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Exhibition presents aspects of the documentary in the MMK's photography collection
Beat Streuli, Sydney/Melbourne, 1997/1998, © Beat Streuli. Photo: Axel Schneider.


FRANKFURT.- Whether on a smartphone, in the newspaper or on a computer – every day we experience our world through a flood of photographs. The exhibition “Image Profile: Aspects of the Documentary in MMK's Photography Collection” shows how artists represented in the collection of the MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main have explored and reflected on media images. The presentation covers a broad spectrum of contemporary modes of expression ranging from sociopolitical photojournalism to aspects of subjective, conceptual or staged photography.

Given its technical implications, pictorial capabilities and documentary character, photography has always been one of the most significant mediums in modern times. Since the MMK opened in 1991, it has accorded photography the same status in its collection as painting, sculpture, film or video installations. The museum’s photographic holdings meanwhile encompass over 2,500 works of international contemporary photography by more than ninety artists.

“Image Profile” encompasses such diverse photographic techniques as vintage prints on baryta paper, monumental cibachromes, inkjet prints and offset prints on paper. The works reflect on political topics and present-day crises that have been disseminated in the media through images and question the supposedly authentic character of press photographs. In the process, many of them address themselves to how the media shapes our powers of visual perception.

The show begins with the five-part work Klause (2006) by Thomas Demand, executed on commission especially for the MMK. The large-scale installation is based primarily on press images. Yet Demand does not present them just as he found them, but first reconstructs them in his studio. On a scale of 1:1, he builds three-dimensional “pictures” out of coloured paper and cardboard, then photographs them and exhibits them in the form of large-scale Diasec prints. The Klause series revolves around a case of child abuse that took place over the space of several years in the back room of a neighbourhood pub in Germany, the so-called Tosa-Klause. Yet it is also about the extremely lengthy criminal proceedings that followed, a topic of headlines in the popular press for months on end. The knowledge of the actual facts and circumstances, on the other hand, is hazy. Thomas Demand’s work questions reality, its representation in the media, and the media’s virtually unlimited technical manipulability.

The series The Dead 1967 – 1993 (1996–1998) by Hans-Peter Feldmann is a gift from the artist, and a possession only very few of the world’s museums can call their own. It consists of portraits of 100 persons who lost their lives to violence between 1967 and 1993 in the context of the “German Autumn” and the Red Army Faction (RAF) movement. Every one of the deaths bears a connection to the escalation of violence and terrorism. Feldmann amassed the images exclusively from the print media of the period in question. The photos merely appear in chronological order by date of death, making no distinction between perpetrators and victims.

Classical photojournalism is represented in the exhibition by such artists as Barbara Klemm, Abisag Tüllmann and Anja Niedringhaus, whose images appeared in various media all over the globe. Their works are distinguished by a perceptiveness and keenness of observation that testifies to a profoundly human outlook on the world’s crises and wars. With their carefully calculated pictorial compositions, these photographers of the MMK collection contributed to shaping our conception of classical pictorial journalism like no others. Barbara Klemm’s shots from India, the photos Anja Niedringhaus took during her time as an “embedded journalist” in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and Abisag Tüllmann’s scenes from South Africa are on view.

Kader Attia, whose series The Debt (2013) is also on display, addresses another key theme that, with a view to the past, is highly meaningful for the present. The two-channel slide installation uses found pictorial material to revisit a chapter in colonial history taking place during World War I and its devastating consequences for human beings. The title Debt refers to the historical responsibility of France and Germany as former colonial powers: the images document, among other things, the wartime deployment of African soldiers who were forced to fight on the side of their respective colonial masters. Like their European compatriots, they experienced the direct physical consequences of modern warfare. The juxtaposition of wounded African and European soldiers equates the two, something that did not happen in reality in the form of tribute to the African soldiers for their sacrifices. Kader Attia seeks to span the decades from these past events – and the debt incurred by the former colonial powers – to the immediate present as represented by the “sans-papiers”, i.e. persons without identity documents.





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