Massimo Vitali: Everyday about 350 million photographs are uploaded on Facebook. Isn’t that a crazy number? Just think of the number of pictures taken every day, incredibly much higher. But: this doesn’t mean that people know more about photography than they did 20 years ago.
Lisa Ortner-Kreil: This sounds a bit frustrated. Are you pessimistic about the current status of photography and the way people look at photography?
M.V.: I am speaking of young artists today. Things are rapidly changing and in the midst of this change I do not see much of a will in putting forward new points. I do not see anybody doing what one should do. Everybody thinks differently about the way pictures should be taken or used. The point is, that everything starts with the knowledge of the history of photography and the history of art. Actually, very little is said. So my frustration comes from that. Nobody really cares.
L.O-K.: I think I get what you are saying. It is a bit this “anything goes”-principle. A very vague idea is sufficient. And here, I think, we can also speak about the current status of photo critique.
M.V.: Yes, vague. But I am primarily speaking of photography as art itself. It is like a big river. I don’t think I am doing varied things. I have my own ideas of course. I am not suggesting to others a way to take photographs, I am not naming. I am just saying: It is a very strange time.
L.O-K.: “Strange” meaning what exactly?
M.V.: In the history of art at a certain point during the political evolution of the late 60s and 70s people started experimenting with subjects in art which had not been used before. If we take contemporary art now – people start with different subjects. But this doesn’t make everything properly artistic. This is why photography has jumped on the wagon of contemporary art. Because it was not artistic. Exactly at this moment, the Düsseldorf school was ready with an important group of people and with some ideas, and they just got in, they were perfectly entitled to do this.
L.O-K.: Speaking of the Düsseldorf photo school, Bernd and Hilla Becher established a systematic approach towards photograph, Becher-pupils worked in big series, and this is something you do as well. You started your Beach series 20 years ago, is that right?
M.V.: Yes, it was after the Düsseldorf school took off. I was fascinated by the seriality, also by the fact that they used commercial photography to express themselves. The only problem is: 20 years have gone by. Very little has changed. Of course everything changes but on the other hand from the galleries, curators, commercial photo scene, we are still looking back to the 1980s, there is no new group of photographers like the Düsseldorf-school. I always think: Why is this?
L.O-K.: You mean we are stuck in contemporary photography?
M.V.: Yes, maybe this is also a commercial thing. Galleries want to keep cashing on. I don’t know. It is not a critique. But it is a bit of a critique towards young photographers. They often take it too easy and do things that are not so important and very superficial. When the Düsseldorf school started they went to this big commercial lab in Düsseldorf. All the posters they had in stations, airports were done in a certain way with a certain kind of imagery, so they were using this popular imagery to work on what they wanted to do. Today we are still using these 1980 imageries.
L.O-K.: Well, then what about Thomas Ruff? He is probably the Becher-pupil who followed the spiritual lead of Bernd and Hilla Becher in a very literal way. But still – later on he was the first to start working with found footage photo material. So he took photography to another level by taken the decision no longer of taking photographs himself but of using found footage.
M.V.: Yes, Ruff changed a lot, that’s right.
L.O-K.: Through his working method he is questioning the way in which we look at photographs.
M.V.: Absolutely. The Düsseldorf-group is constantly talking about the various layers of photography: How do we look at photography? This is why their photographs are more expensive. Because they talk about more things. The contemporary art world gives a premium to those who have a more layered, more complex work. I think working with found images is very interesting. I like it. But it is only one layer. But: Can’t we do a little more? I think that in the 80s we started with a deep knowledge of art and history of photography. But today: they take everything they can get.