Die Böhm. A Project.

Die Böhm. A Project.
Photonews/Hamburg, 3.2003

BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER When the mail is littered with reminders and leaflets and not with the letter of a friend I’ve been waiting for, when I’m in a bad mood or “down and out”, then Frau Böhm comes flying into my flat, bridging the troubled water, then I clear my armchair for the lovable girl friend, make coffee, put a record on, and delve into the latest episodes.
With bated breath I take part in the inner dialogue of Frau Böhm, her changing monologues, her debates, presenting and confronting me with various blueprints. Sometimes her tales are full of ruptures, sometimes different levels of time and reality blend nicely into each other. These are whole bundles of stories, presented in an economic and laconic style, peppered with the unexpected. Using very few metaphors Frau Böhm describes complex situations and makes the world her own, makes statements as to its conditions and that of the human existence. I let myself be seduced by her stories with their subtle sense of humour which sometimes changes to a half severe case of melancholia. They have prosaic titles like Body and Soul, Paris etc. or Heroes and Demigods.

Frau Böhm delivers marginal notes, passing remarks as well as precise statements. She successively creates a present world of things and beings where is viewer is asked to constantly speculate upon the situations he encounters.
It is difficult to establish fixed criteria of order for all the different statements which have build up in the course of time. Im there is continuity within Frau Böhm then it consists of the tensions, ruptures and hooks. Diving into them at any point shows how varied these statements are: slices of cheese in polythene sheets, soccer grounds, backyards, misty meadows, miniature golf courses, park benches, practise rooms of chiropractors, motorway churches, interiors of hotel rooms, idyllic American suburbs, high rise residential blocks in Berlin, people waiting in the arrival hall of an airport, people looking at an empty projection wall, stone-faced policeman at a barricaded crossing; hockey playing youths in the twilight of a Paris suburb, masses of people at beaches freezing to abstract patterns of points.

THE MAN COMES AROUND Frau Böhm goes into the kitchen (“Schöner Kochen”) leaving the recipe behind, but she also likes to leave her kitchen. From Warendorf to New York, from Cannes to Chicago and back to Düsseldorf – that woman’s been around quite a bit.

Only too bad that she is not the next door neighbour, calling on me an telling me about her journeys. She does not come around in an apron but in a clear plastic envelope. Frau Böhm – meanwhile only Die Böhm – is the name of a magazine and is published by Oliver Sieber and Katja Stuke. It is a product in an exclusive outfit, delightfully designed, comes in a limited edition sheltered by plastic – an object of the collector’s desire? With tongue in cheek the numbering turns into an ironic gesture towards the prevailing mechanisms of the art world.

Art magazine, portfolio for photographic art – how should one define Die Böhm? The name, suggesting a conspiratory nearness to the reader, wants me to think of the term fanzine. Nearness is a basic characteristic of the fanzine and it is one of the main principles of Stuke and Sieber. The makers of fanzines devote themselves to commenting on their own role as a consumer and take the insider position of the enthusiastic cultural consumer. “I am the target group” could be the guiding line for both publishers. Fanzines organise themselves, they are non commercial, and they are linked to a certain scene. This spirit is shared by Die Böhm. A small edition is aimed at a small circle of friends and interested parties.

Their main motive is their enthusiasm in always trying new things. Each individual issue bristles with formal and substantial experiments. Die selections of the contributions is the result of a democratic process, the various works can be connected to their respective creator.

In poignant as well as seemingly incidental pictures the duo evokes the world they experience and with cool stubbornness informs us of their relevance. Sometimes aesthetic references and influences crop up. Sieber and Stuke are well aware of the framework of the medium of photography – and of the medium in which they present these things – and provide us with different strategies and varieties between the antipodes of f.i. strict documentary and storytelling, of minimalist portrait and film making. The thinking viewer is challenged to become an expert, but one can enjoy the magazine without being a specialist. Drift through the pages, let your eyes travel, embark on flights of imagination!

