Thursday, June 07, 2012

Flåming by Hans-Christian Schink

Flåming by Hans-Christian Schink (SuperLabo, 2012) is a interesting little book. When I first began looking at it, I was quick to dismiss it. I must confess, I am still not entirely convinced. The photographs all document the German town of Flåming in classic deadpan German topographic style. The Leipzig-based Schink's work has always dealt with the tensions between the man-made world and nature – be it the Autobahn in Germany, temples in Vietnam or the ancient city of Machu Pichu – and this work is no exception. Quiet and unassuming, Flåming grapples with the way history in inscribed within the landscape and buildings of a traditional German town.

Named after the Dutch settlers who populated the area, the town of Flåming has a curious history that is recounted in the book's essay by renown curator Thomas Weski. Shot in the late 90s, the book only contains 26 images, but offers a intriguing portrait of the town. Like much German topographic work, each image is meticulously constructed, shot with the same flat grey sky and from the same vantage point. While all the pictures are similar, a closer look uncovers interesting details. Subtle architectural details reveal layers of history – the past quietly meshing with the present. A ancient stone facade sits next to a freshly painted house with a satellite dish. A historic farm house rubs shoulders with a modern white tent. As the book moves through the town, we slowly find our way past some grazing cows and out into the surrounding fields.

© Hans-Christian Schink and SuperLabo

While the work is strong, I can't look at it and help feel like I've seen it before. With certain exceptions, like his series 1h, which recalls the work of Chris McCaw, the majority of Schnik's work fits comfortably within the tradition of German photography from the late 20th century (i.e., Struth, Hütte, Ruff, Gursky, Hofer etc..). Perhaps a little too comfortably. I admit this is unfair and I should not dismissively lump him together with his colleagues so readily. It does a disservice to the variation in Schink's work, but also to his colleagues. Schink is well-known and respected in his native Germany, and deservedly so. In some ways, his work suffers in comparison to his more famous colleagues, simply because they are so well known outside Germany and have been so exhaustively exhibited over the past twenty years. Then again, I think I just have a Düsseldorf hang-over.

© Hans-Christian Schink and SuperLabo

As a side note, it is worth noting that there is not single person in all of Schink's photographs. It is not uncommon for photographers to shot unpopulated scenes or to wait until people have left the scene, but it creates a curious effect. It lends the work an eerie, post-apocalyptic quality. Perhaps the images were all shot early Sunday morning or some town ordinance has inadvertently created this effect, but there is not even a single car to be seen, let alone a person. People may have left traces of their presence in the freshly painted houses, satellite dishes and telephone poles, but everyone has vanished – only the cows remain.

Thinking about this strange effect, I was reminded of an excellent essay by Walead Beshty, "The City Without Qualities: Photography, Cinema and the Post-Apocalyptic Ruin," that originally appeared in the first issue of Influence Magazine in 2004 (You can read the essay here. The essay begins on the lower portion of the second page). Any essay that can weave together Ed Ruscha, Dawn of Dead, The Omega Man and Stephen Shore is worth reading.

SuperLabo is a relatively new publisher and over the past two years they have been putting out some great books by John Gossage, Todd Hido, Daido Moriyama, Jim Goldberg and others. Flåming is nice addition to their catalog.

© Hans-Christian Schink and SuperLabo

You can get the book here and here.