MGM 2007 - Joachim Schmid At The Photographers' Gallery

By Sara Allen | 04 May 2007
a creased and reassembled photograph with pieces missing showing a smiling woman

From the project Belo Horizonte 1992 - 2002. © Joachim Schmid

Sara Allen enjoys the found photography of Joachim Schmid at the Photographer’s Gallery.

Photographer (artist, archivist, impresario…) Joachim Schmid is the subject of a major retrospective at the Photographers’ Gallery. Visitors can dip into his artistic preoccupations until June 17 2007.

Schmid famously declared: “No new photographs until the old ones have been used up!” And he has rarely deviated from this avowal (made, incidentally, in 1989, on the 150th anniversary of photography’s invention) instead showing found photographs that he has grouped and titled.

Bilder von der Straße (Pictures from the Street) has been a major work in progress since 1982. To date there are some 900 images, from which he has randomly selected 100 for this retrospective. All are photos he has picked up on his walks through cities around the world and all bear the spoils of their rejection (or loss). Many of them are creased, scratched or even burned.

a diptych photograph showing a young man in jacket and tie and a page of writing from a book or magazine

From the project Very Miscellaneous 1996/97. © Joachim Schmid

Family snaps, ID photos, strips from photo booths - all have been archived and the place and date of their discovery recorded by Schmid. And this is vital. It is the moment the artist finds them which marks their transition from personal photograph to (part of) an artwork.

Hung chronologically, the works draw the viewer into the stories – stories that reveal a multiplicity of personal narratives. Grouped together, they expose the repetition of human existence (photos of excitable children at balloon birthday parties, formal passport pictures, lovers) and also, in each moment, something private that moves beyond the mawkish to the tender and hopeful.

Photogenetic Drafts (1991) is similarly revealing. Photo-collages composed from negatives, sliced and discarded by a studio photographer, are intended to unsettle the audience. These are bold, challenging and sometimes confrontational images in which combinations of distinct but disturbingly compatible headshots offer up brutal questions of gender, aging and identity.

a black and white photograph made up of two halves joined together depicting a young boy with a young girls face montaged onto it

From the project Photogenic Drafts 1991. © Joachim Schmid

The collections confirm Schmid’s ongoing concern with the status of photography in modern life. For him, photography is a powerful, complex and modern medium, which has the status of artwork, public witness and private record.

It is this ambiguity that interests Schmid. His works highlight the intersection of the personal (private narratives emerge which are, in turn, funny or sad or lovely) with the technology of the medium.

And so this entrancing exhibition offers the visitor more than simply the chance to marvel about this levelling phenomenon of photography. This retrospective makes a challenging argument for the presence of the personal, of wit and humour and the like within the anthropological.

a colour photograph of a seated man in a kitchen holding a full sized ceramic chicken

From the series Bilder von der Straße, ongoing since 1982. Joachim Schmid

Schmid’s art, then, lies in the way he groups the photographs and creates a narrative, revealing pattern, meaning and ritual in the photographs he has collected.

Once again, The Photographers’ Gallery offers a show of entrancing and provocative images that offer a welcome commentary about the very nature and role of photography itself. Such considered and yet gently reflexive exhibitions are brilliantly compelling.

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