Zurich

Bernard Voïta / Frank Thiel

Galerie Bob van Orsouw

Bernard Voïta’s gray images remind one of Gerhard Richter’s paintings of black-and-white snapshots. But here it is photography that recalls painting, rather than vice versa. The alternation of blurred and perfectly focused areas evokes spaces that are unapproachable; in the viewer’s imagination they coalesce into land-, sea-, or cityscapes. The viewer tries to discern the houses, bridges, or waterways that are adumbrated here without ever being able to get a clear view. The images remain puzzling inner, rather than mimetic, landscapes.

Only up close do the blurred contours suddenly give way to suggestions of surfaces or fragments of familiar things and their shadows. It then becomes clear that each shot shows, after all, a stage filled with real objects—studio setup, presented without gimmicks or manipulation, just simple photographic documentation. But like anamorphoses designed for the eye of the camera, various poles, boards, bowls, grilles, and the like have been arranged in the depths of the room to create a play of light on the arranged objects that produces the illusion of a coherent reality that is completely different from what’s actually been photographed. Thus Voïta applies photography’s familiar claim that “this is how it was” in order to show that “it” could also have been something else. The illusionism inherent in framing and the manipulation of light, present in every photographic record, is not just taken into account here but put on display. Our trust in the information content of images has certainly dwindled over the years, but if we had any last shred of trust in their factual value, these photographs certainly suffice to dispel it. Each image regains its individual measure of believability only insofar as the artist makes a display of the constructedness of his photographs: The bridge is a board is a bridge.

Juxtaposed with Voïta’s photographs were Frank Thiel’s, taken in the east of Berlin in 2000 and showing austere grids of school facades built under the former regime there. Their sharp-focus, depth-of-field analyses of modular construction methods evolve into an abstract pattern of grids. In that way they complemented Voïta’s unfocused details, which fuse into figurative certainties only until one’s realization of how the shots were constructed returns to shatter the illusion. The pairing suggested that photography has lost its object. But a second, more forward-looking lesson would be that photography creates its object, but only in displaying its own manipulation of light. While digital animation remains occupied with perfecting the appearance of reality, photographic artists like Voïta have long been creating their own worlds for the camera.

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.