The second installment in the new 6 ½ Weeks exhibition series brings together works by Bogomir Ecker, Sebastian Riemer and Thomas Ruff, pieces that share clear common ground. For they all feature press photos from dissolved newspaper archives. These form the starting point for their very different reflections on the photographed picture.
Increasing digitization has meant that many newspapers’ photo archives have become obsolete and have been wound up. However, the individual items they contained have now become a focus of artistic interest, in the form of photographic prints originally destined for publishing and measuring 20 x 25 cm in size; the ghosts of the past, wars and catastrophes, long forgotten stars and curiosities are now being traded on Internet platforms and in digital auction houses. All the retouching work performed between the 1920s and the 1970s, invisible at the time because the newspaper print was so coarse-grained, are now clearly visible.
The three artists are, however, interested in entirely different aspects:
Thomas Ruff, whose earlier work already evidenced a fascination with newspaper photographs, superimposes the backs of the prints (which displayed various picture captions, stamps and notes) on the images’ different layers, the front of the prints. Ruff reveals that these were once political objects to be circulated in the media.
Bogomir Ecker has been collecting photographs for several decades now – on the specific subject of “idylls and disasters”. Initially, they only represented points of reference and sources of inspiration for his sculptural output but for a number of years now he has been assembling these prints to create multi-part tableaux, allowing the images, as if in a kind of short film cut, to tell their own longish, autonomous stories, sometimes in combination with the newspapers onto which Ecker has painted.
Sebastian Riemer is the youngest artist in the trio, but he has been working with this specific material since way back in 2013. He is particularly interested in the pictorial aspect of the photographs, their surreal qualities. By transferring them into a large format Riemer brings out the extreme intervention that retouching work on the image represents, the way that it has been almost completely painted over and re-orchestrated – with René Magritte as its arranger.
Without recourse to media theories of any kind, these works make it playfully clear that the (American) press photos of that era were a medium of fluid transitions and that their function can be located somewhere between a duty to inform, propaganda, excessive curiosity and voyeurism. And even if at some point it did have something to do with visible reality, our social use of these images has always enhanced the reality that they convey.