BURKHARD SCHITTNY, Fineart
From the series LEGACY OF FEAR - THE WAR WITHIN ME // LEGACY PROJECTS 2011
Photography is intrinsically linked to memory; it records what has occurred in the past. But ‘new’ photographs are also able to preserve the past, as in the series "114", part of the serial project "Legacy Of Fear - The War Within Me" by Burkhard Schittny. He has travelled far afield in order to create afterimages. It is a journey into his own family history, the history of the second world war, into the trauma of displacement.
The artist's parents come from Glatz in Silesia, Klodzko in today’s Poland. In 1946 Schittny’s mother was displaced and forced to flee west. As a mere ten-year-old, now a refugee, she left her hometown on a cattle train. The photographer’s father, Robert Schittny, had just turned 19 when he was a soldier in the Wehrmacht, fighting right up to capitulation on the Eastern front. A small soldier’s diary, the discovery of which inspired Burkhard Schittny to make this serial project, conveys what happened to his father during that time: after being captured by Czech troops and being held in the sports ground of Mnichovo Hradište, the German soldiers were divided into groups of 100 men and forced to march the 114 kilometres on foot to the POW camp in Zittau, where they were interned. In his diary Robert Schittny describes the extreme torment of the trek, the hunger and thirst.
Burkhard Schittny decided to take exactly the same route his father had marched at the end of the war. He shot colour photographs from the middle of the road in the direction the soldiers had been marching. In the middle of the road the soldiers were less afraid of being hit by the liberated Czech population than at the margins of the column. He also took black-and-white pictures with a wide-angle lens, this time facing the other way, the direction he had come from- and this time upside down. A significant aesthetic fracture which emphasizes the idea of denial - the wide-angle-lens pushing what is near into the distance, dragging the events out of focus.
Photography is the medium of recollection. On his journey through villages, hamlets and small towns, through idyllic forests, industrial wastelands and fields Burkhard Schittny finally, after 114 kilometres, reached the former barracks in Zittau. He had arrived at the arched gates of the buildings that had formerly also been used as a concentration camp: he had arrived at his father’s destination. The son’s pictures recall the father’s journey, but they will soon turn into a memory themselves.
It is an austere and understated photo-series. In the book version, the true-sided colour and upside down b/w pictures face each other on either page of a double-spread. Turning the book upside down reveals the related image - the reader can move into the future and back again.
These are images of a journey. 114 momentary images. Shot by the son kilometre by kilometre in May 2011, almost exactly 66 years after the father walked this long and arduous trek. Images of immense power, because they convey with profound intensity that everything we see today, everything that surrounds us is irrevocably linked to the past. The father’s journey ended in Zittau - as did the son’s. But the story is not over - not only does the memory open the view to the past, it also leads us into the future.
Marc Peschke, 2012
OSTWÄRTS / FACING EAST
From the series LEGACY OF FEAR - THE WAR WITHIN ME // LEGACY PROJECTS 2011
Photography is always linked to memory; it records what has occurred in the past. But ‘new’ photographs are also able to preserve the past, as in the series "Facing East", part of the serial project "Legacy Of Fear - The War Within Me" by Burkhard Schittny. He has travelled far afield in order to create afterimages. It is a journey into his own family history, the history of the second world war, into the trauma of displacement.
The artist's parents come from Glatz in Silesia, Klodzko in today’s Poland. In 1946 Schittny’s mother was displaced and forced to flee west. As a mere ten-year-old, now a refugee, she left her hometown on a cattle train. The photographer’s father, Robert Schittny, had just turned 18 when he was a soldier in the Wehrmacht, fighting right up to capitulation on the Eastern front.
66 years after his father, in March 2011, Burkhard Schittny visits the sites of fear and war-time trauma. At the sites where the father had been involved in fighting, where he had fled from the approaching enemy, Burkhard Schittny points the camera towards the east. "Facing East" means: he turns the camera in the direction his father had been fearfully looking towards.
These are calm and still images. Ditches covered in winter leaves, a field and grey sky in the distance. Fences. A plastic bag, a discarded bottle, an isolated farm, disused train tracks. Left-over snow from the previous winter. Rotting wood. A road, birch trees. Birch forests that have lost their sheen. In Slavic folklore the birch tree is a holy tree providing protection, but in May 1945 nobody would have expected any protection at all.
