Reif (Ripe) – Text by Michael Freitag

“There is no meaning behind the image, there is just the image.” (George Simmel)

Göran Gnaudschun shows us faces. They are photographed frontally, filling the format and at a comparable distance to the camera. We see them bathed in a soft, undramatic light with no shadows. They are not smiling, or posing. The setting is quiet, but not studio neutral, and is not characterized by any specific milieu or genre. The dominating elements here are the eyes and the calm, candid, almost expectant expressions. Everything seems strangely accidental especially because they are untitled — the portraits are not called Svenny, Christine and Maik. And yet the faces are not at all anonymous, because there seems to be some agreement between the photographer’s imperceptible efforts and his subjects to not pretend. Both try to maintain their identity in a strange, quiet, mutual self-control. The eyes in front of and behind the camera lens seem to be in tune with the differences of perspective. Everything that might reveal some information or could overstep the concentrated moment is avoided so the faces can shine for themselves alone or beyond. The face becomes a countenance and the countenance a portrait. The portrait, the appearance, makes up for the difference between form and pictorial form and this is due to the abstraction of a concrete order of emotional expression. Göran Gnaudschun’s works deal with the unaffected subjects’ facial expressions and also with an introspection for the most part in the pictorial order of the expression of dignity. The question of what can be seen there also logically precipitates the more urgent question of what cannot be seen. To measure that, one just has to become aware of the immense danger lurking in this theme: that childhood pain can become emphasized, creating metaphors of loss or attributes of being lost, and that this might stimulate the sensitivity channels of the public. One could start thinking about what is politically correct, (something not at all found in the faces — what these depict far more is the physiognomy of a society) in order to ennoble the photographs alone as objects and in this way, make them tangible, a heroification of human vulnerability, worthy of being elevated to the level of a reporting of the sensitization of guilt.

Göran Gnaudschun has avoided all of this, and we are thankful to him for it. He has not alienated the faces by demonstrating a concept, and not by individualizing the power of detail, the power of the pore or the power of the freckle. He also has not monumentalized these aspects, as Thomas Ruff does in his series of close-ups of heads that, with their appropriated majestic poses, look successful to the viewer. There is nothing of that here. Gnaudschun’s photos live from these omissions and missing bits, from a phantom pain, an availability of possibilities. These portraits fascinate me because they completely knock me off balance. Because they never really let me know much about the level of encounter between motif and image I am facing. Gnaudschun is right in the middle of one of the most unsolvable problems of portrait photography. The French sociologist Roland Barthes describes it in this way, “In front of the camera, I am who I believe I am, who I want to be and he who utilizes himself in order to display his ability.” Gnaudschun’s ability comes from his ability, in this sense, to actually not want to demonstrate it and as we have seen, to not want to exploit the motif. It is as if he has suppressed the last two points Barthes makes, and as if the portraits in their reserve and urgency should say: I am not my image and my image is not me. Or even: I am not my face and my face is not me. Or even harder: I am not my image even if my self is an image.

The emotional quality of these photographs comes from these silent statements, the declaration of the self as image. They lead me directly back to myself as the viewer, because they include me in the experience of constant conveyor of our ideas of reality. And if that works, it is due to art, as silently as she may sometimes tread.


Michael Freitag