Books Made Me
by Thomas Seelig
Curator at Fotomuseum Winterthur
Ahnung, Volker Heinze (1989) / Guide to Nature, Cor Dera (2000) / I’m So Happy, Carole Kismaric & Marvin Heifermann (1990)
I first saw this publication by Volker Heinze in my first years of studying photography at Fachhochschule Bielefeld. At that time I was still considering working as a ‘photojournalist’ in the future. Things turned out differently and Ahnung gave me a very straightforward idea about the actual potential of photography beyond the documentary. It was most striking for me to learn that a photographic image could say even more when you hid things, blurred details or burnt out part of the image. Heinze succeeds again and again at making books that are powerful artistic objects. In my opinion he is one of the best contemporary photo book artists in Germany.
The photographic work of Dutch artist Cor Dera was – after Lawler, Levine and Sherman – my first European encounter with ‘Appropriation Art’ during the early 1990s. Dera combined his own desire for beauty and that of the viewers’ with a very clear working method: cut out pages you like from coffee table books, glue them onto a wooden board, and arrange them in thematic lines and blocks. In his surprising Guide to Nature he turned his simple idea upside down by adding only a few pages (printed in green) to the front and back section of the book. This turned a normal 580 page nature-book into a clever and still affordable piece of appropriation art.
When the celebration of artistic authorship reached its peak at the beginning of the 1990s, the compilation I’m So Happy was a relief for every photography student and wannabe-artist. Kismaric and Heiferman had found a light and funny way of explaining the world through anonymous photographic images, taken from various sources. Until then, photographs from picture agencies and archives were ignored by many people in the publishing world. Kismaric and Heiferman’s nonchalant and yet precise treatment of the medium was an eye-opener for me and changed my professional photographic perspective. Needless to say that I am not working as a photographer any more today, but I do enjoy and support the medium as a curator!