Joachim Schmid, Selected Photoworks 1982-2007

Artvehicle 15/Review

20th April 2007 — 17th June 2007

Sometimes it's as enlightening to watch the spectators as to watch the spectacle itself. At many exhibitions you see a good deal of purposeful striding. Not much of that here -- there is an awful lot of shuffling and poring, though. The last time I saw this much poring was at a museum also featuring a lot of small stuff, but that's where the similarity ends. The museum was showing a glistering collection of Cartier jewellery, but this gallery is showing garbage, mostly, as Joachim Schmid likes to say. Until he got his hands on it.

Schmid's working philosophy over the last 25 years has been almost totally confined to the appropriation and editing of other people's images. He maintains he became disillusioned with actually taking photos because his work didn't look any different to anyone else's. Since then he has been devoted to unearthing, in compulsive-obsessive style, all manner of illustrative material in junk shops, flea markets, acquired from strangers' collections through acts of subterfuge, or simply picked up in the street.

In a short video made by the gallery he throws down the gauntlet, in the nicest possible way, declaring his disinterest in the accepted genres of high street, commercial, art or fashion photography, and his unhappiness at being described as an anthropologist, scientist, or even an artist, proffering instead, 'Today's a beautiful day so let's go out and do that.' It's a bit of a mouthful as job descriptions go, but you can't help liking him for it. He then goes on to display a lurid collection of ties and girlies in matching bikinis just to contradict himself a bit. In fact, his collectioneering has been pretty varied. He has not been averse to drawing on the power of the already iconic with technicolor John Waynes and Brigitte Bardots, in addition to making a point about a glaring gap in history with contacts of Black Allied servicemen, although they aren't in this retrospective. Visitors are presented with an overwhelming hoard of material, far too much to absorb in a single visit. Some of it IS rubbish, but you can't say he didn't warn us.

The sharpest set in the show again reveals the prankster in Schmid. He placed an advert in a German newspaper claiming to be 'The Institute for the Reprocessing of Used Photographs', explaining, deadpan, the enormous dangers to health and children's morals posed by abandoned and unfashionable photo collections. He invited people to submit their unwanted material in order for them to be reprocessed or ecologically disposed of free of charge. He was very nearly outpranked by a commercial photographer who sent him a series of head and shoulder shots, vertically sliced in half to prevent their re-use. Schmid has reprinted them by lining up complimenting halves to produce mismatching identikit portraits that creep up on you unawares if you've left your glasses in your other jacket. Perhaps unremarkably, the images that attract the most attention are photo booth strips and snapshots. Scratched and smeared, lost or discarded by their owners, and subsequently found by Schmid. One, askew, shows a shop counter, souvenirs, the assistant's bottom, and a clutch of photo packets - the last picture taken to use up the end of the film, found in Berlin back in 2000 - end of an era? There are 111others, mounted on off-white A4 cards pinned to the wall in a long, long line, representing a tiny selection of an ongoing compendium that might one day peter out due to digitalisation. The Photographic Garbage Survey Project, we're told, takes the artist all over the globe. He arrives at his destination and contrives an erratic trajectory through the streets, picking up any photographic detritus he sees, carefully logging his spoils on a map. Many of the photos are found torn up, and he reassembles them. Others still have pieces missing, and this seems to add to their mystery.

They illustrate tiny, anonymous moments that were never intended to be seen by the wider world, but since their abandonment they have taken on a life of their own. They don't all hit the spot, but Schmid's best discoveries are enigmatic enough for us to find ourselves scouring the images for clues; giving them more time than we would give to snaps in friend's photo albums, I fear.


Photographers' Gallery
5 & 8 Great Newport Street
London WC2H 7H

Monday-Saturday, 11am-6pm
Thursday, 11am-8pm
Sunday, 12pm-6pm

Joachim Schmid, Selected Photoworks 1982-2007 —  Bilder Van Der Strasse Ongoing since 1982 (c) Joachim Schmid

Bilder Van Der Strasse
Ongoing since 1982
(c) Joachim Schmid