The german photography scene is more dispersed than it might seem from the outside. There are no dominant schools, but instead up to twenty departments all over the country that teach photography, and around 40-50 smaller institutions that regularly include photography in shows. There are some photography festivals, but photographers often travel abroad, to the large festivals such as the Rencontres D’Arles to meet and discuss with their peers. Although german photography, especially from a french perspective strikes as succesfull, but also cold, abstract, distanced, there are in fact many different approaches today, and those are often difficult to classify because their connections to schools, institutions, galleries and so on are highly diversified. Because the publishing and distribution environment is still fairly healthy german photographers have been self-publishing books for more than ten years now – mixing personal, expressive, social, political practices.
Oliver Sieber and Katja Stuke have published since the late nineties 50 fanzines called Frau Boehm in three to four numbers per year, in editions of 105 copies, juxtaposing their work, from advance expositions of their longterm series to more playful and experimental, random and diaristic photographs. Popular culture, subculture, usages of the image have been primary subjects of these publications, but the overall practice, from conceiving, printing, distributing these fanzines and celebrating them in smaller or bigger launch events forms a large part of the artist’s lives. Be it that they invite musicians, film-makers, writers, masseurs, other artists and photographers to their events, and create festivals and curate shows themselves, there is an unerring commitment to images and image makers all over the world. Residencies in Canada, Japan, the US, France, etc. have let to new forms of exchange in a global community of image makers.
Oliver Sieber is now best known for his long-term research Imaginary Club that was published in book-form last year (and promptly received the award for the best book of the year by the Paris Photo / Aperture commitee in 2014) and earlier work such as Character Thieves, J-Subs, Skins Mods Teds, all of which is firmly based in the tradition of portrait photography (think August Sander or Edward Curtis) with a strong social undertone.
Katja Stuke’s work, published by Böhm/Kobayashi (Germany), Kodoji (Switzerland) and Fw (Netherlands) has been shown in numerous exhibitions all over the world. The images appear to be at once photographs and film stills, of what would seem at first glance random scenes and anecdotical moments in city life, variations on the somewhat tired style of street photography. But the titles of these series Could Be, Suits, Mechanical Bride, Supernatural introduce the viewer to an elaborate reflection on surfaces, appearances and rare moments of concentration seemingly fleeting in an overcomplex and overdetermined world.
Both photographers have worked together on projects such as O.i.F, photographs of movie locations in the US, a beautiful portfolio at once completely infused by the irreality of movies yet calm and reposed in it’s photographic style, You & Me, ANT!FOTO, and more recently Fax from the Library, now on show at Temple galerie, Paris.
A rumor in their home-town Düsseldorf goes that they met while Katja was distributing her fanzine in the streets, and Oliver photographing bypassers, which I’m sure they’ll heavily disclaim, but I like to think of them that way, artists through a necessity to ceaselessly work with photography and interact with people. They believe that “Photography is too good to be regarded as art only” and it is with this statement in mind that their work is best approached. Sebastian Hau