Alfred Seiland

From Stonington, Maine to Proleb, Austria

EXHIBITION Oct 1 — Nov 27, 2003

On a list of great names in American color photography – Eggleston, Meyerowitz, Shore, Sternfeld – one name is often missing: ALFRED SEILAND (*1952). True, Seiland is not American, (he’s from Austria) so strictly speaking he doesn’t belong in that category. But Seiland does cast a typically American eye on the world, evidence of the far-reaching effect the Walker Evans school had on photography. What comes to mind are exhibitions such as ”Cruel and Tender” (at the Tate Modern in London until September) or "How you look at it" (in Hanover and Frankfurt in 2000). These exhibitions trace back the lines of tradition in color art photography, which Seiland is a part of, from the Becher School to their American influences.
Whether he is taking on American subjects, as seen in the book "East Coast – West Coast", or showing us his Austrian homeland or the city of Prague, Seiland is drawn to the popular side of life. Indeed, the American concept of ”popular culture”, which has less to do with the idea of ‘pop’ and more to do with the customs, habits and artifacts of everyday life, helps in understanding Seiland’s work. 'American life is American culture' one could say. And Alfred Seiland’s approach is in some ways inherited from the vision cultivated by American (color) photography.
Seiland observes yellow painted facades in a play of color against the coast of Maine; a giant limousine parked in front of a tiny wooden house in Delaware; or a street at dusk in a small town in Oregon, crisscrossed by telephone lines and illuminated only by neon signs. We see the pale vastness of the Neusiedler Lake in Austrian Burgenland, dotted with the figures of anonymous bathers. Or a broken pot holding a palm tree in front of the makeshift wall of an Austrian farmhouse. Seiland’s pictures, with their finely balanced color tones and well-ordered compositions, seem to speak with an individual voice. Seiland’s photographs inspire, not just with their own language, but in their ability to tell a story. The images, generally conceived as series, create their own picture idiom - keenly observed, with an artful juxtaposition of pictorial elements, and a subtle handling of color - the keynote establishing the mood and feel of the image.
There is a secret to the perfection of each and every image in these series: and that secret is called waiting. Seiland does not take snapshots; of course, the large format cameras he uses make that nearly impossible. And, in spite of the American approach to his subjects, Seiland’s Austrian sensibilities come across in all of his enlargements. He delights his viewers with a sensuous visual treatment of his subjects. The people in Seiland’s pictures are not so much protagonists in a dramatic plot; their presence is more that of extras on a stage set. Nonetheless, Seiland is indeed interested in people. But at least in his case, the wide shot, the overview with attendant background, often reveals more about people and their lives than could a close-framed portrait. Not only the many billboards and signposts, but also the everyday places and things that recur in Seiland’s imagery, prompt us to realize their semiotic meaning. The ski slopes and the churches, laundry hanging to dry in a snow-covered yard, a tractor used to hang a freshly slaughtered pig. These Austrian scenes, along with the empty playgrounds and gas stations, the nocturnal views of parking lots and motels along the American coasts, are expressions for a way of life. No matter where Seiland turns his lens, his ability to capture the ineffable feeling for place on film is his greatest strength.
The quality of his photography has brought the 51 year old Seiland numerous exhibitions, awards, and publications in books and magazines. And although his work appears in the collections of the New York Museum of Modern Art and the Art Institute of Chicago, Seiland has yet to be discovered by the art market.

Kicken II is showing a portfolio with twelve portraits of artists from the monumental work "People of the 20th Century" by AUGUST SANDER (1876 –1964). The portfolio contains prints enlarged from the original 1920’s glass plates by Sander’s son, Gunter. On view are, among others, the Dadaist Raoul Hausmann, the painter Otto Dix and the painter-sculptor Otto Freundlich.
(Ronald Berg)