Review by Kristin Dittrich •
Timm Rautert combines three lives in one: artist, theoretician and teacher, a professional in the field of photography for half a century. During his photography studies with Otto Steinert at the Folkwang School in Essen, he moved away from the “beautiful picture” in the classic sense, as he puts it, and developed a project of special images which he uses to outline conditions to decipher a photograph.
He gives this so-called grammar of photography the name image-analytical photography, a term that, like Roland Barthe’s Punktum and Studium, results in a kind of theoretical formula that Rautert has developed. In conjunction with the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Steidl published this influential early work, which was created during a special period in the development of German photographic history – from 1968 to 1974.
It is my view that Timm Rautert, as a university professor with outstanding students, far surpassed the Bechers and their famous students, especially in regard to the spirituality, content and the intellectuality of the images. Alongside Bernd and Hilla Becher, Timm Rautert is one of the most influential teachers of artistic photography in Germany. After he was appointed to the Leipzig Art Academy, he decided to postpone his own artistic work for almost 20 years and devoted all his efforts to photographic education. His list of student graduates is substantial.
Steidl is known to publish the entire comprehensive photographic work of just a handful of artists. This includes Robert Frank, Joel Sternfeld, Lewis Baltz, Roni Horn, and Timm Rautert. In fact, such strong support represents a great challenge for both artists and publishers. Steidl has assured Rautert of his lifelong publishing commitment.
The book is well designed and printed, in a manner resembling a textbook, so that the points are easy to understand. Rautert’s photographic theory and its application are explained using his own images. In their sequence in the book, they do not form a connection. Each of them forms a complete narrative in itself. When asked: “What is photography?” Rautert examines the conditions under which the imaging parameters – light, time, and space – can be understood by the observer. According to Rautert, image content can be grasped not only through a text accompanying the image, but above all by adding a 2nd and 3rd image to the 1st image. The picture before and after a particular exposure can provide valuable information under which “circumstances” a picture was created. By adding as much information as possible, the viewer can gain access to the image.
Before the reader can begin to delve deeper into the picture part of the book, the 56 images are provided with indexed information: title, printing process, year of creation, size and background to the picture content. In the following, some aspects of Rautert’s grammar of photography will be explained using a few examples: image sequences, image-text references, sharpness or blurring, and photographic material.
In one example of his methodology, Rautert creates a portrait of the famous but camera-shy dance choreographer Pina Bausch and observes that “this is a photograph. It can be reproduced by me any number of times.” The intentional blurred nature of the portrait is explained as part of his grammar of photography, a nod to realism. Rautert would not agree with his mentor, Otto Steinert, that this is a ‘psychological’ portrait.
At another point in the book, Rautert takes two pictures of the Niagara Falls. In one picture you can see a boat, in the other picture the boat has disappeared. Rautert adds the following sentence to the pictures: “On September 12, 1974, 67 people died.” The viewer may know the picture-text relationship from reading daily newspapers, and he creates a relationship between the photograph and the sentence, which essentially do not belong together, but the connection is inferred because the text is placed next to the pictures.
When leafing through the book, another juxtaposition is discussed: Rautert takes two pictures of his small boarding house room in New York and adds as information: “The camera taken from the bed, the lens attached and a picture is taken.” In one photograph his camera is lying on the bed. In the other photograph the camera has disappeared. Acting, showing, talking and commenting shape the picture’s context. Without the text, would we notice the minimal difference between the two images?
Lastly, we find images in this book with which Rautert explains, purely through photographs, how to paste down Polaroid pictures. For him, it is about giving instructions on how to handle Polaroid prints, a photographic material of that time.
Thus we see that Rautert’s photographs and explanations range from illustrating theoretical viewpoints all the way to very practical ideas regarding display techniques and curating.
Timm Rautert – Bildanalytische Photographie / Image-Analytical Photography 1968-1974
Author: Timm Rautert (born in Tuchel, West Prussia; lives in Essen and Berlin, Germany)
Publisher: Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden and Steidl, Göttingen, Germany; © 2020
Languages: German and English
Hardcover, 188 pages, duotone black and white images, 24 x 32 cm
Book Design: Heimann + Schwantes
Kristin Dittrich is the Director of the Shift School for Contemporary Photography, Germany.
Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).