top of page
Old but gold 12.jpg

people in cafes

The coffee house (especially the Viennese coffee house) has been the subject of countless photographs and entire photo series ever since photographers discovered it. The spectrum ranges from studio-style, carefully considered painterly arrangements of melange, glass of water and ring cake, to shots of coffee house interiors with their often very beautiful furniture, to photo studies of "interesting" coffee house visitors. In a certain sense, these photos all carry something of their respective photographer. At least they provide information about what is important to him about the coffee house (perhaps also: what clichés he associates with it), and whether it is important for him as a whole person (and not just as a person who takes pictures) whether he loves the coffee house._cc781905 -5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_ Peter Wagner gives his coffee house photos the title "People in cafes", and that is a clear indication of what is important to him in the coffee house: it is primarily about people. However - and the title also seems to indicate this - it is not unimportant that these people are not just anywhere, but precisely in the café. What, we can naively ask (without answering this question right away), is so special about this connection between people and coffee house? What "happens" so extraordinary in the café?
Heimito von Doderer, the great Austrian novelist, once wrote that the special, almost the trademark of the (Viennese) café is that nothing is going on there. Peter Wagner's photos, too, and not just those on the subject of "people in cafés", give anything but the impression that the photographer's aim is to be there with his camera wherever there is superficially something going on. Probably because for him the too often underestimated, the everyday, the easily overlooked, the apparently not worth photographing have a peculiar attraction. possibly he is related to the coffee house visitor who visits his café precisely because there is nothing going on there, because nothing prevents him from being awake and undisturbed by all the noise and perceiving what else is happening apart from this <nothing>. And that's probably how Doderer meant it: if you're receptive to the inconspicuous, if you know how to look, you'll of course have a lot to experience, especially in the café.
This requires one thing above all: time. The coffee house as a way of life in which a culture of slowness and having time can unfold, where someone who loves slowness and is looking for a humane pace can lead themselves in the same rhythm with what is happening around them. Perhaps that is one of the most important reasons why the coffee house will not die out anytime soon: After all, there is a longing for time, especially in fast times, and with it the need for places that remind us of this longing again and again . The fact that this aspect of the coffee house is of particular importance to Peter Wagner is demonstrated by the calm that radiates from many of his coffee house pictures: the contemplation of the man reading his newspaper in Café Windingstairs in Dublin; or the mild-mannered old man in the Café Chioggia in Venice who looks like Pan Tau and who sits half leaning on his umbrella as if he has all the time in the world. He seems to carry so many stories - maybe because he's never been in a hurry?

The café is timeless in two ways. First of all, in the sense that time is not important here, neither money nor anything else. You can let them pass without purpose without having to kill them. It seems ironic that the photo from the café at the Musée d'Orsay features a gigantic clock towering over everything. But if you look more closely, you discover that she has stopped (at least in the photo) and that in a way she turns her back on the coffeehouse patrons, as if she is not interested in them or is letting them do outside of their laws for the duration of the coffeehouse visit .

For Peter Wagner, the coffee house obviously does not begin with the world-famous and much-frequented pilgrimage temples for coffee house lovers and graduates (it actually ends there), but the coffee house actually begins where people meet (or a person "with himself"), to practice, alone or in company (and perhaps over a cup of coffee), this purposeless spending of time. Actually, you don't necessarily need a house for a coffee house to happen: a few tables and chairs in the shade of a tree or a house wall are enough - like here in Greece - and everything else can develop on this somewhat improvised basis . In the Argentine film <Sur>, as a kind of leitmotif of the film, you see several men, friends, sitting outdoors at a single coffee house table, and this coffee house table is referred to as the "table of dreams". Although the coffee house can also be something other than a place for shared – or – lonely dreams: is there a more beautiful image for the magic of togetherness at the coffee house table?

In yet another respect, the café has something timeless: as a place of possible return to the same, familiar and permanent in the midst of the many external changes and internal transformations that we go through in the course of a lifetime. It is indescribably good to step into a certain café after a long absence, where you used to feel comfortable, and to realize that everything is still the same, while you yourself have learned so many new things in the meantime. You need your center. Of course, this will not be the coffee house for everyone, but one thing is certain: for those who consider it a center and a place to rest, the coffee house is not a luxury, but a necessity.

But we want to be careful not to idealize the café. Peter Wagner's coffee house pictures also reflect the effort, if possible, not to be taken in by glorifying clichés that want to see the coffee house as paradise on earth. (And yet the intention to show the coffee house as the "place of 1000 beauties" is noticeably in the foreground). So it has to be said here at least once that you can get terribly bored in a coffee house, that the coffee sometimes tastes awful, that you may despair of your own dreams, that the good conversation you have been longing for or the hoped-for human encounter is stubbornly denied, that even smaller and larger tragedies take place in the café. But please: Who said that all this should not be? Nevertheless, one can be convinced that – if one could “statistically raise it” – the thought that it is good to live is thought of more often in the café than in the workplace or in the subway. Isn't that a lot?

bottom of page