Jörg Sasse

Galerie Wilma Tolksdorf | Berlin

Colorful plastic bathing caps are exhibited like a bouquet of exotic blossoms; multicolored combs are arranged to suggest a bizarre thorned bush; and a pitiful plastic basket, lined with old-fashioned printed cloth, rests all alone on a equally pathetic blended carpet. There is also a bowl mounted on an elegant curving steel stand in front of a white tile wall, which contains pieces of softened, candy-colored soap. This unusual inventory also includes flowerpots, kitchen utensils, dental equipment in front of a wall papered with photos of palm trees, a plastic garbage can, cloth shoes, and a cheap lamp with a girl’s head made of painted ceramic hanging underneath it. Finally, there are strange, exotic, cheery and not-so-cheery, quiet, crotchety, and peculiar still lifes. All of these items have one thing in common: they were not purposefully set up to be photographed. Jörg Sasse snapped them candidly, as he discovered them, in his immediate surroundings.

These are exclusively still lifes, which Sasse finds in shop windows or in private dwellings. Shot from a distance of a few feet, they are captured, virtually face to face, without any appreciable distortion by the camera. The photographer tries to avoid insinuating himself into his found objects, which border on kitsch, bad taste, naiveté, and twisted banality. His attitude toward them is a kind of loving humility. He never looks down on them, never smirks in pity, never raises his finger at them. These still lifes retain their commonplace quality in Sasse’s photographs, but not in order to be displayed “critically” for an “in” audience. The ’50s baskets and the kitschy flowerpots, the cheaply elegant soap dish and the fashionable bathing caps, the wretched palm-tree wallpaper and the ordinary soup ladle insist—whether we like it or not—on being part of our world. Each and every object—and this is to Sasses credit—has its own dignity and demands our respect.

Sasse is one of the many students of Hilla and Bernd Becher. Much has been said about the Bechers and their students, but I believe they offer us evidence—and Sasse supplies the most radical example—of a new and widespread conception of life, which the Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo describes as the “ontology of decay.” This conception of being is not oriented by immobile, universal, and timeless projects, as advocated by various ideologies. For Vattimo, such all-encompassing systems have long since disintegrated into their individual components, and as a result, a new conception of life can only refer to the presentation of being in our immediate experience.

Such experiences are individual slices of life, which, like the still lifes arranged in display windows, are impermanent. They are entities that emerge, develop, and pass away—which is precisely what gives them a history. Indeed, Sasse does not use any significant titles; each piece reveals only its date of composition. Hence, these photos are fleeting traces, souvenirs, memories, which are never absolutely tangible. They are excerpted, experiences trapped in time, free of the dictates of the values and totalities that, having been posited by traditional ideologies, have always served to mask and legitimize authoritarian systems. That is why it is precisely this freedom from values and systems, inherent in making such pictures, that restores the dignity to these photographically captured objects—no matter how banal and commonplace they may be.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.