The son is driving through this land, is looking for images. He points the camera towards the east, takes dark, flat, desolate and slightly eerie pictures of an early spring not yet exuding any warmth. He photographs the landscape, a burnt field, ditches, dams and fences - and asks himself: could my father have been here? Where did he seek shelter?
A compass helps the camera point eastwards, it leads Schittny’s eyes over the terrain of violent confrontations, over the fields of war, over soil that became a crime scene. The father, he seems present in his absence. Where his son presumes his father to have stood, where he feels or believes to feel his father’s presence, Schittny applies a degree of focus in an otherwise slightly out-of-focus picture.
The sharper focus evokes a ghost-like presence while the lack of focus signifies absence. In photography, the focus affects the image's sharpness, a term that also describes the mechanical properties of a knife - the dichotomy between photography and violence is once more brought to bear in this series of images. The acts of war, the events of May 1945 may have left no visible traces in these images - they are nonetheless acutely present. Photography is linked irrevocably with the past.
Marc Peschke, 2012
ALTE HEIMAT NEUE HEIMAT.
From the series LEGACY OF FEAR - THE WAR WITHIN ME // LEGACY PROJECTS 2011
Photography is always linked to memory; it records what has occurred in the past. But ‘new’ photographs are also able to preserve the past, as in the series “Alte Heimat. Neue Heimat.”, part of the serial project “Legacy Of Fear - The War Within Me” by Burkhard Schittny. He has travelled far afield in order to create afterimages. It is a journey into his own family history, the history of the second world war, into the trauma of displacement.
The artist‘s parents come from Glatz in Silesia, Klodzko in today’s Poland. The photographer’s father, Robert Schittny, had just turned 19 when he was a soldier in the Wehrmacht, fighting right up to capitulation on the Eastern front. In February 1946 Schittny’s mother was displaced and forced to flee west. She was only ten years old and left Glatz on a cattle train. The refugee train was heading west, and after several deviations she and her family reached Olpe in the German Sauerland. “They had family there” explains Schittny. The artist’s aunt remembers that the trip took one week. Only rarely were people allowed to leave the train.
In December 2010 Schittny takes a trip on a slow train in the opposite direction. From Olpe towards the unknown Glatz. He captures the journey on video camera from within the train. “I wanted to approach the town slowly, with uncertainty and anticipation,” says the artist. A trip into the past, into unknown territory.
We see images of snowy landscapes rushing by. Mostly fields and bits of forest, then once more train tracks, villages and railway stations. Out of an incredible half a million video stills Schittny has selected over 10,000 of the shaky video images. Over 10,000 momentary shots edited from the video film, 10,361 to be precise, in minutes roughly the time it took his mother to make this trip: one week. Coincidence?
Over 10,000 images, an attempt to get to grips with fading memories, with his mother’s displacement, which can be ‘read’ picture by picture, slowly, one at a time. The bulk of images – only the sheer endless row of contact sheets with 60 individual images each amounts to the whole story. And eventually, bit by bit, a substantial and poetic image emerges.
“Alte Heimat. Neue Heimat.” is not an easily digestible work because it does not offer much more than an unrelenting repetition of images of a quiet train ride. The things we normally overlook, landscapes rushing by, are given new significance. And the slowness, the doggedness, the effort which is required of the viewer makes perfect sense as does the choice of artistic methods, because they refer directly to the events during the Winter of 1946. “Because I am looking rather slowly out of a relatively fast train, above all I see only surfaces”, writes Sten Nadolny in his book “Network card”. But beyond the surface of the thousands of images lies the secret of the past.
Marc Peschke, 2012
Notes on Burkhard Schittny's new photographic series
In the end we are all alone. Alone with our fears, thoughts and insecurities, with all those strange things we get up to when we feel unobserved. In his earlier portraits, taken on the busy streets of large cities, Burkhard Schittny captured these very moments: passers-by scratching their nose, staring into space, closing their eyes, looking utterly forlorn and lost
In his new photo series 'Untitled' Burkhard Schittny continues his exploration of forlornness and loneliness. These new works do not feature people at all, yet their presence is keenly felt. And while the series is called 'Untitled' it is not entirely without title - the Barcelona-based artist has organised the images into groups based on the place where they were created, using the international aviation codes for city airports.
