Friday, October 19, 2007

The books of Joachim Schmid

Joachim Schmid is a scavenger. He is a gatherer, a gleaner. I would say that he is also part thief. Part savior. Part trickster. Fictional historian. Archivist. Revisionist. Environmentalist (hahaha). He is all of those things and an artist as well.

For the past 25 years Schmid has been exhibiting and creating handmade books of found photographs. He draws new attention to this discarded material with the conviction that ‘basically everything is worth looking at.’ This conviction to overlook the original use and function and establish ways of clearly looking at these everyday photographs is what ties together these discarded snapshots, ID photographs, newspaper photographs and groupings of vernacular photography.

Originally Schmid was an art critic and writer in the early 1980’s, publishing in magazines like European Photography and others. He started a small journal called Fotokritik which was initially a forum for his writing and criticism, but his shift to becoming an artist was during a period when the focus of the Fotokritik journal turned from traditional criticism into a kind of artist project/anthropological study. ‘I had noticed that the material was much richer than what I was writing about it. Eventually I said; let’s just present the photographs as they are… That raises interesting questions about what the artist actually does and the question of authorship. A lot of American artists started with the question, and then made the artwork. It was the other way around for me. I had the stuff without deciding whether it should be art or not.’ This isn’t to say that Schmid is hands off with the creation of his final work. Even though he does not often physically alter the found images, his editing is the artistic process.

I mentioned in my introductory paragraph that Schmid is a trickster and an environmentalist. These labels (which are mine) were inspired by his project started in 1990 called Erste allgemeine Altofotosammlung in which Schmid placed advertisements in several German newspapers with the following text:

First General Collection of Used Photographs

Year in and year out an unimaginable number of photographs are produced worldwide. Virtually every day each of us enlarges this gigantic mountain of photographs, without giving the consequences a second thought. But while photography seems a harmless leisure pursuit, the chemicals contained in all photographs pose enormous dangers to our health. What‘s more, photographs in such quantities increase visual pollution and undermine our thinking power—to say nothing of the moral dangers they pose for our children.
In these conditions it would be best if we stopped making photographs altogether—but in many cases this is hardly possible. Therefore, it is essential to professionally dispose of all photographs once they are no longer needed. Experts from East and West have warned us for decades about the impending, catastrophic consequences of the photo boom, but their pleas have fallen on deaf ears among those responsible in industry and politics. Today billions of used photographs are stored improperly in homes and businesses, waiting for desperately needed recycling facilities.
The Institute for the Reprocessing of Used Photographs, privately founded in 1990, offers a clear path out of this seemingly inescapable situation. The Institute maintains all facilities necessary to professionally reprocess photos of all kinds—or, in hopeless cases, dispose of them ecologically. We collect used, abandoned and unfashionable photographs in black and white or color, including instant photographs, photo booth strips, entire photo albums, contact sheets, test strips, negatives and slides, as well as damaged and shredded items, in both small and large quantities.
Remember, used photographs do not belong in the household garbage—they need special disposal. Many photographs can serve a new and useful purpose after reprocessing. For the sake of our environment, send your used photographs to the Institute for the Reprocessing of Used Photographs.
Participation in this recycling program is guaranteed free of charge!

These ads created a response where tens of thousands of photographs and negatives were sent to Schmid for ‘recycling,’ thus supplying him with vast amounts of material to work from. For Schmid, it may be an individual photograph or just a piece of an individual photograph that makes for an interesting study. Or it may be collecting and archiving photos that share common traits and assembling a kind of Becher style typology of snapshots from everyday life.

There is a new book published by Steidl, Photoworks and Tang called Joachim Schmid: Photoworks 1982-2007 which serves as a mid career retrospective catalog of his many different projects and installations. As with most of Steidl’s titles, this is another example of a finely planned and crafted book. It treats each major project to its own chapter that are accompanied by a variety of essays by different authors and is a perfect introduction to Schmid’s work.

The last section of this book features Schmid’s handmade books that he started to publish in the late 1980’s under the auspices of Edition Fricke & Schmid with his friend, Adib Fricke. After seeing images of these various books I set upon searching out and collecting them. Turns out that Printed Matter here in NYC had some shopworn copies of a few of the titles and the book dealer/publisher Marcus Schaden sells artist books of Schmid. I have now tracked down and amassed a collection of several different books which are briefly described below. Most have a handmade feel and are precious little objects.

Das Bild Des Fotografen, 35 photographs of people with cameras in the act of photographing. Several are famous images of well known photographers, Man Ray, Andre Kertesz, Erich Soloman, Ilse Bing. Published by Edition Fricke & Schmid in 1988.

Faits Divers, 16 photos with captions. These images are extreme blow ups from newspapers rendered almost illegible due to the large halftone dot. The captions make for odd readings of the distorted images. Published by Edition Fricke & Schmid in 1989.

Errata is just shy of 50 pages of images, captions and advertisements in newspapers that have something wrong about them. Errata = Mistake. The fact that they are taken from German newspapers makes their significance beyond my comprehension. Published by Edition Fricke & Schmid in 1990.

Portraits, published by Edition Fricke & Schmid in 1990 is a book of 16 portraits of mostly famous people also taken from newspapers and rendered in extreme halftone dots.

Erste allgemeine Altfotosammlung is a book of text in German (so I am at a loss as to its actual content) but it seems to be a chronology of the development of the project in what look to be transcripts of conversations perhaps between Schmid and the donors (?). It includes an actual print complete with a bright red stamp of the ‘Institute’ and the photo rests in a plastic holder on the inside back cover. Published by Edition Fricke & Schmid in 1991.

