Viktoria Binschtok in Conversation with Christin Müller
c.m.— What provided the spark for your work on Internet images?
v.b.— It was much less of a spark and much more of a longer thought process, as I was reflecting on increasing digitalization and globalization. Up until then my definition of photography had referred to the analogue world. The digital transformation of images and their ensuing immateriality made this view of the world obsolete, and it made me confused. I began by asking what the main differences are between online images and pictures we do not see on a screen or in the Internet, and around 2000 I started work on my Globes project. So working with images on the web had to do with my personal need to find my own position in a state of social change and to sort out my own ideas.
c.m.— Why were you interested in digital finds?
v.b.— I wanted to know if the Internet was really a democratic medium and how far the new opportunities to distribute images were influencing their content. Among the things that inspired me in this wish to understand the global net was McLuhan’s book The Medium Is the Message. I was thus less interested in single pictures and more in understanding the contexts in which I encountered them. I was fascinated by being able to search for images in just a few seconds and to enter words that lead to visual links. This combination of word and image and the resulting interdependency of the two was something that I thought was inseparable at the time, at the end of the 1990s. Since then things have developed, and now my work involves an exciting phase of image-to-image searching. It works without keywords appended to images, by tracing visual correspondences. This is the method I am now using for my Clusters series.
c.m.— What is the difference between making photos with a computer and taking them on location?
v.b.— For myself, I’ve decided not to see any difference between the pictures that I find on the monitor and those from elsewhere. I accept what I see on the web as a part of my experience. When taking photos, it is always important for me to look through the camera viewfinder and to press the shutter release. This was the only way I can claim to have made my own picture. That’s why I photographed the pictures that I found under the search word “globes” from the screen and didn’t just print them out directly. The act of taking the photograph thus played a key role in the appropriation of these images. Whether the light source for the film is the light of a monitor, the sun, or a light bulb was immaterial for me.
c.m.— Did your studies address working with other people’s material?
v.b.— It was discussed as one possible artistic strategy among many others. At first it did not interest me at all. I was in my early twenties and still strongly influenced by the idea of a subjective documentary view of the world. That changed when I noted that I was also not interested in other people’s photography about their own feelings. That led to me keeping my private moments to myself.
In the mid-1990s, just after I had started at the art academy, I met Michael Schade, who was then preparing his final diploma. His work was based on a found photo album that had belonged to a woman he didn’t know. His fascination working with these pictures, taking them out of their original context, was infectious. I was also inspired by the exhibition Konstruktion Zitat / Kollektive Bilder in der Fotografie (Construction Quotation / Collective Images in Photography), which I saw at the Sprengel Museum in Hanover in 1993. Works by Christian Boltanski, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Fischli & Weiss, Sherrie Levine, Richard Prince, and Cindy Sherman all wakened my interest in a reality as presented through the medium of photography. I also came across interesting publications and projects like the charming magazine Ohio. It mostly showed picture archives and collections of images from very different sources and this often surprised me – in content and in form.
c.m.— Do you see a difference between digital and analogue work?
v.b.— Since I select the technology as required, it is not relevant for the final work whether it was produced in analogue form, digitally, or by means of a crossover. The big difference for me is in the particular working process involved. I think that I am able to work differently when using analogue technology, that I apply myself in a more concentrated way, and that I am happy with the result more quickly. There comes a moment when I know that I have done the picture I wanted to do, even if I will only get to see it much later. I get an enjoyable kind of thrill from that period of time when the films are just exposed but not yet developed. I usually find looking at contact prints exciting and pleasurable, and sometimes disappointing. In the digital process, I unfortunately haven’t found any similar way of “receiving” or “welcoming” my pictures. There the transition between taking a photograph and accepting or rejecting it is fluid.
c.m.— Are your works a way of dealing with the much-cited flood of images?
v.b.— I don’t necessarily see the images around me as a flood. A “flood of images” sounds threatening and inexorable. Of course there are more and more images in circulation. But I would prefer to compare our consumption of them with the use of a water tap, which you can open and close as you please. Working with this material is exciting, it is right up with our times. My Clusters, for example, are like random samples from a universal image pool and they work in the first place on a purely visual level. They have similar colours and also other intriguing correspondences in form and structure, although their contents aren’t recognizably comparable. To get these results, I use the algorithm of an image search machine that filters images in the net for matches. By entering a picture of my own in the search, I am suddenly participating in this global data exchange. I select some of the JPEGs offered back to me and then I use them as sources of ideas. They are like construction manuals en route to high-resolution versions. In the end, the photos I make in this way represent their models from the web. This is a photographic exploration of the visual communication of our time. This permanent give and take of image-based information has expanded our role over the years, from that of the passive user to that of the active exhibitionist. Everyone who shares pictures has become more or less a part of this visual culture. With the help of this process – from finding an image to appropriating it to restaging it – I would like to depict and present this culture.
c.m.— Your series all look very different. How do you decide which technology and material to use?
v.b.— As I have never settled on just one kind of camera technology like small-, medium-, or large-format, I have to make a new decision on a format for each work. The choice of camera is usually very pragmatic, depending on what is important at the time – the highest possible resolution in the case of the Clusters series, a quick reaction time for Three People on the Phone, or both for World of Details. The presentation is a further step, and I always try a lot of things out. For the Clusters pictures, in particular, I have clearly used a diverse number of formats. Every picture and every group of pictures in this series has its own form, which I decide on only during the process of creation. I wanted to dissolve the borders of the images defined by the format of film, and to embed the image visually in its environment, as with the Marriage Is a Lie / Fried Chicken Cluster. The superimposition of visual levels and the use of different resolutions is one way of interrupting linear legibility. In this Cluster this also includes the gesture of the torn wallpaper, an act that permits a random result. In photography, a lot of things are prescribed and normed by the technology, such as the “correct” exposure and development times, filters, right angles, etc. Overcoming this and finding new presentation formats is something I find exciting.
c.m.— Recently, Timm Rautert said in an interview on Deutschlandfunk radio that there is no such thing as digital photography. He thinks this is the wrong word, because the inscription of light onto a medium is missing. How do you see this?
v.b.— I think it’s a question of definition, whether the transformation of light into an electronic signal or the inscription of light onto a light-sensitive medium produces an image. A new term for digital-electronic image recording would change nothing in the way we perceive photography. For myself I don’t expressly indicate whether the exposure was digital or analogue. I only mention whether the work is an analogue or digital C-print when printing on paper, as here I see a small but important difference. An analogue print is a job that is done by a person by hand, and that can therefore vary minimally. A digital print should, in theory, be always exactly the same. I have mixed feelings about inkjet prints, on the other hand. For me, technically speaking, this method is more a graphic than a photographic method. When the colour is spread onto the paper, light has no further role to play and I often find the result too sharp and too flat.
c.m.— This exhibition and catalogue will probably travel the world for ten to fifteen years. Can you imagine how photography and a culture of images will change in this time?
v.b.— In my works I like to respond to changes in the medium, but my imagination is not big enough to be able to predict them. The trends of recent years have shown that photography can be anything today – a piece of paper, a file, a sculpture, something short-lived, or something for the archive. Photographs have always been about memory and construction, everything we wanted to see in them. Recently I read this comparison, written by a young student: “Photography is like a foot that is always growing out of its shoe.” In future we are going to be working with giant feet.