Note: If you see this text you use a browser which does not support usual Web-standards. Therefore the design of Media Art Net will not display correctly. Contents are nevertheless provided. For greatest possible comfort and full functionality you should use one of the recommended browsers.

ThemesPhoto/ByteStill Picture, Moving Picture
Podium discussion with Isabell Heimerdinger, Dieter Daniels, Susanne Holschbach, and Kathrin Peters
Susanne Holschbach

Still Picture, Moving Picture

Heimerdinger: My original motivation for the work «Interiors» was to investigate to what extent horror and psychological nuances in films already exist in filmsets – that is, of course, the case. Only I wanted to see how far this went. So I emptied the spaces used as background for action shots or as backdrops. I wanted to use working sets and to photograph on location, but that wasn’t possible. It would have been too time consuming and complicated, and I found it a lot more interesting to approach the matter through the film itself.

Daniels: We know from experience that professional still photography always shows a different picture of a scene. This is never identical with what we see in the film.

Heimerdinger: True. Added to that, in this case, is the memory of the viewer. The spaces seem somehow familiar to us because we have all seen one or the other film made in them.

Daniels: So it feels as though one was in this space before, saw it before, but can’t really say where or when. That’s an interesting fictional leap. You think that you have experienced it because you saw it in the film. So where exactly does this memory come from?

Holschbach: Here we could speak of the difference between the still picture and the moving picture. With «Interiors,» something is shown that often escapes our perception in movies. One might have an idea of what that is, but can’t really grasp it. Removed from the motion picture, the still picture allows us to analyze this. Regarding the difference between film and photography, Kaja Silverman writes that film is always connected to amnesia: each image erases the previous one. By comparison, photography is an analytical instrument that I can strip something down with.

Daniels: I’d like to expand on that, if in a more general way: in the 1990s, confronting cinema existed as a kind of leitmotif in the visual arts. There were three to four major exhibitions that presented a wide spectrum of artworks devoted to cinema. Was that a boom, or how does one explain it? The arts seems to have a kind of analytical interest in large-scale, fiction-making machinery.

Heimerdinger: True, and that boom surely had to do with celebrating film’s centennial. But I think of that as a trend, actually, and something that faded away again.

Peters: But is film’s centennial justification enough? One could speculate, whether it rather concerns the question of analog or digital technology. While cinematographic equipment of mainstream cinema becomes increasingly overloaded with digital technology, the material qualities of classic cinema are becoming more and more like museum pieces.

Daniels: Or the questions always asked in the field of photography are expanded, and when transposed really do address moving pictures. I’m thinking about the works of Cindy Sherman and Jeff Wall from the 1970s and 1980s. In my opinion, all of this concerns the coming together of two, important dispositions: the cultural form of cinema encountering the form of the exhibition object. Over the last 100 years, there were relatively few points of contact between the two, and they functioned – as they still do today – using different principles: the movie theater has a mass audience and finances itself through the price of admission; art sustains itself through the sale of singular objects. Viewed from the economic side, these do not really come together. It’s odd, though, that artists’ films are sold as unique works that couldactually be shown in movie theaters. And suddenly these two forms find an interest in one another.

Peters: But traditionally speaking, the visual arts prefers the still picture. Sidetracking here a bit, I wanted to ask: What about film is most interesting for photographiy? How does one reflect moving pictures from within the tradition of still pictures? This hardly concerns, in my opinion, the role of cinema in the visual arts, but rather the difference between moving and still pictures. And what does the figure of the actor have to do with this? You, Isabell, never work with movies, as such as with everything belonging to the framework and format of movies.

Heimerdinger: I try more and more to avoid the label of cinema. Of course everything comes from Hollywood – but thematically, I’ve always made a point of developing away from that.

The Testing Setup / Authenticity

Holschbach : Thomas Trummer writes about your work «Waiting, Acting Waiting» (2002) with the actor Wolfram Berger, that, in the part where Berger consciously acts as though he waits, the performance emancipates him from the camera; it gives him more control over the media-related state. The performance is all that one has to set against the camera’s gaze. If I was filmed from a voyeuristic perspective, I wouldn’t have this possibility.

Heimerdinger: That’s why I had to ask for his permission to show what I stole from him.

Peters: But where do we recognize the difference between these two shooting situations? Is it the quality of the acting that makes the acted waiting differ from the real waiting? Ideally, you would work with actors so professional that there would never be any discrepancies regarding the quality of the acting. So, ideally, were the two versions of waiting in the film really indistinguishable from one another? If we get the resolution, when Berger acts and when he waits, it appears so evident afterwards; but viewed without knowing this beforehand, the two parts could also be cleverly acted. That’s what I found so interesting about it: both the performance and the film pursue an authentic expression. That’s what makes it so indistinguishable.

Heimerdinger: Maybe my directions for Wolfram Berger should have been more precise. I should have said, Play yourself waiting. But I didn’t phrase it that way then. With the nonactors I just made a series of Polaroid photographs and my first two videos (Picture Sample). But that was also when the theme addressed playing with posing and ‹authentic› behavior.

Peters: I find interesting that the idea of photographing an authentic scene is always connected with photographing unobserved. In itself, the presence of the camera alters the scene. And now, constantly under the gaze of a surveillance camera, one could also wonder whether this being under the camera’s gaze could possibly become a form of existence.

Holschbach: That brings me to the term ‹screen tests›. Walter Benjamin first made use of it. (see: Benjamin’s Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit) He uses it in connection with film actors who, instead of acting before an audience, act before the camera and are tested by the camera. Not only are we subjected to a growing number of cameras, we operate more and more, at least unconsciously, before an ideal image acted out photographically and filmically. Nowadays, this new media-related state is implemented to the point where we always operate with respect to it. But when this is carried out consciously, only then does one have the chance to escape it.