'Untitled BRE' was created in Bremen, northern Germany. In these images (as in all 'Untitled' works) the distinction between photography and film is blurred. Captured by Schittny on video camera, the film stills blend into the realms of photography. What do we see? A Birch forest, a street, a field, gloomy, murky images, blurry like vague memories. Indeed, the photographer refers to them as 'memory shreds'. But who has experienced what exactly? Is it the photographer's own act of remembering as he attempts to evoke long-ago events?
'A life that strives towards a goal has little room for memories' writes Michel Houellebecq in 'The Elementary Particles', and in this vein Burkhard Schittny's 'Untitled' series can be understood as a veto against this dogged striving for a goal. These images are without aim, they have no direction - a photographic odyssey inviting the viewer to come along. Araki once said that black and white photography is like death, and indeed here, in the forests around Bremen, trepidation is palpable. Are these crime scenes? Many of these photographs intimate the presence of some dark secret.
From the birch forests of Bremen we travel to Venice: 'Untitled VCE'. Here, Schittny discovers subject matter that is difficult to decipher. He values the fragmented and oscillating image: he knows that one cannot trust photographs, and it is from this doubt that he constructs his art. The lagoon, the gondolas, the sparkling sun, it is all there, yet the atmosphere remains funereal. Venice is a place of loneliness. It is also a place for those excluded from fortune.
Schittny conveys the port of Hamburg in a similar manner. In 'Untitled HAM' the cranes on the docks rise from the waters of the river Elbe: out of focus, distorted, surreal images. Even in Hamburg's huge fun fair, the Dom, Schittny does not see a place of carefree abandon: he portrays the rides as colourfully luminous, rotating patterns. More than the other images of the 'Untitled' series, the Hamburg film stills assume the visual character of paintings - they represent a hybrid imagery on multiple levels: Schittny cross-breeds photography, film and painting and creates visual flashbacks that make a virtue out of their lack of focus. He operates on a twilight terrain, in the unutterable sphere between image and phantasy.
The 'Untitled' images defy the viewer's perfunctory glance - in as much as the images have peeled away from the film they re-form in their implicit sequence as a new film; a film that now takes us to New York: 'Untitled JFK' is next on the itinerary. Schittny captures the New York airport and the island of Manhattan with a shaking video camera, creating new lines that would not be visible had he used a steady hand. He reveals tremors that are reflected in the image - tremors of metropolitan daily life implying deeper internal workings. And these images are once more dominated by obscurity, blur, shadows and blind spots - again, we hope in vain to find any answers here.
The 'Untitled' images provoke the question: what are we seeing? And more to the point: how do we see? The closer we attempt to get to the photographs the more they elude our grasp. At the same time, much is concealed within these images for which we have no name. Schittny himself may provide a clue when he says: 'I am interested in general by trauma and psychological phenomena, and in particular in processing my own family history in terms of the effects that my parents' war-time experiences may have had on me as an individual and as an artist.'
But Schittny's 'Untitled' works do not require interpretation. They are a chimera, a flank against the self-confidence of the photographic image, a tribute to ambiguity. And an invitation to the viewers to perhaps find themselves within them.
Marc Peschke, 2010
Burkhard Schittny’s new photographic work
Relying on your own senses without intellectually constraining them beforehand may be a risky approach to image production, but it may also be considered an act of liberation. By using a video camera on his photographic excursion to New York, Burkhard Schittny places a new emphasis on his artistic work in order to clearly distinguish himself from an increasingly commercialised art scene that is intent on reshaping artistic output into market and ratings compatible commodities with the aim of closing ranks with the entertainment industry. Schittny sees his current work as a departure, and it is not by chance that the new series’ titles each correspond to the international letter code for the nearest airport.
Allowing himself to become completely absorbed by New York City’s urban constellations and using a video camera to turn them into potential material for images constituted Schittny’s extremely intuitive approach, which gradually led to the concept for his JFK-series. The image emerged only at the end of a long journey, but for Schittny this is as important as the result, in that it symbolises the process of discovering an image, a process that is condensed and, finally, comes to rest, in the end product. Ideally, this leads to both journey and image becoming equally significant.