Phantom, published by Edition Fricke & Schmid in 1992 is a book of 16 artist sketches of people. An artist sketch obviously draws from a person's description from memory so maybe these people really exist as described and maybe they don't.

Art Addicts Anonymous, published by Edition Fricke & Schmid in 1993. This is a set of small cards and an information booklet for a 12 step recovery program designed for artists who have art obsession problems. The cards have testimonials of success from former art obsessives who are now clean and living up the good life back in the cradle of society. ‘My name is Susan and I’m a conceptual artist.’, reads one card. ‘That was 3 years ago. Thanks to AAA, Susan is clean today and working as a librarian In Berkeley, California. She’s married and enjoys swimming, surfing and sailing.’ There are 12 cards I all with stories from museum trustees to art critics to art collectors. ‘Depend on the service that thousands of other addicts depend on!’

Bilder Von Der Strabe, die cut cover made from colorful hand made paper. Published by Edition Fricke & Schmid in 1994. This is a book of discarded photos that have been scuffed, torn, rained on, and generally abused. Literally these are Pictures from the Street.

Kunst Gegen Essen, published by Edition Fricke & Schmid in 1996 is one of the more curious and experimental in that it is a book of layout diagrams printed on each page but the photos are all enclosed in a glassine envelope at the back of the book. Like old stamp collector books, the images need to be matched to their corresponding page.

Very Miscellaneous, published by Photoworks in 1997 is slightly different from Schmid’s other projects. This one entailed him ‘completing’ the book’s content by photographing pages of text with very shallow focus to emphasize certain words or a sentence. The photographs were culled from an archive of a photographer named George Garland who photographed people living in and around Petworth, a small village in West Sussex. The texts are from local newspapers and were photographed in a way so as to convey a sense of ‘fading memories.’ The title comes from an ID label that was on the box in George Garland's archive that contained these photographs. This project was commissioned and edited by Val Williams and was part of a larger project called Country Life.

Sinterklaas Zeit Alles / Sinterklaas Sees All Published by the Nederlands Foto Instituut, Rotterdam in 1998 is a set of 180 index cards in a cardboard box that feature found images and newspaper photos with short texts. The images and texts serve as a barrage of modern life presented in an unstructured way that ‘echoes the nature of the urban, pedestrian experience, functioning as a collage of random encounters linked by geography and time, yet otherwise unrelated.’As Schmid mentions in his description of the work, the title unintentionally seems to allude to Big Brother.

The Face in the Desert was a commission by the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television in England in 1998. It was a public art installation of portraits and stories from the archives of the Daily Herald newspaper. The portraits are culled from personal family albums that were requested by the newspaper to run alongside a human interest story that features the subject of the portrait. The photographs exhibited are the re-photographed newspaper versions that were often retouched and cropped in extreme ways. A thin booklet explaining the project was published and a larger newspaper style full color booklet was given out for free in the subway in central Bradford where the installation took place.

Joachim Schmid Photoworks 1982 - 2002 published by Do Trinque. 1000 copies. Number 10 in a series of small catalogs of the work of contemporary artists. They are like mini-mini retrospective catalogs.

Belo Horizonte, Praca Rui Barbosa, published by Joachim Schmid 2002 is a small book of color portraits of Brazilians made for ID purposes by photographers for hire who occupy the local square of Belo Horizonte. After taking the picture and making the print for the customer, the negatives are discarded.

Retratos Decisivos (Decisive Portraits) 2004. This is a small booklet of portraits Schmid found through the George Garland archive (see Very Miscellaneous). The subjects here are of African American soldiers from the 9th Army Air Corps that were stationed in England prior to debarking for the D-Day invasion of occupied France. Installed in Spain, the installation took on further significance due to the US war against Iraq and the commuter rail bombings that took place in Spain in 2004.

A Meeting on Holiday is a set of uncut but hole-punched postcards featuring images of couples on vacation. Taken in restaurants and on beaches or lounging by the pool, they hint at being perfect romantic moments. Postcard poetry of tourist expectations. The uniformity of the visions of what we perceive as relaxing and romantic are under examination here. Romantic moments of course far from our real lives and for the cynical, moments that would last for only a few moments. Meeting on Holiday refers not only to the meeting of couples but to meeting that stereotypical idea of romance and the brief passage of that moment. Published by NEROC’VGM in 2004. NEROC’VGM is a marketing communications company that produces brochures and billboards. This book was inspired by Neckermann travel brochures produced by NEROC’VGM. It comes housed in a plastic rigid slipcase.

Tausend Himmel Published by The Photographer’s Gallery 2007 may be the first project by Schmid which is entirely his own photography. Made to help him deal with a hearing condition called hyperacusis which is when the tolerance for everyday sound collapses, rendering most normally ignorable sounds as unpleasantly loud. For this project, whenever Schmid heard a helicopter flying by, he took photos looking up at the sky. The resulting clouds, skies and helicopter photos are as Schmid puts it, ‘photographs of sounds.’

Schmid’s work invites a very interesting question. With all of the images that exist, is their continued proliferation necessary especially in a time now where cell phones now have cameras? We are producing more images than ever, could the reliance on images and visual material alter our vocabularies and evolution of our ways of communication? In a way, Schmid was being a bit tongue in cheek when he requested a stop of production of photographs until we have used the ones we have already made but then again was it? Is this all just one more metaphoric example of how we do things compulsively and fill our lives with objects that we tend to store away and ignore until we decide to clean house? So the next time you aim the cell phone camera or put the Leica to your eye, consider what it is that you are bringing into this world. Is it necessary? Will you love it and take care of it? Or will they fall into the hands of others to see what we can no longer see?

Buy online at Steidlville