"Placed times - timed places": On Michael Michlmayr's most recent photographic works

by Theresia Prammer

"The realism of photography creates confusion as to what is real"

Susan Sontag

Passages - When considering the title the author has prefixed to his new picture sequences, it is difficult not to think of Walter Benjamin's passage works: on strolling, on time intervals and time places, on passing time and losing time. But the stroller at work here is not on the look out for snapshots: he is creating a montage of snapshot moments. These photographs spot passages as threshold places, where something happens to someone, where someone passes something. These are places in which the passing manifestations of everyday life become intertwined into new contexts. He also methodically ties in conceptual artistic processes with these picture compositions: the series Passages, realized for the first time with digital means, corresponds one to one to the diverse documentation of time lapses of the gyratory work complex. But in addition to repetition, these works also play with the fragmentary, questioning it in a new, smooth composition: the coexistence of the separate picture moments produces successive new pictures, suggests a structural compactness which does not correspond to the individual picture. Passage follows upon passage, each of the passages undergoes different phases. Links, overlaps, compressions are won from ever varying constellations. The openness of the perspective lets the choice of the picture detail appear no less necessary: the picture itself thus becomes the passage, is the passage it is describing. Michlmayr confronts the real places with the imaginary with systematic care, he assembles captured moments into new time frescoes, multiplies the 'seen', lets the original disappear behind the duplicate. Places and times in the pictures communicate with one another and refer to a period in which 'what has been' and 'what has not been' coexist and in which the trust in the image function of the picture is suspended: time becomes readable through multiplication, alienation. What is perceived cannot be taken for 'real', there is no reality, only simultaneous or time-shifted realities<(i> which can be photographed as well as created. The results are actually similar to a stage: to an everyday absurd theater that pulls you into its spell, which passes by you like an illustrated book (cinematically). On the one hand, what we are dealing with here are photographs that create - at best - "posed", pre-contrived new connections; and on the other hand urban life with cheerful documentations: full of chance meetings, chance products: transferred into new constructions of meaning. The application of digital technology and the conscious manipulation of the picture surface that goes along with it strengthen the random effect of these photo works: " On the one hand temporal processes with digital means melted into a spatial whole, on the other hand, a 'complete' panoramic view was temporally dissected", the author explains. But the estrangement does not result from the declared virtuality of the reproduction, but from the splitting of the pictures, from the strategy of 'repetition', which causes a kind of blow up effect for the viewer. Which reality reveals itself in these photos? Which reality stands out? Do they not reveal in addition to 'what has been' 'what is possible', and in every possible a new 'has been'? These subjects (objects, animals, people), sought out or picked up by chance, seem to anticipate that they are one and many. The eye of the beholder wanders from face to face but always glances upon the same faces: duplicates, ever new fragmentations of a reality that come to light precisely through the uniformity of the presentation in its entire diversity. No passages without passers-by. The present work is not only a study of landscapes and 'timescapes', but also a study of the means of transportation of contemporaries: of people, who are intertwined and set against each other, of fitness and leisure boredom, of movement as an end in itself (Greifenstein) and fleeting contacts. The author is also quite able to gain comical sides out of his procedure (as in the Viennese impression Hundezone [dog's zone]), or oppressive ones as in the Prater Hauptallee. When digital photography was still relatively unknown, Roland Barthes was influenced by the concept "Ca a été". The photo as the real 'has been', as a trace of a material occurrence that took place, which must have taken place: the snapshot as recording of something real, the photograph as a more or less objective witness. With the emergence of digital technology came the radical weakening of these securities: the consultant as trigger, "instigator" of the optical process is no longer determinable with the same lucidity, the subjects have become unclear or - in spite of or precisely on account of the even more refined technical precision - become unclear again. So, too, with these photographs: though the manipulation takes a real scene as starting point, the reproduction loses on reliability. What was? The people and situations at the moment of the snapshot? The finished composition after the arrangement by the artist? What could be? What has taken place is fixed in a way that does not allow any clear reference anymore. The photograph takes place without warranty, cannot be verified. The viewer cannot grasp the timeframe of the picture, loses himself in the vexing games of the facets and vanishing points. In the blurring of the temporal structures Michlmayr's approach also takes the snapshot to ad absurdum. The passages show people who seem like pictures of pictures; the photographic picture does not communicate the nature of these meetings, creates no immediacy, does not attempt any approach to the psychology. These photo works not only show people and objects: they transcend and produce them, depersonalize the meetings. The persons soon appear to be victim of a momentary anaesthesia, soon they become their own parody in their frenzied activities. Michael Michlmayr's photographic compositions are reflections about this non-equivalence of the same, this margin of difference between same and equal, of 'what was' and the reconstructed, of discovering and relating to (fabrications), are attempts of the un-translatability of a matter unto itself. The reduction to (or concentration on) the minimal and essential becomes the principle in some pictures: this occurs most poignantly and most magically in the Meerblick (sea view), a picture in which only a single blue pours over the page, flooding the image carrier except for one - brighter, but also blue - strip, which is the horizon. Here the metaphor "strip horizon" is taken literally, the color becomes the 'pars pro toto' for the whole. Only the solitude of the swimmer before the background of the blue, in a strip of motorboats, makes the sea as such definable. And fetches the marvelling viewer from the clouds back down to earth.

Theresia Prammer


"The realism of photography creates confusion as to what is real" Susan Sontag