unsteady light

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This picture shows a man as a man who is sitting in front of a curtain. This picture is a man-picture. It shows a man as a man; exemplary, you could say. An abstraction in concretion – a man as someone who smiles, has birthday parties and is just happy and content or at this very moment, much the child again. A man as a birthday-boy-man, you could say, if language would perform this act, all by itself.
But this picture is not a speech act, nor a word nor a written text (no more than it is a man, adds a French painter specialised in this field, smoking a pipe in the background, I imagine) – No, this picture is a man-picture and it actually belongs to the symbology of images and you can do different things with images than with words or objects, or living beings like birthday boys or men for example. In images, every distinction makes a difference, says one of these image theorists that I know and so I count up the candles at this party and don’t want to have to decide whether it’s a man-birthday or perhaps Christmas in the photo – or what to make of this information – and what else can be done with pictures apart from describe them in 1,000 words or capture the essential in the inessential. (And counting the leaves on the rubber tree is possibly included in this instant).
And as you may notice, I no longer regard this man-picture as a man-picture but as an exemplary image for every past or future image theory, an image-theory-image as it were, with which I can run the whole gamut of image aspect, philosophically. For example, using this image I can draw attention to the difference between the three central human abilities– firstly: to see something, secondly: to see something as something and thirdly: to see something in something, and in this context, to comment on the ‘as-structure’ of perception and once again, on the principle ‘as-structure’ of images, the ‘iconic-as’, as some call it. And I could also try to point up the theories of aspect-seeing and aspect-change in this man-picture – similarly to The Little Prince where someone regularly mistakes hats for snakes that elephants have swallowed. Or let’s take the aspect change of seeing, when the background suddenly becomes the foreground, at least in the metaphorical sense. And the curtain behind the man’s back now towers into the sky like a Greek column. And I could invent a little cultural semiotics for the curtain with this interpretation or a little metaphysics of the living-in-front-of-the-curtain (but I already did this using a different curtain photograph) or a little metaphysics of the sign and of what awaits us beyond signs: in our occasionally inventive exercises with images, alluding to images or commenting experimentally on images, hopefully not redundant like in an essay. Rainer Totzke

Circumstances of an event
Mr. W. tilts his head sideways to the camera lens. A position, a portrait shot in which his personality is supposed to stand out. He looks across and beyond the living room arrangement with the laid-out coffee table. His torso, in a white shirt and tie, is a component as conventionally attuned as the individual elements of the living room interior.
Besides the candles that are lit on the table, console table and cupboard, his face in front of the curtain is late in catching your attention. He seems to be smiling, to pause, to be motionless with the certainty that a photo is being taken of him. He sits at the centre of the photographic frame. In the middle of his private world that reveals so little.
Assumptions about his social status, his job or the reason for the photograph remain vague as the objects pictured and the habitus of the portrayed leave little room for interpretation. The undefined is missing and along with it, the realm of the personal. Convention runs into a peculiarity, however. The mystery of this photograph remains in the candles, the curtain and the missing shadows cast – the succession of photographic events.
The photo has been shot with flashlight and we can assume that this is the reason the curtain has been drawn – so that the flash does not bounce off the large-scale windows. The candles spaced around the room are the only light source. Arranged to illuminate Mr. W.’s face and profile and to create a private, celebratory atmosphere. Mr. W. appears, lit up by candlelight with the backdrop of striped curtains. His smile wins, the longer you look at him in his environment.
Subtly, the emptiness of the interior tilts out of balance with its pragmatic, resourceful lighting, and falls back on to the protagonist. Mr. W., the quiet manager of his own photographic image, knows what he’s doing. Birgit Szepanski

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