THE WOMAN IN THE MACHINE: CANDIDA HÖFER’S ISTANBUL DEBUT

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Culture & Arts -

Candida Höfer first ar­rived in Tur­key in the 1970s as one among a dis­tinct breed of art pho­tog­ra­phers hail­ing from what is known as the Düs­sel­dorf School. At its Nişan­taşı and Do­lapdere gal­leries, Dir­i­mart is host­ing her debut solo show in Tur­key, where she has con­tin­ued to pro­duce new work

THE PROJECTION shut­ters. An­other pair of pho­to­graphs ap­pear, spliced side by side. Where a food shop spe­cial­iz­ing in for­eign stock ab­sent of all hu­man pres­ence ends, a lone man be­gins, fit­ting him­self into a sim­ple black leather shoe on the ground, sur­rounded by fac­tory-is­sued mer­chan­dise off the sales floor. The old man wears a light grey, rounded, flat cap, some­thing a shep­herd might wear for shel­ter from the sun on a moun­tain­ous plain. He looks straight into the lens of the cam­era, flanked by shoes of all kinds. Rub­ber welling­tons stand in a neat row, while flo­ral-printed slip-ons are stacked mess­ily about heaps of bagged prod­uct, lined in boxes.

The ef­fect, over count­less va­ri­eties of twin shots pho­tographed by Candida Höfer from 1972-1979, pic­tures the seam­less vis­ual con­ti­nu­ity in­nate to Turks, in Tur­key and in Ger­many. In her char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally min­i­mal­ist ap­proach to ti­tling her se­ries through­out her very widely ac­claimed ca­reer, Höfer pre­sented these works as, “Turks in Tur­key” and “Turks in Ger­many.” Yet, de­spite her pro­fes­sional reach as a solo artist at such in­sti­tu­tions as the Lou­vre, and in group ex­hi­bi­tions at MoMA, Guggen­heim and many oth­ers of en­vi­able pres­tige, the Dir­i­mart ex­hi­bi­tion “Times, Places and Spa­ces” is the first time in some 40 years that her early pho­to­graphs have come to Tur­key solely un­der her name, fi­nally re­turned in top form to the coun­try, cul­ture and peo­ple whose faces and bod­ies, liveli­hoods and neigh­bor­hoods re­main foun­da­tional to her cre­ative life.

12 C-print sepia-toned, mono­chrome pho­to­graphs line the spare, white­washed walls at the Nişan­taşı gallery, ac­com­pa­ny­ing the on­go­ing, silent suc­ces­sion of pro­jec­tions. The prints are ex­clu­sively from her “Turks in Ger­many” se­ries. There are cer­tain dy- nam­ics at play that are ap­par­ent from both the hu­man sub­jects of her pho­to­graphs and her fram­ing, par­tic­u­larly when her in­te­ri­ors are de­void of peo­ple. In all but one of her pieces with hu­man pres­ence, her cam­era is met with eyes that stare back, some can­didly, oth­ers di­rectly poised. Be­hind the scene, it is clear that, even in Ger­many, her se­ries on Turks speak not only to the pho­to­graph in the frame, but also to the con­text of her shoot­ing, where she is plainly an out­sider. A pic­nic of four men and three chil­dren are af­fixed to her lens as she eter­nal­izes them for “Volks­garten Köln III” (1974). Rel­a­tively un­a­mused, they are not smil­ing as they sit hunched, look­ing back un­com­fort­ably, as to won­der why they are the ob­ject of such fas­ci­na­tion.

