Dialogue on the visual art in Leadership Log #9 between Christof Salzmann and Philipp N. Hertel.
HERTEL As an alert recipient one might ask the question why, in volume 9 of the Leadership Log, we find photographs (besides the editorial portraits). Christof, in your artistic career you have been involved with archival practice for a long time. What is your relationship to photography and how does it fit into this issue?
SALZMANN Since the end of the 19th century, photography has been a recognised method in archiving to produce as accurate a picture as possible of historical developments and situations. For a long time, the idea prevailed that what was depicted corresponded to what had happened historically. In this context, photographs were understood as contemporary historical documents. For a long time, photography was associated with archives as an attempt to reduce complexity and to experience and cope with contingencies. Historical developments were to be meaningfully linked by means of individual snapshots. With each shot, photographers and archivists tried to create a meaningful picture of the world in the truest sense of the word, in order to understand larger, complex historical contexts and to risk an objective view of "reality".
Today, we are aware that, with every shot (as the photographer's subjective view of reality), the degree of complexity increases. By selecting and capturing a section of the world, we simultaneously increase the number of possible variants of interpretation and interpretation. In principle, every photograph raises more questions than it is able to answer. And this is exactly what an archive lives from.
At the same time, the ever-increasing flood of digital images makes it clear that what we depict is only one aspect of reality. In every photograph, we assure ourselves that what we have experienced really did happen - but we increasingly realise that a different (camera) perspective and an alternative image section would tell a completely different "story".
In this respect, photography and archiving share the same absurd fate: the more we strive to reduce complexity and contingency by technical means, the more the degree of complexity increases and the more we become aware that some things could have happened quite differently.
Against this background, it becomes clear that so-called "documentary photography" has its justification, but must be treated with caution with its claim to comprehensively depict reality. I favour subjective photography with a documentary claim, which makes it clear that it is aware of its "vagueness". And in the same way the selected photographs have found their way into the current issue.
HERTEL Do we actually both share a preference for a humanistic message in our work, I wonder. How is it that your photos hardly ever depict people, and especially not the ones in this publication?
SALZMANN As far as the "humanistic message" is concerned, I agree with you, but if we continue to use this term, we might have to clarify more precisely what we mean by it in each case. It is clear to me, however, that I do not consider myself a representative of "humanistic photography". I do not even consider myself a photographer. The fact that I usually refrain from depicting people in my photographs has to do with our viewing habits. When people act in a picture, the viewer's gaze automatically focuses on the "scope of action" of the people in the picture. I prefer images that show an environment that is based on human attitudes and behaviour, but without demonstrating this in an exemplary way using people. I concentrate on the documentation of general social conditions - this includes a commentary of social, (inter-)cultural, historical, economic conditions through the picture.
HERTEL We could speak here of an action maxim that recognises and even promotes the cultural diversity and complex personality structure of an individual - also in the work context and the associated value-added chains. You have already dealt with a work ethic in your work on several occasions.
Having grasped the thematic core of this issue (see p.30) and thus laid the foundation for visual expression, we have often sketched large and small gestures independently of the actual medium. What does the medium and the periphery here actually mean to you?
SALZMANN I understand the edition as a classic format that is comparable to an exhibition. The photographs are integrated into the issue as an independent contribution in a clearly outlined thematic field. This becomes especially clear in your design of the issue. The different framing lines give the individual photographs a classic and autonomous expressiveness - it becomes absolutely clear that this is neither an illustrative article nor travel or reportage photography. The arrangement of the individual photographs on each page also makes them stand out as an artistic contribution that takes up the thematic content, deepens it or (ironically) reflects it.
I appreciate the so-called periphery because in these remote regions, social phenomena that tend to disappear in global centers due to complex social conditions become more visible. In the context of this issue, with the “interculturality”, for example, this becomes apparent: If the only Chinese restaurant in a remote small town in Upper Swabia bears the presumptuous name "Chinatown", different cultural stereotypes can be read from it. On the one hand, one can, of course, ask oneself to which (petty-bourgeois) Swabian ideas the owner of the restaurant appeals, on the other hand, the interior decoration of the restaurant corresponds to the decades-long traditional western view of what an authentic Chinese restaurant in the "Chinatowns" of this world should look like: Red lanterns, reddish wood panelling, brightly illuminated murals ... You remarked in a preliminary talk that the ironic break in the photograph consists mainly in the small signpost attached to the wall of the house. The geographical distance between "Chinatown" and "Kirchplatz" is very small in such a small town on the periphery, yet the cultural images one takes of others and their real conditions are still worlds apart.
HERTEL I find the renaissance of traditional artistic design based on double pages remarkable in this context, especially the culture of zines, which has experienced a new hype in many European countries for some years now.
The graphic and typographical characteristics of this special edition are based - due to the extended artistic playground and created by your artistic intervention - on several derivations or transfers, which I have repeatedly compared with the cosmos of content. The picture frames with the exaggerated bold-fine contrast are a direct derivation of the essential characteristic of classicist fonts (the extreme alternation) and were introduced in particular by Giambattista Bodoni, the most influential stamp cutter in this profession, in his Manuale Tipografico. Why do I refer to classicism here with (in Bodoni's staging) ? Because, contrary to the perception of that time as well as of today, classicism actually delivered a humanistic message in its design, i.e., it did not stand for wealth and luxury, but rather for joie de vivre, efficiency (especially perfection) and education (writing comes from writing - this is very impressively seen in the italic forms). For me personally a visual connection to the message of the "Manifesto" on a meta-level.
There is one last question I can't resist asking, Christof: While working on this edition, did you develop any meta levels for yourself and possibly also for the readers?
SALZMANN The various meta levels become clear to me in our way of working. We have deliberately refrained from illustrating the discourse described in the "Manifesto" by means of photographs of the different working conditions in globally active production facilities. The chosen approach of developing a more open narrative structure with just a few photographs taken in a rather familiar environment (small town), which nevertheless explicitly refer to different aspects of the discourse, seems to me to be more productive, as I am convinced that this will result in more diverse approaches to the different topics for the readers.