Excerpt from "Pictures and Images"

Pictures appear on empty walls, only to give way to the next shot after a few moments making visible both the transitoriness and the permanence of photography. Photography records the ephemeral in an ephemeral way; it registers appearances and movements which, in their specific constellations, are non-repetitively past, but, being photographed, are comparable and remain at least as images, preserved for a time from the ultimate death of being forgotten. “Grandma looked like that? … In the end it was not at all (her) that was reproduced but her friend, who looked just like her." 1 That’s how Marilyn Monroe looked at any rate; her name inseparably associated above all with her photographic image that became an icon of the blonde woman. And though all photos betray that the subject, aware of the presence of the camera is therefore posing, they are at the same time the traces of phenomena that today are sometimes no longer known but certainly readable. The fashions of the 1950s and 1960s are currently undergoing revivals, but many gestures could be older and more durable and, though not produced by photography, may nonetheless be conveyed by it. Hahnenkamp contrasts photos of Monroe with amateur shots of an unknown, dark-haired woman that were clearly taken around the same time ("Slide projection 3", 2002, overlapped slide projection). But whereas the photos of the actress became and become icons reproduced many times over, the pictures of her counterpart were only accidentally rescued from the dustbin. Placed thus in pairs, the slides emphasize contingent and involuntary correspondences, from the cigarette in the mundanely angled hand to the mole above the mostly smiling mouth. The two women begin to resemble each other like Kracauer’s grandmother resembles her friend, without one appearing as the model, the other as the imitation, which becomes completely evident in one pair of pictures. In this, Monroe is photographed beside another dark-haired actress, the unknown woman beside a blond friend in such a way that the scenes become interchangeable. Overlapping each other at the borders, the double projections run smoothly into each other, while individual projections accord both women the same status, both as subjects and objects of photography.

Whereas this series of slides still has the charm of snapshots despite all the posing induced by the camera, the traces of an assumed innocence are lost in another pair of projections. Here, side by side are productions of fashion adverts and pornographic magazines, and the interchangeability and similarity between Marilyn Monroe and her counterpart become visible as a methodological basis for pictures of women arrested by photography in staged poses. ("Slide projection 4", 2001, double projection) “In photography, exhibition value begins to push back cult value all along the line. However, the latter does not yield without resistance. It is withdrawing to the last entrenchment, which is the human face… Where the human has been withdrawn from photography is where exhibition value first manifests superior force to cult value.” 2 It is scarcely an accident that the women in both the fashion and pornographic photographs are euphemistically called ‘models’; models that generate photographed images. The retrenchment which Benjamin saw in early portrait photography has long been unavailable, and cults, which sometimes develop around both fashion and pornographic stars, are based on nothing more than the use of their bodies as projection surfaces – nameless faces, with a fixed iconographic repertoire of full, smiling lips, inclined heads, and direct gazes into the camera, look like versions of the same mask. Their bodies look like their own reproductions, carry clothes to the market like a second skin on top of their own. Details that in the first series of slides indicate biography and history here become chance accessories used as a setting.

What does photography mean here? Certainly it is not the idea of true, eternal photography without a context. Maria Hahnenkamp’s works prove that is it not the medium that objectifies, stills, and kills the subject but the gaze, which sees the picture not as a picture to put in place of the subject, a gaze that looks for pictures that dispense unresistingly with their materiality, pictures that do not look back and are not taken aback. The search for the “actual” essence of photography can scarcely do more than reproduce this gaze, and thus fail. It relates to the object of its critique like a negative to a print, like the slide to its illuminated shadow. Instead of this, Hahnenkamp leads photography unobtrusively yet emphatically back to its superficiality and transitoriness and thereby back to its materiality. An alternative or additional picture is imaginable for every one of her pictures, and this in itself reduces the mortifying totality ascribed to photography. In its place, there is at least the possibility of perceiving seeing as an act that creates pictures from representations – in short as an activity in which their limitedness is evident, if not accessible, from a reflection of their conditions.

  1. Siegfried Kracauer: Die Photographie (Photography). In: Das Ornament der Masse, Frankfurt 1963, p. 21f.
  2. Walter Benjamin: Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit (Art Works in the Age of their Technical Reproduceability). In Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. 1, 2, Frankfurt 1991, p. 445.

Friedrich Tietjen

Published in: "Bilder und Nachbilder – Maria Hahnenkamp", Martin Hochleitner, Bernd Schulz (editor)
Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg, 2002

Friedrich Tietjen – born in Leer, Germany, in 1966; lives in Vienna/Maastricht; art historian, critic, journalist; publications on the theory and history of photography, radio and packaging as a commodity; currently a researcher at the Jan van Eyck Academie on photography as a scientific image medium in the 19th century.

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