The image tells the story of the journey in its specific language, whose modulations Schittny meticulously manipulates throughout the entire process. From the outset, at the point of exposure, Schittny outwits orthodox technique, deviating from the customary process as suggested by the camera’s manual by shaking the camera horizontally – thus preventing the creation of a normal compound TV/video image which is produced when two half-images captured in quick succession (within a fraction of a second) merge into a uniform image. Instead, the intentional camera shake causes two diverging viewpoints to blend, leading to exaggerated interlaced lines. Depending on the level of image contrast the interlaced lines can appear strong or subdued, giving the impression of varying degrees of resolution and abstraction.
The visual result is the paradox of a monumental movie still – at a size, after all, of up to 63 x 94 inch (160 x 240 cm) – that is characterised by the image’s disconcerting blur. What is more, the precision of the lines stands in stark contrast to the subject’s hazy appearance – this technique, it seems, has developed its very own aesthetic laws, which the photographer simply lays bare. The technique has taken on a life of its own, it has abandoned its original aim for maximum definition and elevated its technical means to an end in itself. Moreover, the grid of lines appears to limit the beholder’s view, as though looking through the slats of a Venetian blind.
That Burkhard Schittny has chosen New York City, of all places, for the departure point of his new journey is not so surprising, given that its skyline is still acutely associated with the video images of the attacks of 9/11. The terrorists were able, even then, to count on the omnipresence of that medium to convey their actions to a worldwide audience – a medium that, moreover, has since come to epitomise surveillance. The need for systematic detection as expressed through video surveillance, however, is rendered entirely absurd in Schittny’s images. Indeed, the need for positive identification painfully exposes that the extent of security provided by video surveillance is approaching its limit.
In his new work Schittny maintains the poised aesthetic of his earlier experiments, which hovered between moving and static, between calculated arrangement and chance, with their perfect surfaces provoking the question of what lies behind them. Now Schittny has elevated an increasingly common yet relatively novel language of documentation via mobile phone – which invariably uses its technical imperfection as ostensible proof of authenticity – to hitherto unseen perfection, thereby exposing it as bogus. The fact that this may lead the viewer to be momentarily reminded of Impressionist works, as in the New York images (JFK series), is echoed in the other UNTITLED series - such as the series of forest images (BRE series) or the Venice lagoon reflection images (VCE series) – where Schittny has applied the same visual process. Alas, the apparently harmless motifs are misleading; by way of the purposefully exaggerated aesthetic in the style of a CCTV camera, these idylls are transformed into potential crime scenes or conspiratorial meeting points. However, the depicted manipulations and evidence do not lead to the perpetrator but to the artist, whose position in front of the image is now occupied by the viewer.
Dr. Boris von Brauchitsch, 2009
TOWARDS NEW SURFACES
The red sports car races past over a track glistening in sunlight, purposeful and surrounded by the green shade of nature. The extreme wide format creates a cinemascope-width panorama and conveys uninhibited speed and freedom. But still, it’s just an apparitional blotch on a blue-white surface bordered by a green expanse.
To present the familiar in new packaging is a tactic of the fashion and advertising industries; to win a new appeal for the familiar is also the challenge of art. The elementary needs and emotions of people aren’t subject to any great change, therefore it’s a bigger challenge to set new goals. Burkhard Schittny juggles with emotions and packaging, with recognition and irritation and finds unfamiliar perspectives on an idiosyncratic path.
He uses the digital medium to conjure up synthetic surfaces. People become color patterns in the screen of their surroundings, architecture is reduced to its basic shapes, and events extract themselves into abstraction. The smooth artificiality of faces and landscapes made anonymous makes unmistakably clear that we are standing in Schittny’s universe, far beyond documentation. His choreographies - seemingly coincidental and pedestrian -- are only quotations of reality, such as when his studies and portraits in the manner of Egon Schiele and Francis Bacon quote art history. Through Schittny’s interpretation and digitalizing, Schiele’s expressive self portraits and Bacon’s despondency transmute into frosty, calculated lifestyle icons of a sterile fascination. It’s discomforting to see the “holiness” of the models profaned to fashion spreads in this manner. At the same time they inevitably raise the question, to what extent was the cult artists’ existential need to express themselves also simply attitude?
