14 Oct. 2011

Recollection and Redemption / HOSHINO Futoshi

Ricarda Roggan is a photographer who was born in 1972 in Dresden, and who is now working mainly in Leipzig. She has studied photography at the Academy of Visual Arts Leipzig since the mid-1990s, and obtained her master’s degree in 2004 under the direction of Tim Rautert. Her works might evoke an impression of mystery, and the fact that she has studied and worked for a long time in Leipzig might have had an effect on her works. In a sense, it is necessary to reflect on this for situating her photographs in the stream of German contemporary photography.
In 2005, Roggan participated in the collective exhibition, “German Contemporary Photography,” held in The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, and other museums in Japan. Since this exhibition, not only Bernd and Hilla Becher but also the younger generation of German photographers have come to be widely acknowledged by the Japanese audience. The most famous photographers are those belonging to the “Becher School” or “Düsseldorf School” in the former West Germany, and include Andreas Gursky and Tomas Struth; however, there are also excellent photographers who originated in the former East Germany, including Ricarda Roggan.
Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke are well known among the artists who were born in the East and migrated to the West when they grew up. Additionally, artists like Wolfgang Mattheuer and Werner Tübke established the “Leipzig School,” although it is rather less well known than Richter or Polke. We have just begun to discern the artistic creation that flourished in the former East Germany, and the works of Roggan came to us as among those creations that were born there. One of the catalogues of Roggan, Creatures of the 20th Century (2009) reminds us, by its very title, the historical connotation of her works [1].
Roggan’s works allow us to understand how original she is as a photographer. She studied at the Royal College of Art in London from 2003 to 2005 as a DAAD scholarship student, but judging from her sophisticated works of photography, her basic skill as a photographer must have formed in Germany before 2003. Her way of viewing the world seems to be that of a “photographer,” rather than as an “artist,” who might use several media for their work. In this sense, it is true that her works could be situated among so-called German contemporary photography; however, it should also be noted that she has an original style that is different from that of the Düsseldorf School. From Bernd and Hilla Becher to their disciples, the most important and fundamental methodology of the Düsseldorf School is “typology,” whereas Roggan photographs things in a different manner. A good example is a series titled “Garage,” whose object is the car. Each car is photographed with proper concern for lighting and angle, so that they do not constitute any typological catalogue. This fact leads to the following question: how does Roggan reflect on the things or events to be photographed, in order to capture the effects she is trying to achieve?
The title of one catalogue of her works, Paradise of Things, might give us a clue to answer this question. Falk Haberkorn’s essay, whose title is “Paradise of Things” as well, suggests that photography is believed to have the power to give automatic equality to its objects [2]. It does not catch anything but the surface of the objects. In other words, the history of each object is reduced to the ephemeral trace of light, leaving its thickness as an object behind it. At the same time, however, this is thought to be the advantage of photography, because it gives “Nachleben” (life after death) in the form of an image of the object; that is, photographing a thing or event keeps it from destruction by detaching the image from its entity and transcribing it into a flat surface. This is how photography introduces anachronism to the history of our world and gives a certain moment an afterlife as an image. Each picture, then, is given a life that bears no connection with the history of the things photographed.
By the word “anachronism,” I mean the “out of joint of time” that is proper to photography. Furthermore, there is another “anachronism” in the works of Roggan, which occurs in the process of finding objects.
Roggan has said that the objects of her work often precede their “actual” appearance to her. She has photographed many objects, including a single object like a car, trees, a room furnished with a desk, chair or bed, and gloomy spaces such as an attic. Though it might be difficult to find a consistent subject or character among these series, she always sees those objects in the same way. These images, some of which look artificial and others natural, are produced through an encounter with these given objects, and the active intervention of herself. She recollects the virtual image that was born in her mind at a certain moment, and reproduces it by using real objects. It is an anachronic process of image production that reverses the usual order and makes the border between fiction and reality increasingly obscure.
A good example is “Reset,” her recent work, created in the Republic of Cyprus, whose object is a racing game cabinet made in Japan many years ago. After discovering the cabinet in an old coffee shop, Roggan made a set for lighting and photographing it. Although it is no doubt a remnant of the past, interestingly, it gives us the feeling that it seems to have come from the future. Such an ambiguous impression must be derived mainly from the strange object itself; however, it should be considered that she freshened up the painting of the fading red body, and treated the seat so that it might recall the lapse of time. Manipulating the real object was required to realize or redeem the image created in her mind by the encounter with the racing machine.
When we see photographs in the series “Exit” (“Ausgänge”) and “Sediment” (“Sedimente”), they might remind us of the work of an archeologist; however, like “Reset,” these works are not as simple as “documentary” photography of ruins or remains. The excavation sites appear to have been photographed as they were; however, they were in fact partially cleaned up for photographing. Therefore, it might be called a sort of “set” like that of “Reset.” The sight that Roggan happens to encounter always produces some astonishment in her; however, at the same time it needs some intervention by the artist in order for her to accomplish the work.
It must be added that her methods do not mean that she treats her objects as mere materials for her ideal pictures, because the images could never be created before she had seen the sights. Her works, so to speak, are based on an anachronic process that generates the preceding image by finding—or “refinding”—the sight that she conceives in her mind. She calls the process of photographing the objects as they are, with intervention if necessary, a “ceremony.”
Freud called the traumatic recollection of a primitive image “Nachträglichkeit” (afterwardsness). Is it particular to Roggan’s works? No, we all might experience such anachronic images in daily life, for we generally face certain images with a sort of anticipation. However surprising as it may be, an image is received in relation to the enormous number of subliminal images that we have already encountered. Optical déjà-vu happens all the time. Roggan, diving into the sea of anachronism, seeks to reproduce the virtual image that is to be actualized by optical contact with the object. What I called “another anachronism in the works of Roggan” is such a recollection and redemption of image. On the basis of her work, there is a keen sense of double anachronism in both photography and human beings.

[1] Ricarda Roggan, Creatures of the 20th Century, Leipzig: Galerie EIGEN+ART, Tokyo: ANDO GALLERY, 2009.
[2] Falk Haberkorn, “Das Paradies der Dinge,” in Stuhl, Tisch und Bett, Leipzig: Galerie EIGEN+ART, 2003.