Ulrich Schmitt's Works

The Photographic Aesthetics of “Still for the Moment”

Amongst the most successful contributions to the artistic discourse on contemporary photography - in particular in Germany - are the photographic works of the “Düsseldorf School”. Although Ulrich Schmitt is not directly connected to them – in the eighties he studied at the Munich Academy of Arts – the works can be compared against the background of documentarism with its specific characteristics.

With their black-and-white photographs, Bernd and Hilla Becher - the mentors of the “Düsseldorf School“- introduced the documentary and a specific form of serial presentation into the world of the arts. With their works, characterized by clearly outlined motives, and their systematic photographical documentation they mainly concentrate on industrial architectures that in the post-industrial society slowly dwindle to relics. The objectivism of their documentary photographic works targets to offset the expressive subjectivism and is modelled on the industrial photography of the twenties.

Ulrich Schmitt’s in the widest sense documentary black-and-white photographs – mostly in clearly defined photo series – centre on specific motives. In the late eighties and early nineties he concentrated mainly on architecture, but subsequently “added” landscapes and of late increasingly plants. Particularly the architectural photographs invite to a comparison, which, especially when Schmitt’s works are viewed as a whole, swiftly reveals certain basic distinctions.

While the serial photographic works of the Bechers are related to the seventies’ conceptual art paradigm - the individual motives are seen as real concretizations of an idea inspired by functional demands - Schmitt focuses on the unique composition of each single picture and when he, as so often, presents one single motive in a series of photographs, breaks the apparent objectivism of the picture by introducing varying camera perspectives. While the Bechers’ documentary photography at least preserves the object from disappearing, Schmitt focuses on a world that to our post-industrial, media-conditioned perception, may seem to belong to the past, yet still continues to exist as an apparently inconspicuous parallel world to the dominating forced media events. Instead of the documentary aesthetics of “Just in Time”, Schmitt’s aesthetics has the quality of “Still for the Moment”.

It is characteristic for Schmitt to eliminate all artefacts and signs from his pictures that would allow us to draw any conclusions to the early 21st century. Typical for Schmitt’s focus is, that his architectural photography refers to unspectacular and inconspicuous grey architectures in his immediate environment, such as building blocks from the thirties, built in a style referred to as “native”. This is a style that turns its back on the clear geometry of the modern Bauhaus architecture and decorates the buildings with trusses. It is a style radiating indifference and grey boredom, which is further emphasized and increased by the grey hues of the photos.

With his architectural, and particularly with his landscape photography, Ulrich Schmitt always portrays a piece of local history. Historically seen, the discovery of landscape as a genre takes place in the 19th century. The landscape perception in painting and later in photography is closely connected to the advent of tourism, which now turns its attention to the closer surroundings and discovers landscape as a home away from home.

The return to proximity is constitutive for Schmitt’s method. He does not focus on distant major tourist events, but directs his camera towards the next surroundings and thus forges links to the history of art and photography. He goes to the same places along the Isar (the river running through Munich) that the landscape artists already visited in the 19th century. He follows the tracks of Goethe’s and his illustrator Georg Melchior Kraus’ journey to the Harz mountains, and “rephotographs” the geological sensations known from Goethe's and Kraus' drawings – drawings that once kindled a troubled imagination. Names such as “Devil’s wall” or “Witch’s kitchen“ allude to the extraordinary and uncanny nature of the locations. Schmitt’s Harz series preserves the distinct features of the locations and yet they in the aesthetics of “Still for the Moment”, they appear almost inconspicuously natural. This view, today in conflict with the arousing views of the media, becomes especially clear, when Schmitt photographs motives such as the flood of the Isar. In his black-and-white abstraction the latent catastrophe becomes an aesthetical natural event. It isn’t threatening, it merely is.

Regarding the technique and the composition of the individual pictures, Schmitt mainly moves within the framework of classical photography. He partially crosses these borders, when he for example combines several pictures to create “widescreen” panorama friezes. This serial combination of individual motives is a decisive and specific aspect of his works.

