The photographs in this series were taken between 2020-2022 in Germany.
Taken in seemingly forgotten spaces that bear the traces of past
human intervention. The places are in a state of transformation, which is slowly taking place. Sometimes, it is a seeming recapture of nature or a blurred state of abandonment. In photographically precisely conceived image sections, I describe a space that works with moments of memory, and the simple, seemingly everyday subjects narrate their own story. The series also describes social changes in these “visual periods;” perhaps new interpretations can be added to complex concepts like home and memory. Photographing in these places sometimes feels like I can keep a secret that has revealed itself.
Based on topographical approaches and the idea of a coherent series,
I conceive and photograph precisely composed frames of cultural landscapes.
The documentary attitude of black-and-white photography also meets lyrical and pastoral elements. In the process, a certain timelessness emerges – both of the images and of the medium itself. These moods, seemingly detached from time, are the basis for describing processes of change or disappearance. -Henry Schulz
Complications arise when we convince ourselves of the permeability of an image to be projected onto in light of its resistance to the meaning we assume to have drawn from it.
In many ways, the photographs of Henry Schulz feel like blank canvases in which we may dump our historical imagination onto their frames instead of reading the terrain within for what they are, all banality and formal exercise included. I met Henry this November through his publisher, Buchkunst Berlin. When Thomas, Ana, and I spoke about the artist before he arrived, the publishers mentioned Henry’s age as being in his 20s and significantly young for the images he had crafted. Thomas went as far as to suggest that these images were more in line with a generation of German photographers like Michael Schmidt or Ulrich Wüst, whose seemingly cold and dispassionate images reflected the psychological terrain of the post-war and Cold War German psyche. In paging through the book, I felt an affinity with Schmidt, Lewis Baltz, and perhaps, tenuously, Henry Wessel.
In considerable measure, this ability of Schulz to cull images from the German landscape that circumvent something more timely/of now is brought to bear from a minimal reductive orientation toward scenes and buildings that are not fixed by signifiers of the 21st Century- ladders, wire spools, and abandoned architecture (often without contemporary graffiti) allude to a condition in which the artist decidedly declines many images/texts/contexts from the 21st-century, leading the viewer to consider the topography in work and the trace elements of human activity as without a historical pinpoint or exactness. In some ways, they are incomplete studies, photographs that suggest a before and after and are devoid of people to flesh out the forensic wandering of the viewer’s eye. Human presence is indicated and declined simultaneously, leading to a foreboding or uncanny haunting of the empty scenes.
Beneath the world of boom-time optimism, the condition of the land suggested a sense of ultimate futility. It was no mystery why the land looked as it did. Many of the construction sites were on land previously used as a dump for mining wastes. The age of these dump sites did little to mitigate the appearance of destruction; with time, wind and water further pulverized the soil. The land held a visible record of its use, and the residue had its own order that was neither pictorial nor non-pictorial. As a photographic subject, it was self-structured, and any attempt to add another layer of order would be gratuitous.-Lewis Baltz, pg. 41 from Notes on Park City, Lewis Baltz Texts, Steidl, 2012
Schulz’s images, and my ability to project upon them my facile understanding of Germany during the 20th Century, can be allegorically read as a-linear anecdotes to Lewis Baltz’s concerns about the land in front of his camera while making his opus Park City. There is a desire to add a layer to scenes found in both Schulz and Baltz’s studies. Still, any effort to cast legitimate authority through the imposition of personal reading is denied by the very fundament of emptiness resting inside each frame. One can assume a working historical knowledge or quest for meaning, but its imposition, especially under the auspices of these anachronistic images, is birthed only to be castigated, denied, and aborted in the search for an imagined understanding between generations and between assumptions about the production of Schulz’s images.
In choosing the scene to photograph, Schulz is undoubtedly aware of this condition and does nothing to impede or suggest further reading. Some images appear from the 1960s, while others seem to have new buildings, but not many things signify the “when” of their essence with specificity. In their reductive state, the images are oddly transient in their ability to proffer an openness to the viewer’s projections, making them effective through the countermeasure of denying any confirmation, holding ambiguity close, and rejecting the viewer’s desire to find a confirmed meaning in the frame. This is one of the significant burdens and responsibilities of minimalism at large. Brought to bear, minimal images are less than suggestive but offer and deny simultaneously the viewer the opportunity to empty out, to interpret, and to value that which may never have been ascribed in the first place.
It presents a catalyst for self-reflection more than a housing of meaning. Schulz’s images successfully reflect this condition, especially when the viewer is alerted to the artist’s age and the condition they assume to operate without being held, like a scab to the historical gauze and flesh of previous generations. Free from coagulate, the artist moves fluidly through these environments, simply making aesthetic decisions oriented away from the documentary impulse of indexing, and denies the perception of time to be placed on his images by reducing all signifiers in a defiant act of timelessness, which feverishly points toward, a failure of the now, and in doing so, like a time-traveler, moves the viewer away from the hyper 21st Century with its continued demand for positionality, details, and the visual accents of its moment, creating instead an almost fictitious place of reprieve.
As a first book, I will suggest that it is incredibly strong and shares a solid kinship with Michael Schmidt’s Irgendwo and Lewis Baltz’s Park City. With that mentioned, I feel the work is not a simple appropriation of the New Topographic style. It is slightly more formal and considered. For lack of a better explanation, it feels less apathetic, and I believe that is also one of the differences between the eras of Baltz’s early work and that of Schulz. Though it is not optimistic, it lacks a certain dread that I associate with some of Schmidt and Baltz’s work.
As a book object, the format also mirrors Dieter Keller’s The Eye of War, published by Buchkunst Berlin, and seeing a more contemporary aesthetic fit into the landscape format with its reduced black and white cover is oddly fresh. I highly recommend this book, and if the stars align, this will be the first of many fine publications by Schulz and the team.
Henry Schulz – People Things
Copyright © Fotos: Henry Schulz
Copyright © Essay: Gerry Badger
Herausgeber: Thomas Gust, Ana Druga
Konzept, Design: Thomas Gust, Ana Druga
Deutsches Lektorat: Stefan Ripplinger
Englisches Lektorat: Mike Wong
Hardcover, 2 x TipIn auf Front- & Rückdeckel
61 Abbildungen, 136 Seiten
Druck und Bindung | printing and binding: Wanderer Druckerei, Germany ISBN 978-3-910897-01-4