One morning. In summer. One could give an account of what can be supposed, what obviously was. How the windowpanes were freshly cleaned only yesterday, the rose bug infestation successfully stopped, the front garden weeded, the car parked in the garage ready for the Sunday drive.
They smile. The homemade cake will be served later by H. with coffee on the dinner set in blue that was a wedding present. They smile into the day. Their own home. The garage directly next to the house. The smell of coffee all the way into the afternoon. And then. And then J. went missing.
They sometimes think of him. That day in summer when they would drive out to the country together and drink coffee and the children would go to the outdoor pool later. They are smiling into this day. They don’t know yet.
The sun wanders along the house. It still shines the longest on the wall with the terrace door. J. – his form begins to dissipate in the photograph, this frozen moment, becoming almost indistinguishable from the background of the house. Not that anyone suspected anything. J.’s presence in the photograph and the smiles of the others. The photograph holds this all together. Birgit Szepanski
Sometimes I am puzzled by these private photographs of strangers that I am to discuss here, and take a closer look to make sure it’s not me there in the second row from the bottom in front of our house or our neighbour’s house – we all looked the same back then in the 1970s, as did all the private homes and private home allowances – and I was saying, I prefer to take a closer look to see if it could not have been me there in the picture. But those aren’t my parents or neighbours or grandparents there, I think, and I shake my head, disappointed, but also slightly relieved because now this essay at least doesn’t have to be quite so straightforwardly about me or my past or about this familiar feeling of representativeness – proud, in front of some house or weekend home or backdrop like in the theatre. After the performative turn in humanities and social sciences in the past ten years, one can and should regard the entire process of private photograph production and reception perhaps more as a kind of theatrical performance: In creating the picture, for example, we assemble, first offstage and then we come into the picture in-one-shot. And in the theatrical performance of the photograpic situation, we naturally help ourselves to old models for assembling from the era before the age of photography. Our cultural, habitat-settled bodies intuitively think back to theatre image performances from the past, perhaps unconsciously, even back to that legendary image-recording situation of King Charles IV’s family from Spain who, some time in the draughty November of the year 1800, assembled shivering in an unheated hall in their Madrid Palace where Francisco de Goya recorded their image in-one-shot, or at least almost in-one-shot as images at that time were still primarily painted (or drawn) – and at any rate not yet photographed. Or back to Velazquez’ depiction of “Las Meninas” – that magnificent representation of representation – another 150 years earlier. And at the same time, the question of historical difference is raised; a difference that was destroyed during the democratisation process of image production for private purposes when photography, especially private photography, extensively began to replace painting, and enabled theatrical-representative pictures to be taken not only of royal families in or in front of their “own home” backdrops but also of us all. Rainer Totzke