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The Exit 24 -  my return

Actually, it had already been decided. My exhibition “The Angels” in Vienna in 1994 in was done with the understanding that it would mark the end of my photographic career. Well, fifteen years later I took up photography yet again. More out of grief after the death of my wife, I made photographic attempts on my lonely journeys, where the activity of photography was a contribution to structuring my day. It was more an odyssey-like wandering, just as my travels, just as my life itself. I photographed without knowing what I wanted to photograph, for whom I wanted to photograph it, I couldn’t even decide whether to do it in colour or in black-and-white, as I used to do. “If you don’t know what to do, do something that meant something to you earlier in your life”. This sentence, taken from a guidebook on grief, seemed to make sense to me. So, over the years, I “collected” images on various subjects without a clear goal. But there kept being too many themes and everything was so open that there was no direction. 


Then I was back in Treviso yet another time, a town that offered, among many beautiful sights, a peculiarity. A tiny shop, where an unknown photographer kept a small studio and exhibited portraits and wedding pictures in two showcases. I loved walking up this alley, there were always new photos, they were always dignified and appealing, unaffected, free from the ridiculousness and incongruous posing of most representatives of this guild. This man was undoubtedly living the (professional) life that I myself had not been able to realise. I had been there so many times, probably twenty, thirty times. This time I was disappointed; instead of photographs, I found advertisements of a cleaning company. I enquired in the bar on the other side of the street. They said that the good gentleman had moved, but that they had a book of him somewhere. I sat with the book for a happy hour and recognised many of the photographs I had seen here over the last ten years. And since I was already present and because – for whatever reason – there was a book by Elliot Erwitt lying around in the bar, I leafed through that one as well. Black-and-white photos here and there, street photos that in their own way had something to tell about human life. But the photos also mirrored my own work to me. It was as if something inside me put the plug back into the socket, and thus made the world of my pictures shine again. Back in the day, I had known quite precisely what I wanted to photograph and what not, my work always had a common thread. And all of a sudden it was just like that again. The photographic odyssey was over at once. After this, I was finally able to put my pictures in order and make them what they are to me to this day.


I now took great delight in my world of pictures. However, I did not think of showing them in public again for several years. Back in the day, it had been a painful farewell that still gripped me in the marrow. And I also didn’t think that the world had at any time been overly interested in my viewpoint on life. But then happened what I had described in “Gandalf or Galadriel”, my life came to a turning point again and I somewhat lost control. In the turmoil of this situation, I then did something that for me was outrageous: I applied to study at the Photo Academy in Graz. A year with people that work on their photographic expression – that was not only a break with my previous wont, it also promised to be a story that, for myself, I would have titled “Among Wolves”. Because I actually prefer to talk about photographs with people who don’t take any themselves. Despite all of that, it was a conscious move. I hoped that my time there would allow me to find an answer to the question of whether I still wanted to return to the public with my photos.


The time at the academy, despite several interesting encounters and a lot of valuable impulses, was a mixed year with many ups and downs. In the middle of it all came the so-called “Exit” – an exhibition where every student was supposed to present a picture. Was supposed to, but didn’t have to. At first, I didn’t think much of it, it was a predictable situation, one picture in a mass of other pictures. Perhaps for this reason I saw it less as a matter of principle to be decided by me, and more as a bullet point within my study programme. Nonetheless, I didn’t want to take the easy path and chose a picture of great personal significance to me. All changed when a clip was made of our pieces. I have to say, it was really very good and consisted of almost all the pictures on display, which were shown second-by-second. I watched the clip three times in a row. The third time I counted the pictures. There were 30; only about five photographs, including my own, were not included. This not only gave me a near-sleepless night, it also awakened those deep-rooted, painful feelings of my first career as a photographer. This world, it just didn’t want to be interested in my photos.

Painful experiences are often the ones where one can learn the most. On the day of the vernissage, I was pretty much at peace with the world again. Even if no one would be interested in my work, even if my photo was hung in an insignificant corner, even if all in all it would perhaps be an insignificant little event: It was like I was crossing the Rubicon. After almost 30 years, I had come again to the point of showing a photo in public after all, and was ready to live with whatever the event would bring me.


I then felt comfortable at the event and was surprised that there were quite a few pictures that I liked. There were also a lot of people, crowding through the hallowed halls of the academy. And right at the beginning, I even had a nice incident in relation to my own picture. The partner of a woman, who had bought pictures from me back in the day and still had them hanging in her flat, noted the similarity in style with this one on display. And then the couple, who did not know I was part of the exhibition, read my name under the picture and saw the hunch confirmed. Shortly after I stepped into the room and heard their story. I have to say it was flattering that someone who didn’t know me was able to make that connection and could discover in my photos a visual language that was unique to me and had survived the years.


It was a good evening; I was already more than satisfied with this occurrence, but I avoided going into the room where my own picture was exhibited. I ended up sitting next door on the floor in a group. Most people in that group were fellow students, but also a few visitors joined us. Next to us, another small group stood for an unusually long time looking at a picture of Isabella. And eventually they sat down with us too. We had all already been pleased by their interest and Thomas now asked them what about the picture had captivated them. They told us, and then Thomas started asking others in the group about their favourite picture in the exhibition. The question went around and eventually came to a woman who had not said anything until then. She described a picture that wasn’t hanging in the room, of a man, with a kissing couple in the background and another one laughing, with an indeterminate sky above. A picture that was probably from Paris. She said she was very touched by the picture, that it had an unusual depth, and other things along those lines. While many would find this man lonely, she said, his composed calm gave him a special radiance. None of us said anything, no one told her whose picture it was. She had spoken of my picture; indeed, I could not have described it better. And it was clear to me that it was one of those moments. Life, that sly one, was teaching me a lesson: Making a picture just for oneself is half a thing. It reaches completion only in the moment another person is touched by it.

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