Manfred Willmann

Even in early works created during the 1970s, the image compositions of Austrian photographic artist Manfred Willmann see a convergence of the most diverse formal and methodological vectors of New Photography, which was just in the process of emancipating itself as an artistic genre. What would later come to characterize Willmann’s photographic language in his large or central series such as Schwarz und Gold [Black and Gold] and Das Land [The Country]—the fixation of the complex, interwoven and often parallel pictorial narratives in realistic, report-like or snapshot-like particles, of which each introduces its own temporality; a changeable, variously interrupted, excerpt-like reality which must constantly be constructed and reconstructed—can already be seen in his large self-portrait of 1972, as well as in his Kontaktportraits [Contact Portraits]. Both of these are more than just rare and early Austrian works of conceptual photography. By combining a conceptual interest in material aspects of photography with the author’s subjective, psychologizing stance, they point beyond the frame of the conceptual. In the works which followed shortly thereafter such as Schwarz und Gold [Black and Gold] and Für Christine [For Christine], Willmann leaves behind the formalisms of his conceptual years, and his eye for photography’s materiality begins to connect with the wider world, doing so with a nearly insatiable interest in both bodily and embodied knowledge, as well as in knowledge which has become a body. But this turn toward a new sensuousness, which seems almost like a rejection of conceptual photography’s universalizing claims to abstraction, is in reality their consistent intellectual continuation: Willmann is interested in the concept’s distortion, in what a conceptual view of surfaces and situations can unleash. To this day, his works are almost exclusively bundled into series and work groups. Their themes give rise within them to geographies of the everyday—but their gaze upon people, as well as upon the ephemeral, upon the gestural and upon the secret life of objects, employs discrete elements as if they were strategically selected much like one would select unstable, time-resistant arrangements and excerpts of a larger, absent reality. It his alertness to the concrete’s potential to become abstract by being captured and affixed in photography which makes Willmann’s oeuvre so rich.


1952, Graz / AT


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