Psychograms of Modern Life
Heidi Specker’s Portraits at the Berlinische Galerie

We live in the age of self-optimization. That also applies to photography. “There are hardly any pictures of people over 40 today that aren’t optimized in some way. Either they’ve optimized themselves surgically, or the portraits are optimized in post-production,” said Heidi Specker in an interview with ArtMag in 2015. Now her most recent project, the portrait series IN FRONT OF, is on view at the Berlinische Galerie, together with IM GARTEN, probably the most famous series by the Berlin-based photographer. Produced between 2003 and 2004, the series includes numerous works from the Deutsche Bank Collection.

Like the architectural pictures for which Specker has made a name for herself since the mid-1990s, her seventy-part portrait series combines analytical and formal distance with a very personal autobiographical interest. The friends and acquaintances whom Specker photographed in her studio using only indirect flash look vulnerable, almost a little lost, in their everydayness. In the undefined spaces, only a few props suggest depth or atmosphere. The portraits are supplemented by shots of body fragments and still lifes. With IN FRONT OF, Specker calls the view of the portrait influenced by the art-historical canon into question. At the same time, she is interested in power structures: the interactions and dependencies between photographer and model that emerge during a portrait session, and the longing of all participants for self-portrayal.   

IN FRONT OF is also a plea against optimization mania and perfectionism. The ruthlessness with which the artist, born in 1962, photographs her friends goes hand in hand “anti-illusionist” view of the people in front of the camera, as well as with the technique of reduction with which they are photographed. The pictures address the conditions of every single shooting. the traditions of portraiture, but also the tensions and interactions between the photographer and the sitter. Specker makes an effort to conceal as little as possible – neither the intimacy between herself and the person in front of her camera nor the impossibility of achieving intimacy at certain moments. The people portrayed are predominantly in the photographer’s generation. They are friends and acquaintances, among them artists, curators and arts journalists, and so IN FRONT OF is also an approach to Specker's network.

That architectural photographs by Specker are also on exhibit at the Berlinische Galerie makes perfect sense. She approaches the modernist buildings the way she approaches people. However, clothing is replaced by facades and people by buildings that are part of a social fabric. Thus, the pictures of trees and bushes that Specker takes in front of urban architecture recall the cool, distanced photography of the Neue Sachlichkeit. Yet like her portraits they are also psychograms of modern life.

Heidi Specker
Photographs 2005/2015

3/11 – 7/11/2016
Berlinische Galerie