FIRST TIME EVER I SAW YOUR FACE In Photonews 4/2000 Oliver Sieber was extensively portrayed by his series “skinsmodsteds”. Katja Stuke is a freelance graphic designer and o,a. created the design for the German feminist magazine Emma. She also works in photography and video and was in 2002 rewarded with the European Award for Women Photography. They live together in Düsseldorf. Since 1999 Die Böhm has been a channeling of their numerous ideas and activities. Prior to this they discussed how the actual “state of the art” could be communicated to the outside world. Which technical requirements are needed to produce a magazine with a good picture quality. How is distribution organised? Die Böhm is a fotozine in DINA4-format with a sparse selection of photos and an extremely pleasing, unobtrusive layout. The magazine which is published every three months is printed screenless in a limited edition of 35 issues on their personal colour printer. Sometimes gimmicks are attached like a pocket calendar or an ordering form for T-Shirts.

Naturally this small edition is sold out quite fast and often one or two editions are produced, but that´s it then. This has been working for 17 issues now and probably has to do with the fact that Stuke and Sieber do not depend on outside distribution. Die Böhm can be found in selected book shops, it can be ordered via the internet, al lot of this works through personal contact. So don’t be surprised if you are at some event and get to know a couple which at some point during the evening presents you with a magazine. It was like that when the author met Die Böhm for the first time. I saw into her face….and wanted more. The concept of bold self-organisation, of the mediation and of the teamwork impressed at the first glance.

I’M SO LONESOME I COULD CRY Now I can call myself a member of the Böhm community and do not only get the latest issue, but get a lot of electronic mail from her as well. Offers and invitations to her openings, parties, video evenings which sometimes happen at “non artistic” places in Düsseldorf or sometimes in the private atmosphere of the own studio. The former “project in magazine format” has in the latest issues simply become “a project”. By abandoning the somewhat wooden subtitle Stuke und Sieber acknowledge the fact that numerous activities have been added which form the overall concept of Die Böhm: Release parties, internet appearances, exhibitions, studio talks, photo editions….something is growing here in a small place and it is still getting better. Direct Contact is still one of the important aspects of the project. It is no coincidence that issue 13/Instantböhm collects photos of friends and acquaintances, whose pictures had been taken during a “production party” with a passport photo camera.

Let other photographers moan about not being recognized, not getting enough work and not enough exhibitions, Stuke and Sieber never retreat to their ivory studio. They remain unimpressed and keep stoically to their original concept of mediation. That in doing so they get more and more invitations from curators and gallery owners to present Die Böhm in various forms, is a pleasant, but certainly unintentional effect.

IN MY LIFE I like to describe it this way: this here is a fan writing a fan´s review about a fanzine. I have always treasured fanzine articles as an expression of very personal descriptions of life, when football fans write about the devastating feeling after a bitter away-defeat of their team or when music fans celebrate the latest disc of one of their idols and combine it very subjective comments based on their personal experiences. Compared to this Die Böhm is communicator and reporter of life as well, photos not words being the statements, praises, polemics and analyses. By looking at them the viewer learns a lot about the producers, the prevailing topics, influences and developments.

While I write these lines the latest great Johnny Cash-records plays in the background, the one from which I have lifted the different headings, and I spread all the Böhm issues on the floor. And while I am still thinking of how to end this article, something happens. The spread photos start to talk with each other, drown out the music. I am being dragged in a turmoil of associations, start to contrast and to link them. Certain lines of narrative erupt for a moment, make themselves heard and then retreat, making place for other images. Pictures who were thought to be only extras at first, step out and with loud voices claim a leading role; works that do not belong together find that they have something in common after all, others engage in a noisy dispute. A reservoir of images waiting for someone to stick to them, rearrange them and fill them with meaning. What a splendid variety! In my life Die Böhm becomes a magazine with a very long half-life period, combining how long I keep it and how long I open it. She has become a part of my life. But no, that sounds too pathetic. Lets say Die Böhm has taken over some space on my book shelf. But I’m a fan, so I should be forgiven some unashamed worshipping (see also Johnny Cash). Maybe we´ll meet at one of those “unartistic” places and maybe you will join us. Peter Lindhorst