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Public and Media Space

Frauen (Women)

Michael Schmidt

Frauen (1997–99) is the title of Michael Schmidt’s eighty-one-part picture series with which the photographer animates, occupies, and challenges public and media space in the context of the Berlin Biennale. The series was evident in the run-up, on posters, in news ads, and in all the Biennale publications. Sometimes the photographs have the form of abstract shapes shot close-up. Or Schmidt moves away to capture a face, or an entire figure. The photographs exude concentrated clarity and at the same time something personal. For Schmidt they represent a generation of young women who stand for change and a new female self-confidence.

Schmidt’s subjects are architecture, people, social space, and urban-impacted nature. He finds these subjects in reality, yet his approach is not documentary. Two of his best-known works, Waffenruhe (1985–87) and EIN-HEIT (1991–94) analyze realities of German life. Employing contemporary historical documents, but also subjective photographic records, they bear Schmidt’s unmistakable signature and, like all of his works, are consistently in series, analog, and black-and-white. And since the artist is concerned with holistic vision and thought, the photographs aesthetically open the space between black and white: a spectrum of singular silver-gray tones fans out, their chromaticity seeming to be more vivid and real than many color photographs.

“Despite its anonymity, I think this series counterpoints general advertising,” Schmidt has said, speaking for a multitude of picture series composed for the Biennale that do not bear his name. At the curator’s invitation he took the series into public and media space. It is a collaboratively developed experiment, through which Schmidt also reassesses the efficacy of his own pictorial language developed in decades-long studies, and which he continues to interrogate anew to this day.

Between the ad spaces of the globally organized commodity world, the poster series creates points of rest in public space, and, in doing so, facilitates clear vision. Unheroic, the photographs run counter to most media views of women. They put the viewer incontrovertibly in touch with reality and, in the process, bring one back to oneself.

From the catalogue of the 6th Berlin Biennale