Daniels: It seems to me that, in the works we’ve seen, there is a far greater concern for the differences between various type of images. What actually happens here is that the function of the photographic image is replaced by the function of the filmic image: in one case, films are stripped down to single frames, as in the photographic work «Interiors,» while in the other, things we normally experience as photographs are translated into moving pictures: for example, the film portraits of actors watching themselves play certain roles. So now I ask myself whether the various functions of photography as an illusory rest-stop for the authentic, and those of film as a fiction, per se, in your works, are what produce this irritation through a kind of exchanging of roles.

Heimerdinger: They way I see it, the two are exchangeable. You have to keep in mind that I never know what I’m going to end up with in my works. Naturally, it was an extreme case making a film like the improvised love scene. But even with the photographs, I never know how it’s going to turn out.

Peters: It’s amazing, though, how in this 16mm film the sounds of the playback device instantly create the movie-character. On the one side, there’s the testing setup or laboratory situation with the actors, which of course is staged; on the other, there’s something occuring that you no longer control. The controlling has already happened. And your work can never be completely assigned to one side or the other: it’s not a scientific film, nor is it a feature film.

Daniels: In your work, the actors are free to let a certain dynamic of their own develop. I almost want to say that here the work of the artist is the work of a director, but that’s exactly what should never happen to a director. This leads to a very simple question: Does everything happen only once before the camera? Without rehearsals? Without retakes of scenes? Heimerdinger: Yes, there’s only one shooting and no rehearsal.

Daniels: And what instructions do you give? Before the actors appear before the camera, do they get a page of notes – or is everything just improvised? Heimerdinger: I talk as much as possible with the actors about my ideas beforehand.

Daniels: So all the preparations are oral and you never use written instructions.

Heimerdinger: No, the changes are too minimal for that. It was really amusing with Wolfram Berger, though: while he was waiting to perform, we had to think of ways to keep him in front of the camera. So all of us acted – everyone but him. The cameraman pretended he was positioning the lights and so on. And while Berger just stood there, we gave him instructions: Remove your jacket, please; look over there, etc. Daniels: Are actors ever influenced by knowing your work – when they know and can guess what’s about to happen? Is there something like an expectation attitude among actors that you have to outwit? Or do the actors try to get around that?

Heimerdinger: While collaborating with the Berlin actor Martin Glade, the influencing was mutual. He and I had completed several works together. Meanwhile, heeven approaches me with his own ideas and tells me how he would like to appear in my work.

Daniels: That’s precisely what should never happen, in so-called objective research: that the researcher alters his subject.

Holschbach: That is also the basic conflict in works by portrait photographers: the subjects of portraits have an image of themselves in mind and usually want to see it confirmed, while the photographer uses every technique and trick imaginable to attain the supposedly real in front of the camera. Great portrait photographers are thought of as managing this. I won't discuss at this time the question as wether this is a myth. Concerning the work, the other possibility I arrived at is what I call ‹authenticity through duration›: duration is an essential element for breaking through poses. The photographic and the filmic always deal with the problem of the pose and ‹authentic expression›. Here the work done with duration shines out as a method for achieving that expression nevertheless – simply over the passing of time. Heimerdinger: Yes, and that reaches an extreme in the video with Martin Glade («The space between us fills my hear with intolerable grief and impossible joy»), where I asked him to laugh for a half hour, then cry for a half hour, and then saw how the emotions became almost interchangeable. At one point, the acted emotion could no longer be distinguished from the genuine emotion; the emotions became confused.

Peters: Compared to the photographic work that you set before the videos (Picture Sample), which recorded Glade’s grimaces and gestures, the different filmic and photographic works are very successful at showing modes of expression. The photographic always needs exaggerating in order to be read at all, while the filmic develops over a period of time, thus giving it the chance to incorporate and sustain more inapplicable moments or failures.

Heimerdinger: That perhaps compares to the difference between theater and film acting. Question from the audience: The visual language of the photographer Nina Lüth, with whom you worked on the series «Martin as,» is rather well-known and extremely unique. How did it happen that you chose to work with her on this series with Martin Glade?

Heimerdinger: When I shoot a film, I never shoot it myself; I have a cameraman for that. Of course, I’m present all throughout the shooting. I could even imagine photographing this project with a different photographer, but with the same actor. The results would certainly be completely different. It’s a performance similar to the one that involved improvising with the actors and never knowing what I was going to get. From the start, Martin carefully considered and prepared each shot. For example, he cooked and then ate, and it was important to him what he cooked; not only that there would be cooking involved, but what he actually cooked. This enacted passing of a day was almost like a ritualistic act.

Daniels: In connection with digital image production, one hears a lot about the death of photography, followed by discussing the lost role of the photographic image as an authentic depiction of reality, and while the digital image is thought to be totally manipulative and arbitrary by comparison. You use digital picture processing in only two of the early works that you presented here. Nevertheless, you do address the question of authenticity, only with different means. This phrasing of the question, often posed as a media-related one – here chemical, there electronic – is what you shift to the visual object. Do these media-related, radical changes nevertheless play a role in your thinking? One sees in your testing setups that what happens before the camera never happens authentically, and so the question would not be strictly directed at the medium itself, but rather at what happens before the medium.

Heimerdinger: I can’t say much in response to that. There is a vast repertoire of media and possibilities within these media. And I always have my idea first; after that I reach for the technical possibilities, or medium, needed to realize that idea. Actually, everything you just told me about the work became clear to me for the first time today: first and foremost, I’m never really concerned with the medium and its possibilities, but more so with the figures and their possibilities, and with my own possibilities.

© Media Art Net 2004