Janko Woltersmann


The thinking man does not use one light too many, one piece of bread too many, one idea too many.
Mr. K.

Perhaps it is infinitely easier than we thought. Photography, that is. One look, one picture, one print, but of course. And then all the other things. Nevertheless, it continues to occupy our thoughts. This may have something to do with the fact that the print was made in a matter of seconds at one time or other, it escaped our control after a while, and it can unexpectedly wake something in us that we had long forgotten. We know that it is somewhere, this image within us.

Books have been written, theories have been developed, and university chairs have been established in order to investigate the nature of photography. Today, since everything appears to have been said and digital technology has banished ideas about the nature of photography, we would like to once again look and study and marvel without reservations like we did once before. But we have grown up over the years. Especially now, in an age free of ideology, in which people want to comprehend the world not in pictures but as a picture, as W. J. T. Mitchell says. It seems as if we can once again relax.

Let’s be honest. Talking about photography also means thinking about ourselves and the album of our life. About the fascination and much-quoted problem of the surface. It means arguing about lies and truth. And contemplating things that are no longer there. Photography is inscribed within a moment of irretrievable loss, melancholy, and sorrow from the very beginning, Holger Liebs once said. But this is only partly true. No less astonishing is the moment of internal conservation. What it means, for example, to know that the millions of pictures we have seen are stored within us and that our consciousness has only fleeting access to them. The eye has grown tired and now and then wants to see again. It is waiting for fresh things to see: instant.…

The pictures in this book make no secret of this. Even the title says what awaits us: instant places. A somewhat thin-lipped promise for an attempt to read the tea leaves of our visual memory. It doesn’t help that everything has already been there before. Insatiable samples of a term: ˈinstənt. immediate, instantaneous, on-the-spot, prompt, swift, speedy, rapid, quick, express, lightning; sudden, precipitate, abrupt; informal snappy, pretty damn quick, PDQ, delayed, preprepared, precooked, ready-made, ready-mixed, heat-and-serve, fast, microwaveable; come here this instant! moment, minute, second; juncture, point; it all happened in an instant, moment, minute, trice, (split) second, wink/blink/twinkling of an eye, flash, no time (at all), heartbeat; informal: sec, jiffy, jiff, snap....

Whoever ponders these implications will come astonishingly close to the paradoxical nature of photography in this book. Nothing begins at zero, they postulate in their entirety, not even the captured moment, as fresh and as uninhibited as it appears to us. The message is clear: instant products for our eyes. In no way, however, is this a reason for melancholy. Pictures just no longer have to be found and invented. Look, everything has been done before. And we have another reason why we should relax.

Janko Woltersmann is not a melancholy person. Asked about his motivation for making the pictures in this book, he answers somewhat hesitantly that the decision was prompted by a rather archaic impulse. Like Garry Winogrand, he wanted to take pictures to find out what things looked like when they were photographed. Since the subjects he found were, however, already stored in his visual memory, the project was for him something of a balancing act. He emphasizes that the Polaroid camera proved to be an effective instrument for examining his subjects. He feels a special connection with the instant pictures and has developed a haptic approach. The pictures that are discharged from the instant camera are only fully developed after a matter of minutes. Based on his own experiments, Janko Woltersmann uses this time to rub the surface of the Polaroid on his thigh. This is more than just a technical procedure, for the pictures created in this way have colors that appear both pale and vivid at the same time. It seems as if they have already been filed away in our memory: an empty chair on the beach; a mattress; an electric Christmas tree at the side of the road. The subjects of the pictures in this book appear incidental and almost as if they have withdrawn into themselves and been forgotten. Nevertheless, they too have survived. There is nothing spectacular about them, in fact just the opposite.

Instant places. Over the years, photography has taught us that moments disappear and places remain. Perhaps the pictures in this book show us that moments remain and places disappear. Be that as it may, there is no longer any reason for melancholy.

© Christoph Schaden, 2009

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