Schmitt doesn’t content himself with the absolute make-believe impression of a motive shot from an apparently ideal camera perspective. In his series a motive is shot from differing viewpoints. Sometimes the photos differ minimally, such as when the focused object is slightly zoomed out or “orbited”. Sometimes there are warps, so that a detail of a photo dominates the other or almost disappears in the background.

What shows in the landscape pictures is also valid for the most recent photo series of plants. Schmitt not only documents the stages of blooming and decay in traditional pictures, but so to say “orbits” the plants. Thus – sometimes hardly perceptible to the eye, a change of view takes place from photo to photo. Similar to the landscape shooting, where sometimes, over the centuries, a once painted motive is reshot, Schmitt here too works with warps in time and space. They serve to ascertain that what was photographed still exists.

Heinz Schütz

Education

1981 – 87 Akademie der Bildenden Künste München,
Meisterschüler Prof. Gerd Winner
1987 – 88 Stipendium des DAAD für London
1999 Assistenz Prof. Gerd Winner
Lehrauftrag Akademie der bildenden Künste München

Solo Exhibitions

2005 The hinterland,
Neue Galerie Dachau
2004 Wann ist etwas gut, Designparcours, München
2001 Neue Farbarbeiten, Galerie Storms, München
2000 Gift, kleine Fotoarbeiten, Galerie Wittenbrink, München
1999 en plein air, Rathausgalerie, München
1996 Die Harzreise, Galerie Wittenbrink
1993 Am Saarweg, Kunstverein Langenhagen
1992 Am Gößweinsteinplatz, Galerie Wittenbrink
Provisorium,
Studioausstellung Staatsgalerie Moderner Kunst, München
1989 Fünf Räume, Kunstverein Göttingen

Group Exhibitions

2005 Arbeiswelten Bundes-Kunsthalle Bonn u.w.
2001 privatpublic, Gasteig, München
1998 Ihr Portrait, Internationale Fototrienale Esslingen
1997 urban camera, Dominikanerkloster Braunschweig
1996 von hier, Fotokunst aus München, Galerie Wittenbrink
1993 selestart, junge Fotografie aus Frankreich und Deutschland, Selestat
1988 installations, Goethe-Institut, New York

Work in Public Space

2007 2007 Haus Florian, Ausgestaltung eines Tagungshauses der Münchener Rückversicherung am Schliersee
2006 Fotoprojekt für die Generali Versicherung, Ausgestaltung der Mitarbeiterräume, Projektleitung Häusler Contemporary
2005 Wandgestaltung für die Continentale Versicherung
2003-05 Landhaus 2, Innsbruck
Für die Landesregierung Tirol entsteht eine Dokumentation ihres Verwaltungsbaues. Umfangreiche Foto- und Filmarbeiten. Digitales Projekt mit 11 Standpunkten, Architekten: Frank und Probst, München
2002 Raum München, 4 Fotoarbeiten für die MEAG München
2001–03 Dokumentation Neubau Giesing
Für die Bayerische Versicherungskammer entsteht eine um­ fassende Dokumentation der Baumaßnahme und der sich verändernden Pflanzenwelt. Es entstehen Fotos und interaktive Filme, die die 3-jährige Bauphase im Zeitraffer als ca.1-stündi­ gen Film zeigen, Architekten: HPP München
2000 Wandgestaltung in der Hauptverwaltung der Bilfinger+Berger AG, Bayern, München Gruppenportrait, Bain and Company, München Architekten: Goetz und Hootz, München
1999 Bain meets artists, Fotoarbeit Sirona, Bain and Company

Preise

1999 Projektstipendium der Landeshauptstadt München
1996 Förderstipendium des Kunstfonds e.V
1994 Erwin und Gisela von Steiner Stiftung Prinzregent Luitpold Stiftung