(25. Juni 2009)
i would love to invite you to see the show "women"at priska pasquer gallery in cologne.
a great compilation of photography including some pictures of my "boy meets girl"
series. hope to see you
Erwin Blumenfeld, Alexander Rodchenko, Frantisek Drtikol, August Sander, Annelise Kretschmer, Wols,
Madame Yevonde, Heinz Hajek-Halke, Elfriede Stegemeyer, Weegee, Aaron Siskind, Josef Sudek,
Chargesheimer, Ed van der Elsken, Gerard P. Fieret, Marcel Broodthaers, Louis Faurer,
Helmut Newton, Christian Skrein, Daido Moriyama, Michael Ruetz, Rudolf Bonvie, Jen Davis, Oliver Sieber
The opening credits to George Cukor's 1939 film ‘The Women’, which features no male actors whatsoever, announce that: ”It's all about men”.
The exhibition entitled ‘Women’ spans a wide arc from the beginning of the 20th century to the present day. It is not only about faces and bodies, but shows different, predominantly male interpretations of femininity and gender roles, including surprising alternatives – while also giving a brief overview of photographic styles from Symbolism to New Objectivity, documentary style and conceptual photographic art.
It starts off with ornamentalisation: in a photograph by Annelise Kretschmer from the 1920s, the slightly inclined face of a young woman is so artificially framed by an intricate frame of lace that it almost disappears into its roof tile-like surroundings. A few years later in 1932, Erwin Blumenfeld’s portrait of Auty Lebeau features a far simpler lace frame playing a minor role, demurely decorating a high-necked dark dress. The focus here is on the serious face of the woman; the picture does not aim to showcase her, but rather to capture her personality. Further diverging portrait interpretations range from Alexander Rodchenko’s glorifying ‘Junge Pionierin’ (Young Pioneer) shot from below and Elfriede Stegemeyer's ‘Selbstportrait’ (Self Portrait) – a face that seems to convey the clarity and resoluteness of a self-determined woman even though her eyes are shut – to a young woman photographed by Weegee in the 1950s. In the latter, as it is not clear whether the woman has her arms behind her back of her own free will, the viewer wonders whether she looks pensive or guilty – Weegee’s penchant for crime scenes is well known and the initial suspicion prompted by the picture may be misleading.
Rudolf Bonvie’s work ‘Romy S.’ illustrates how cruel paparazzi photos can be: Romy Schneider’s face, cut out like a mask, seems to underline her protest against the paparazzi onslaught, which is put into words in the attached text. Here, Schneider, who enjoyed having her photo taken, describes how reporters dressed up as nurses in order to photograph her dead child.
The exhibition photographs portraying whole figures also vary greatly as regards the participation of the people featured – and the very different roles played by the protagonists. Frantisek Drtikol’s nude in geometric decoration is ‘legitimised’ by the skull in the figure’s hand; the young body functions as part of a vanitas representation. In the 1930 fashion photography of Madame Yevonde, the slender woman in red seems to be engrossed in a love letter – this scene, too, can be interpreted as allegory. Far more confusing, however, is the androgynous figure revealed as the ‘Painter's Wife (Helene Abelen)’ only when the caption is read. August Sander has captured her in white pantaloons, shirt and tie, hair combed back severely and a cigarette on her lips, cutting a sophisticated and enigmatic female figure – an early “icon of bohemian liberality” with a finely calculated effect. It is therefore no surprise to learn that she appears as an early example on a transgender-net website aimed at people “who do not regard the gender they were assigned as binding”. The confusion generated by this picture is perfected in the two shots from Oliver Sieber’s series “Boy meets girl”, where gender identities are shown as a process and simple ascriptions are rendered impossible.
Therefore the admiration of the female form, for example as shown by Josef Sudek, Helmut Newton or Aaron Siskind (who at the same time is observing the observer), simply serves as a foil for the exhibition to question female identity.