The Perfection of Chance
A fashion design student geared towards appearance and impact, Schittny took up photography in 1992: “I get quickly bored when I have the feeling that I’ve understood something. It was like that with fashion.” He retained his feel for fashion’s effect and it refined his photographic sense for firm colors and composition. The relationship of movement and fixed image, of chance and exact arrangement hold his pictures – which tend towards volatility – in a peculiar suspension. How artificial is this world? Is there something behind the surfaces or should we be satisfied with them and only rely on them when we have to consider deeper insights? There’s something transitory in the pictures of public places. They explicitly bring up the short standstill in the course of events, as if there’s a delay for a moment in the gears of time. Their fleetingness shows melancholy that is underlined by the seeming triviality, the motifs, as well as the people. Existence is - completely in the sense of a Max Beckmann (to bring another great artist into the mix) - an uninterrupted passing of one another. No glance, no gesture is captured by the next one. Instead, blunt indifference in the train stations, shopping malls and metro stations; the same artificial light shines worldwide on these globalized, de-personalized everyday locations. At first the synopsis of the various pictures from the series “Island” makes clear the depression and estrangement. Ostensibly the title refers to the location of the photograph, the island England. However, on second glance, Schittny also opens it up to associations of isolation and individuals’ island of being.
Schittny captured the movements of passers-by with a video camera, scanned the daily goings- on and afterwards chose single pictures from the material to work on. The contour areas running in stripes still suggest the origin of the pictures from the moving medium of video – just like the lines that illustrate speed in a comic.
Speeding towards the unknown
In photographs such as motorways the abstraction is driven so far that it can be turned around again in the mind of the viewer. In some turn of the brain, the motif takes on clear contours again and ties itself to familiar things. This provocation of our common way of seeing challenges the viewer. Schittny very deliberately and competently juggles with media and controls the game with conventional perception. Video is manipulated in the photography until it reminds one of painting. The borders of the media and the genre are fluid like the borders of the figures and objects in his pictures. Schittny is permanently on the search, continually pursuing the process of letting go of direct role models, and fighting for new ground, without avoiding a concrete argument with art history. As a curious scout he’s a border crosser plumbing the relationship of invention and imitations, of cause and effect, but trusts that even effects can cause something new.
Dr. Boris von Brauchitsch, 2004
Burkhard Schittny's photographs appear so real because they are like painting
For the New York Times Magazine, Burkhard Schittny's big breakthrough came two years ago: a fashion section over several pages based on the paintings of Egon Schiele. Schittny used a computer to convert the men in their hip outfits into the fragile youths as portrayed by the painter of the Viennese Secession, the back-grounds in cardboard-coloured canvases, outlining the figures with a fine black line, blurring their contours and almost dissolving their forms. He showed that it is possible to use pixels in fashion photography in a much more imaginative way than just to produce digital cosmetic surgery.
The tension in the relationship between photography and painting is the subject that interests this photographer, who was born in Gütersloh/Germany in 1966. He takes young men and uses Photoshop to lock them in claustrophobic torture chambers à la Francis Bacon, blurs bodies and faces, changes pedestrians into throbbing areas of colour and sets fire to heads. Schittny studied fashion design for three years before switching to photography, and has since completed a MA Fine Art course at the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London.
His works are both highly polished and mysterious. In his latest project "Island" they have almost completely abandoned the level of photography - and sometimes there are vague recollections of the aesthetics of the photograph-like, realistic paintings of Gerhard Richter.
Schittny skilfully moves along the threshold between objective reality and abstraction and makes the photographs move. Blurred outlines hint at visually pulsating couples and passers-by, landscapes fly past, a woman in a black-and-white shirt changes into a zebra according to the title of the picture, a street scene with a hovering blue object turns into a fata morgana.
Even if the photographs based on Schiele and Bacon fall short of the originals in terms of content, Schittny's new works are original studies of everyday life. The realistic character of photography has been left behind, but in spite of being virtually dissolved they still seem very close to reality.
Sabine Danek, 2002