Heinrich Riebesehl & Wilhelm Schürmann

EXHIBITION Jan 14 — Feb 28, 2006

Heinrich Riebesehl and Wilhelm Schürmann are working simultaneously on similar themes: topographies. In addition, both photographers had developed autonomous and distinctive approaches in the 1970’s. Riebesehl is concerned with the cultural phenomena of agricultural and industrial landscape while Schürmann’s attention is focused on the city.
Riebesehl’s and Schürmann’s interest in the settings of daily life parallels the “New Topographics” movement in America (as the legendary 1975 exhibition at the George Eastman House was called). Although American representatives of this approach, such as Lewis Baltz or Robert Adams, now count among the most renown photographers of the 20th century, the Germans Riebesehl and Schürmann have until now been under-appreciated. In light of this, the Kicken Berlin Gallery is dedicating an exhibition to these two important photographers, juxtaposing approximately 20 works by each in this first joint showing.
The occasion will also mark the first presentation of a portfolio of ten of Heinrich Riebesehl’s most important images from his oeuvre, published by the Kicken Berlin Gallery.
Riebesehl’s and Schürmann’s work share a number of similarities: both have an objective, matter of fact approach, both work in series, and both use black and white exclusively. Riebesehl was born in Emsland in 1938 and studied under Otto Steinert into the mid-1960’s. The influence of Steinert’s “Subjektive Fotografie” is evident in Riebesehl’s early work. However, his series “Situationen und Objekte” (Situations and Objects) from the mid-1970’s shows Riebesehl as a devoted representative of “Magical Realism”, in which people and things are observed in enigmatic arrangements in sharp relief against a black sky. The rigorous objectivity seen in Riebesehl’s series “Agrarlandschaften” (Agrarian Landscapes) from 1975 represented yet another paradigm shift. As Riebesehl himself defined it, his interest lay in "Über die Dinge und nicht mit den Dingen Bilder machen" (making pictures about things rather than with things). Riebesehl shows us landscapes, modified to suit human need, that have taken on almost abstract qualities: meadows for grazing animals, coal fields, or bales of hay on a stubble field – he makes us aware of the most common, obvious and seemingly banal scenes. This is also true of his series “Gewerbebauten” (commercial buildings) from 1979-1983 in which sheds, warehouses, or fish wholesalers are presented in a non-dramatic, neutral style without human presence. In Anglo-Saxon terminology, Riebesehl’s subject matter would be classified as “vernacular”: common, everyday, familiar. Riebesehl shares a close affinity to such celebrated American photographers as Eggleston, Friedlander or Walker Evans. In Riebesehl’s work ‘the popular’ and ‘the vernacular’ are seen as an expression of modern civilization. In comparison, the photography of Wilhelm Schürmann (born 1946) has a more pronounced graphic component and a more pronounced use of depth – a response to his subject matter: the cityscape and it’s complex jumble of space, buildings and things. His photographs of tidy suburbs are, on the other hand, correspondingly simple. At times, Schürmann even concentrates on single houses in small towns and industrial communities, for example in Belgium or Great Britain. A few images even portray absurd-seeming situations taking place on the fringes of the circus and carnival milieu. In 1974 Schürmann founded one of the first photography galleries in Germany, together with Rudolf Kicken, and today dedicates his energies exclusively to collecting, curating, and teaching college. His own early photography works are devoted – as are Riebesehl’s – to the “Man altered Landscape”, (the subtitle of the New Topographics exhibition in 1975), a subject that has found broad interest in today’s art world.

The Kicken Gallery in Berlin is honoring Lee Friedlander (born in 1934) with a presentation of a small collection of important works at Kicken II. Friedlander paved the way for the evolution of photography in the 1970’s and coined the phrase “Social Landscape”, which was to be advanced in the “New Topographics” movement.
(Ronald Berg)