The cu­ra­tion of her 12 C-prints at Nişan­taşı has the un­canny sense of dis­tance clos­ing in, an ef­fect that comes with her out­sider per­spec­tive as a phe­nom­e­non it­self ap­proach­ing her sub­jects with in­creas­ingly per­sonal, in­ti­mate ex­changes, be­fore fi­nally oc­cu­py­ing the spa­ces in which they live and work. The se­ries pro­gresses as she advances to­ward the Turk­ish im­mi­grant. “Volks­garten Köln II” (1974) is taken from at least a good 20 or more paces away, as she sets her pho­to­graphic gaze on a quar­tet of cov­ered ladies pic­nick­ing un­der a thick tree so tall that only its gnarly trunk is vis­i­ble. One of the ladies seems in good spir­its, though hold­ing her arm awk­wardly, look­ing at the cam­era with a faint smile. The oth­ers are merely per­plexed.

What fol­lows is the re­sult of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. A fam­ily por­trait, “Volks­garten Köln I” (1974), is of laugh­ter and joy amid a beau­ti­ful day out­side, for Ger­mans and Turks to meet, in Ger­many. And then, she takes a step back with “Ru­dolf­platz Köln I” (1975), en­ter­ing male space at the mercy of not a few glares in a smoke-stained game room. The plaid suits, twisted mus­taches and greased “Volks­garten Köln II,” 1974, Candida Höfer. hair of the ‘70s jumps from the sil­very sur­face of her vin­tage still.

A PEO­PLE TO A PLACE

In one of her ear­li­est, purely in­te­rior pho­to­graphs, es­chew­ing the por­trayal of peo­ple, ti­tled “Han­del­strasse Köln” (1975), Höfer cap­tures the kitsch, an­cient wall­pa­per of the day, onto which is tacked em­broi­dered vel­vet mu­rals glo­ri­fy­ing the nos­tal­gic, mosque­peaked cityscape of old Istanbul, only the ghostly vis­age of Atatürk rises in the sky like a full moon wax­ing the Turk­ish flag’s cres­cent to ful­fill­ment. From that con­cep­tual de­par­ture, her works con­vey a lit­eral ab­strac­tion from por­trai­ture and doc­u­men­ta­tion, to­wards a re­flec­tion of in­door space in­ter­nal­ized by the art­ful­ness of her metic­u­lous fram­ing.

“Ke­up­strasse Köln III” (1979), as a late ex­am­ple in Nişan­taşı evokes her ma­tu­rity, not only in her pho­to­graphic the­ory, but also of us­ing her medium as a record of a spe­cific time and place. She snapped a butcher shop, a cul­tural fix­ture for Turks any­where, but the butcher is not present and nei­ther are any cus­tomers. Though likely an in­ter­pre­ta­tive stretch, the empti­ness com­mu­ni­cates post­war Ger­many’s role in re­la­tion­ship to his­tory and na­tional space and to the global mi­grant cri­sis, con­sid­er­ing the per­sis­tent legacy of Nazism, which con­tin­ues to threaten the ex­is­tence of mi­nori­ties in Europe and abroad.

In the pro­ceed­ing era of her cre­ative mo­men­tum, af­ter much of the arc of her ca­reer had rounded its lofty or­bit be­tween the years 2009 and 2017, she im­mersed her­self in in­te­rior pho­tog­ra­phy with one of the keen­est eyes in her field, honed af­ter decades of prac­tice by her unique ap­proaches to tech­ni­cal pre­ci­sion as a maker of fine im­ages. To pre­pare for her ex­hi­bi­tion at Dir­i­mart, the artist was present. The re­sult is a re­flec­tion of mir­rors, an ex­hi­bi­tion of her pho­tog­ra­phy cu­rated like a space within one of her pho­to­graphs. The de­sign of the ware­house gallery in Do­lapdere trans­formed. A vis­i­tor has the ex­pan­sive feel­ing of walk­ing into one of her im­ages, and that, it turns out, is ex­actly her in­tent.

