press release

Between 2 April and 21 May 2005 the Fabian & Claude Walter Gallery in Zurich will be showing photographs by the German artist Sonja Braas, born in Siegen in 1968 and now living in New York. Works by the Zurich photo artist Istvan Balogh (*1962) will be exhibited over the same period in a sideshow in the rear section of the gallery. At first glance, the two artists’ positions could not seem more different. Braas’ views of ostensibly intact winter landscapes contrast sharply with Istvan Balogh’s photographs, which can instantly be identified as arranged tableaus of unreal human situations. Yet on closer examination, parallels and commonalities between the two bodies of work become apparent. In different ways, both of them build on similar achievements and possibilities of contemporary photographic art, while simultaneously exposing them to critical examination.

In her photographic series FORCES, Sonja Braas shows the force of nature – wild, untamed, untouched by civilisation. Towering thunderclouds, mountain ranges reaching high into the sky, eternal snowfields: the camera finds itself amidst these overwhelming scenarios, apparently detached from the photographer’s hand, in absolute negation of human presence. It is as if these monumental photographs seek to correspond to a Romantic concept of nature and when looking at them we certainly sense something of the sublime quality the Romantics considered nature to possess.

Yet the artist is deceiving us, pushing that Romantic view of nature to an absurd conclusion. While approximately half the photographs were taken outdoors, the others show landscapes that were meticulously arranged in the studio and were then photographed there. The traditional understanding of photography as a documentary medium that represents reality and the concept of a staged, manipulated art that has developed in the age of digital photography both find their expression in FORCES, while the contrasts between those two poles are simultaneously diminished. The manipulated photographs unmask the image of intact nature as a deception and so it simultaneously becomes clear that every so-called documentary photograph - and ultimately every image that human beings have of nature - is manipulated in the sense that it is founded on personal assumptions and expectations. The Romantic vision of a primaeval nature untouched by human civilisation is shown to be a utopia.

By the reverse token, Istvan Balogh’s disturbing images cannot be denied a documentary aspect. His mostly analogue photographs represent a real situation that he has created scenographically, as if he were a film director, and to which he has added unreal elements. The narrative structure of Balogh’s photographs makes us try to remember corresponding situations and to connect the scene with circumstances that we have experienced personally or at least indirectly. At this point an unbridgeable gap opens up in the narrative structure; we find ourselves unable to link the fictional scene with actual events. The picture of the woman with a cello case is a fairly ordinary one, but the mask on the musician’s face creates uncertainty, defies categorisation. Is the woman a spy? Is she a criminal or even a terrorist? And what does the apparently harmless cello case contain? We perceive the woman as being real und yet she does not fit in with our image of reality; she is disturbing, unsettling.

Istvan Balogh’s photographic works lie at the threshold between reality and unreality. Like Sonja Braas’ staged landscapes, they question the human eye’s capacity to transmit objective reality.


Sonja Braas - FORCES
Sideshow: Istvan Balogh - THRESHOLDS AND GAPS