30 YEARS OF PHOTOGRAPHY IN THE SPACE OF TIME

The Art of Chronism

“It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place,” warns the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass”. The motifs in front of the time-slit camera of the artist couple KOSCHIES must also move at a fast pace.  Objects too slow or motionless leave nothing but horizontal stripes in their pictures. The omnipresent pressure of time to which modern mankind is subjected, immediately suggests itself as an association with KOSCHIES’ early black and white photographic art. 

I discovered their cycle “THE HUMAN RACE” in July 2011, when Axel and Birgit Koschies presented their works in a Potsdam exhibition. The series, which began in 1990 in collaboration with the Berlin-based performance artist Käthe Be, had already been shown in 2009 during the course of a solo exhibition at the Potsdam Academy for Film and Television. 

PONTIUS & PILATUS, 2004

I was particularly taken with one of the long, narrow black-and-white pictures reminiscent of film strips, which has since been hanging in my office: “PONTIUS & PILATUS” from 2004. A man in a top hat rushes to the left edge of the picture with flying tailcoats, followed by his shadow. Behind him his spitting image, but this one with a shadow cast “wrongly”. This irritates and fascinates, because digital manipulation is by no means involved.

The Representation of Time in Space

How can we visually represent space and time, make it perceptible in new ways? the artist couple asked themselves and thus broke away from the usual methods of photography or film 30 years ago. Since 1990, the two have been working with time-slit cameras; cameras without a shutter, only a permanently opened, extremely narrow slit. A continuous image is created on the film constantly rolling past behind it, flowing from left to right. In the photographic result we are able to perceive which movements took place in front of the cameras slit during the time of recording. 

It is not possible to control the shots of a time-slit camera as with a “regular” camera. For an artistically satisfying result, therefore, in addition to careful preparation, many trials are necessary, no matter how perfectly KOSCHIES master their tools through extensive praxis. 

Over the years the artist couple developed a working method rather characteristic for film – due to their special recording technique. However, despite script and elaborate planning, surprises occur time and time again. And it is precisely this unpredictability that appeals to the couple, as it ensures a constant expansion of their artistic spectrum. 

To comprehend the merging of the temporal and spatial axis in a single picture poses a great challenge. Since we have grown accustomed to a certain way of seeing, it is difficult to understand that here the temporal sequence is being captured within space. 

From Black and White to Colour

For twenty years KOSCHIES had worked with analogue time-slit cameras and a special black and white negative film. The coarse-grained images radiate the aura of archaic camera technology and at the same time captivate through the mysterious, almost unfathomable nature of this distinctive recording mechanism. 

In 2010 the artist couple began experimenting with colour and switched to digital recording technology. The digital time-slit camera works in principle like its analogue counterpart, except that behind the permanent opened slit, the image is now as continually recorded digitally as before been on film material. “In addition to the aspect of colourfulness, we have since been able to create more detailed images,” says the artist duo KOSCHIES. “The portability of the digital camera also enabled us to take chronistic shots of nature for the very first time”. 

For their colour series “RUNNING DIRECTION” from 2011/ 2012, the couple sent fourteen directors such as Andreas Dresen, Dani Levy, Pola Schirin Beck, Strawalde, Volker Schlöndorff or Yasemin Șamdereli into their timespace. The results are strange and dynamic pictures, which transfer the philosophy of time and space into poetic photo painting. 

KOSCHIES have been working on portraits since 2015 already, and with the series “SURFACES” they are currently presenting a further stage in their artistic work. 

FUTUR 2 (Yasemin Șamdereli), 2011

In the history of painting, drawing, sculpture or later in photography, people have always tried to capture a person’s essence in a portrait. However, creating a static image of a person does not do justice to the multi-layered appearance of the human being.

The “SURFACES” are a creed for an art of portraiture that breaks up representational conventions in the depiction of the head and in doing so reveals through essential alienations. In questioning traditional representations of the human face, they refer to influences from artists such as Picasso, Francis Bacon or Fiona Tan.

But whether painted, shaped or filmed, the decisive factor in portraying a person is always the perception of one’s own, i.e. that of the person creating, depicting and their perspective, which consciously or unconsciously aims to direct the gaze towards the seemingly essential.

KOSCHIES seek for a different approach. With their cycle “SURFACES” they transform the views of human heads into a flowing matter, which initially causes confusion and often even disturbance among the viewers. At first glance, the depicted faces appear distorted, they evoke associations of moulting and, precisely for this reason, emanate a particular vulnerability. 

While we instinctively try to decipher the depictions and bring them into harmony with our own world of perception and experience, the “SURFACES” release irritating sensations. They arouse curiosity and polarise, they appeal or repel. In any case, they allow for a completely novel view of the person portrayed. The photographs taken with the time-slit camera provide a 360°-view of the model photographed; emotional alterations during the thirty seconds in which the exposure took place are cartographed. 

IASON, 2018

Whereas in painting as in photography, a picture is usually already created in the head of the artist and subsequently transferred to a surface, KOSCHIES allow themselves to be surprised. For the artist couple, these portraits are a way to approximate the mystery of the human being. The current cycle “SURFACES” represents a new, important phase in the artistic work they have been developing independently of contemporary artistic currents for three decades, while maintain to constantly employ new ideas. 

 

Constanze Suhr