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Kathrin Peters: Statement
Kathrin Peters


In an obituary for Richard Avedon, who, with his large format photographs of people set before white backdrops, ranks among the greatest photographers of the twentieth century, Claus Heinrich Meyer writes, in the Süddeutschen Zeitung (October 4, 2004), filled with nostalgia for a photography he feels is threatened by extinction: « […] the twenty-first century will no longer bring forth such characters, such forms, such ‹still› images.» Unclear, though, is which characters are meant, the photographers or the portrayed subjects.

«They (the portrayed subjects, K.P.) were to be iridescent, to grimace, or behave however they liked. And Avedon, the man beside the mountain of the camera (for his part an ingenious stage director), wanted the utmost transparent facial surface.»

So things have become loud, hectic and brightly-colored. Not only are there no longer photographic artists able to master visual expressiveness, even the portrayed subjects seem to lack any expressive power – we no longer find characters, whether on this side or beyond the mountain of the camera.

If one considers the matter in stages, century by century, there may be some truth in this mutual


disappearance of expressive imagery and ‹photographic artists,› but with a different conclusion: demonstrating the expression of an affect that involuntarily shows something human in a face («the transparent surface») is linked, media-historically speaking, to the photographic image. It was, after all, technical imagery, photography, and film that first enabled us to study the face in minute detail, and to capture and transpose in images what is beyond direct observation. As the myth of the photographic artist has told us for ages, this calls for the kind of photographer also a subtle stage director able to extract a special quality from the subject, able to break through the other’s pose, and able to show, if not the whole truth, at least a portion of it.

Two moments can hinder such an historically-speaking, highly stabile demonstration of a mimetic relationship between facial expression and human character or affect: Firstly: the element of chance surrounding the moment of taking a photograph can also produce totally inapplicable, if not distorted images: What today’s photographic image demands of the optical unconsciousness (Benjamin) can, of course,

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