Gottfried Jäger, Foto object 1998I
The Latin origin of the word abstract, “drawing away from”, suggests an art that started in figurative representation but moved away from it into non-representation. The careers of Kandinsky, Mondrian and Pollock all show a gradual development from realistic depiction into pure abstraction.
But there are artists whose work started in non-representation, whose thinking was already based on abstraction. The word used for this is Concrete art (Art Concret), a term first employed in the 1930s and promoted by the Swiss Max Bill. He famously declared that he believed in an art largely derived from mathematics.
Obviously ‘concrete’ doesn’t refer to a building material, but to something real and actual. Concrete artists see a work as existing in its own ontology, without reference to external images, feelings, memories or ideas. They are things that should be taken on their own terms.
In photography this is a difficult idea because the medium is “wedded to the world through the mechanism of recorded light”. Photography captures the world outside of the camera, a “quotation of reality”, as John Berger described it. If a painting is something added to the world, a photograph is something taken from it.
Gottfried Jäger has dedicated his long career to Concrete Photography, and his writings and artworks help to define the movement. The images displayed here are simple pieces of black & white darkroom paper, exposed to light, processed and carefully cut. They are from a series called Fotomaterialarbeiten – Photo material works – a suitably objective title. More can be found by clicking on his name.
In the above image, a sheet of paper has been exposed with an X and an X has been cut into the paper alongside. In the image below, sheets of paper have been exposed and cut to create the impression of a single folded sheet. Look closely.
According to Jäger, they dispense with depicting external objects and posit themselves as the theme. The results are pure images of light, photographs of photography.
A Concrete photograph attains object character. It is not a sign of something, but is itself something. It is not what is represented but what is present. It engenders objects of itself and thus fulfills the central criterion of every concrete art: self-reference.
.The archive of Jäger’s photography can be found by clicking here.