“My work on Turk­ish work­ers in Ger­many made me aware of the en­vi­ron­ment in which peo­ple live and how they form it and how they are formed by it. This ex­hi­bi­tion, I think, shows the cir­cle very well: In­ter­est in change led me to the se­ries on Turk­ish peo­ple, the im­por­tance of space and the built en­vi­ron­ment led me to pub­lic and semi-pub­lic spa­ces, and the forms and col­ors that make up this en­vi­ron­ment led me to the ab­stract se­ries,” Höfer wrote over email.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER AS ARTIST

Höfer stud­ied un­der the con­cep­tual, pho­to­graphic artist duo Bernd and Hilla Becher at the Kun­stakademie Düs­sel­dorf. She was a class­mate with oth­ers who share her de­gree of no­to­ri­ety, like An­dreas Gursky, Thomas Struth, Axel Hütte and Thomas Ruff. They would help each other with tech­ni­cal is­sues. By then, she had al­ready be­gun work on her Turks in Ger­many se­ries. She de­scribes the Bech­ers as atyp­i­cal teach­ers. She re­mem­bers how they in­structed with a non-di­rec­tive style, em­pha­siz­ing the en­vi­ron­ment, de­spite the sub­ject.

Her in­te­ri­ors were shot in such op­u­lent lo­cales as the Neues Mu­seum Ber­lin, Pala­cio del Con­greso Na­cional in Buenos Aires, Villa Mas­simo Roma, La Bi­b­liothèque de I’INHA in Paris and the Cather­ine Palace Pushkin in St. Peters­burg, among other vi­brant pearls of world ar­chi­tec­tural ac­com­plish­ment. In her hands, they un­fold as from the hard shell of an oys­ter into a dis­til­la­tion of un­earthly form. The col­ors alone are enough to de­mand awe. Yet, her man­ner of com­po­si­tion is equally mys­ti­fy­ing, as she sum­mons some­thing of an im­mor­tal sym­me­try, like a Ti­betan tangka, an Egyp­tian pyra­mid. She opens vis­ual door­ways through which view­ers may ex­pe­ri­ence the pro­found har­mony of eter­nal ar­chi­tec­tural tra­di­tion and its world­wide flour­ish­ing.

She works sim­ply. For her Turk­ish se­ries, she used a hand cam­era. And for the in­te­ri­ors, she em­ployed a dig­i­tal back atop her cam­era. As for light, she as­sumes what is avail­able, whether it is nat­u­ral or ar­ti­fi­cial. A ceil­ing lamp is fair game. She does not pre­pare in­stal­la­tions. When she be­gan in the 1970s, she started pho­tograph­ing by hand, and then later moved to larger cam­eras. But re­cently, she has re­turned to her hand cam­era. In a small, ded­i­cated room in the back of Do­lapdere, her new­est se­ries of ab­stract pho­to­graphs is in­spired by Istanbul. Again, she roamed about its streets. Through her lens, a crum­bling, Ot­toman foun­tain takes its place in the his­tory of ab­stract pho­tog­ra­phy. The over­cast skies of the city and a mul­ti­col­ored glass-paned door­way be­come ab­sorbed in the vi­su­al­iza­tion of hu­man ex­pres­sion freed from the ob­jec­ti­fy­ing and over­ex­ploited sense of sight.

For all of her ground­break­ing con­cep­tual artistry and high in­sti­tu­tional af­fil­i­a­tion, both in her cre­ative process and in her pro­fes­sional net­works, she shies away from ques­tion­ing whether pho­tog­ra­phy is, as a mat­ter of fact, art. “Pho­tog­ra­phy looks like art, but art has to have some kind of depth,” said Tur­key’s pre­em­i­nent 20th cen­tury photographer, the late Ara Güler who passed away in Oc­to­ber, dur­ing an in­ter­view with The New York Times in 1997. “Pho­tog­ra­phy,” Höfer wrote in re­sponse, “is just the best, and I am afraid only, way for me to make im­ages.”

“Neues Mu­seum Ber­lin IX,” 2009, Candida Höfer.

“Ke­up­strasse Köln III,” 1977, Candida Höfer.

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