of youthful, male divers, standing out against the dark surroundings in the very bright light of the flash. Their faces are turned away from the camera, their facial expressions remain concealed, and so one cannot read their feelings as they wait to jump. Is it anticipation or fear that drives them? An inherent tension can be sensed in the images, as the viewer assumes the situation of the protagonists. The composition of the image, taken from a steep perspective, enhances this tension even more. If one attempts to localize the photographer’s vantage point – he seems to be hovering someplace even higher than the diving board – the setting becomes entirely precarious. This tension is heightened through the pairing of the divers with their doppelgangers or adversaries – the interpretation is intentionally left open here: Each diver is accompanied by the image of a dog. Man’s best friend, depicted here as a forlorn, tousled loner, brings up various associations in the analogy with the adolescents, from familiarity and friendship to wildness and danger. All interpretations appear to hang in the balance, like the photographer himself.
Perhaps that is precisely why the images radiate an aura of dignified calm. The bodies hold the tension. The moment of waiting is frozen in the image. It is not the spectacular leap that is depicted, not the falling, but the physical and psychological tension before the event. The holding and grasping of the moment itself becomes the main motif. The figures stand still for the photograph – but also in the photograph itself. They refer to the ability of photography to interrupt the flow of time and to form the events of this precise moment in an image. In their tension-filled waiting, the protagonists are simultaneously performing an action: Their hands reach for the balustrades of the diving tower, grasp the bars, hold on to them. The architectural structures that resemble abstract ornaments do fulfill a concrete purpose: They are a crutch for the protagonists, whose hands seek them out, find and grasp them.
The motif of grasping is to be found again in the series Memento Moriendum Esse. Let us first observe the scene into which the photographer takes us: In the smoke-filled dive with a broken cigarette machine and badly worn furniture, amidst the fog of alcohol and sweat, numbed by the bass and the hoarse voices of patrons who are drunkenly talking into each others’ ears, a figure emerges from the darkness. The camera flash alone gives it form, separates it from its surroundings, in which it appears hunted, turned away from the camera. As if a natural impulse were compelling it to resist the image. It tries to remove its countenance from the scene as if having its picture taken equals a finality that it seeks to evade. Yet the photographer pushes the button precisely at this moment. The instant of having one’s picture taken is the event that captures this moment in spite of all ­resistance. What emerges is a kind of negative portrait. Little information about the identity of those depicted is to be seen. The images are reminiscent of the well-known series by August Sander, who catalogued types of people (tellingly divided into categories such as “The artist” or “The woman” etc.) in his photographs. Behrens’ main subjects, however, are not the guys but their attribute – the black leather jacket, a kind of unofficial uniform that practically makes them become one with their surrounding in being both camouflage and protection. The flash, however, renders visible all their creases and traces of wear. The leather jacket as a symbol of rebellion and freedom seems rather outdated.5 The onetime heroes are seeking stability; the motif of grasping returns.
It is interesting to note that Behrens’ chosen materiality for these images of tumbling has clear connotations: The photographs are printed on newspaper. The heaviness of the content is countered by the material’s lightness. In the exhibition space, the images thus gain momentum, seem practically unencumbered, resist the moment of falling through an inferred upward movement. With regard to reality, the newspaper strongly suggests a trustful reading; after all, printed media has long been considered a guarantor for the dissemination of credible information.
Consequently, the title of the next complex of works, which consists of three series, is Based on Truth. The title is a transformation of the figure of speech “based on a true story,” which, as in the half-title of novels or the opening credits in feature films, sheds light on the relationship between the content of the story to reality: what follows is based on truth, but is now something completely different, namely fiction (in other words, something “made up”). Further contradictions are formulated in the series by pairing opposites at the motif level. Lightness and heaviness encounter each other: In the first series of the picture story, seagulls in flight are depicted against a black background; in the second one, burned-out cars. These images, which resemble photographs of crime scenes, testify to destruction and violence. They are witnesses to a car burning that actually took place. We can read the event in the photographs without it being depicted, by interpreting the traces left behind by the fire. We see car wrecks, but we also see Charles Sanders Peirce’s model for explaining the index: smoke refers to fire, and this causal chain creates meaning.6 Here, this process of interpretation is exemplified in the image, and at the same time it refers to the definition of the photograph as a trace of reality. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” the saying goes, suggesting that there’s a bit of truth in every rumor. The images may not show the billowing fire, but they do show a trace gone cold.
The situation is completely different with the almost abstract images in black and green. They embody the direct presence of the context in which they were created and presented. They are site-specific works that unite the places of their creation and presentation. They also combine two further components of the image into one coin, one side of which cannot exist without the other: The green light is the motif and agent of these photographs. It encompasses structures and makes them visible by making itself become visible. The architectural segments reflect the greenish rays of light and create an image – one is tempted to say – of themselves. Irrevocably, Talbot and the image making of “Lacock Abbey” come to mind. However, it is not the house but the photographer’s exhibition spaces that draw their own image here and imply this shift without it being named, a fundamental development of the context of photography since its invention.
As described at the outset, this story began with the hypothetical analogy of the photograph as a trace and thus as a witness of reality. In the final series of Based on Truth, which is also the final series of Nach der Wahrheit (Based on Truth), Björn Behrens shows that a photograph can be both a document and an abstract work of art, and provides proof that this is not a contradiction. One series of images shows wooden high-seats hunting platforms. These structures can barely be made out in the photographs; darkness dominates, one could maliciously call them poorly lit photos. And in fact, the light available to capture these images in the nightly surroundings was negligible. It came from a field camera that triggers infrared light and shoots a photo as soon as its sensor registers movement. The abstract images, which accompany the high-seats, bear witness to this moment of triggering the camera and the lightning in the nocturnal scene. Behrens mounted sheets of this light-sensitive photo paper in the peepholes of the wooden huts. The paper reacts directly when exposed to rays of light, gliding from white to black; a photogram emerges. In other words, this shot in the opposite direction from the field camera records the moment of being photographed; the abstract image clearly documents the photographic process as light shapes an image on paper. The composition is mostly camera-based and manages practically without the artist’s hand as it becomes an image. Nonetheless, we encounter these photographs in an art context. They are both visible documents of a true event, and highly constructed, almost abstract works of art. In the end, the highly complex composition of the images seeks to show something very simple: an actual event. “[F]alling does not only mean falling apart, it can also mean a new certainty falling into place,” writes Hito Steyerl as the conclusion of her hypothesis.7 If photographs as we encounter them here are capable of firstly bearing witness and secondly being material images, perhaps this is why we – in our state of being without security or stability, a state in which nothing seems truthful or fixed – ­continue to literally hold on to them.

1 Cf. William Henry Fox Talbot, The Pencil of Nature. Facsimile-reprint of London issue 1844. Ed. by Colin Harding. Chicago, London 2011.
2 Hito Steyerl, “In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective,” in: (Hito Steyerl) The Wretched off the Screen, Berlin 2012, 13.
3 Steyerl, 26.
4 Steyerl, 13.
5 It is telling that the clothing manufacturer GAP is advertising a leather jacket in its current winter collection with the slogan: “The universal symbol of rebellion. Or not.” And thus refers – rather unconsciously – to the transformation of the symbol into a commodity.
6 Justus Buchler (ed.), Philosophical Writings of Peirce, New York 1955, 107–111.
7 Steyerl, 28.