Between Dream And Reality – The Hallucinatory Photography Of Christian Voigt
‘I’m a story-teller’
‘My criterion for a successful photo is a lovely, true story’
His amazing imagery quickly helped the photo artist Christian Voigt (born in Münich in 1961) to make a name for himself. His first exhibition in 2009 was followed by international exhibitions at short intervals. His oeuvre developed into an impressive series of photographs that he took on his many journeys. It is not possible to quickly walk past Christian Voigt’s images. They are eye-catchers of overwhelming dimensions with almost artificial, intensive colours and lively images. Anything and everything that exists under the sun and touches the photographer can be a subject. What we see are cities, nature, people and cultural sights that, although they are identifiable, also have a certain level of alienation. The scenes appear to have been edited, dyed, staged.
However, the opposite is in fact the case. Christian Voigt captures what he sees, based directly on real life. Following in the tradition of early landscape photography, he spends hours, sometimes days, hiking through the jungle, across the desert or in the mountains to find the ultimate image.
His criterion for a successful photo is a lovely, true story. And if there is no story, there can be no image – no matter how technically perfect it might be. Being able to capture such an image calls for endless patience on the part of the photographer, but sometimes also just being fortunate enough for it to suddenly turn up, “screaming out to be photographed”, as Christian Voigt puts it. His images have nothing of the ‘National Geographic’ about them! Christian Voigt uses a concept to make art photos with the landscape or parts thereof as the subject. They are pictures that say more than what can actually be seen, the core or effect only later getting through to the observer.
The intensity of the image, or of what one perceives as being alienated, is the result of Christian Voigt’s camera technique. Of course, like any other photo journalist, he still pays tribute to traditional photography, but he found his own form and his unique style by experimenting with the proven technique of multiple exposures, first practised in the 1930s, in which several pictures of the same image are taken on top of each other.
Christian Voigt is always experimenting with technical possibilities. Every picture is the result of thirty pictures, each in a different association. This enables him to play with colour, light, contrast, and the effects of light and shadow like a painter.
The reality of his photographic pictures is shaken by the apparently “unnatural” combination of soft coloured pencils, neon colours and a vast imagery that is quite literally created by placing layer upon layer. The photos are never staged; no script is provided in advance. The unpolished reality that he captures with his camera is the starting point. This is the kind of realism that Christian Voigt loves.
He emphasises this beauty by later implementing the picture with his camera without violating the reality. And so what we see is an unreal reality. It is the result of an inner search for meaning that the photographer experiences as pure and natural. His intuitive method allows him to play an exciting game with time and form. His photographs of exotic nature and cosmopolitan cities look like surreal stage sets. As if they had been painted with a camera. The pictures are recognisable and inviting. They evoke a yearning in us for something or someone.
Christian Voigt captures what the reality looks like rather than reality itself. When he creates a faithful reproduction, he experiences the inner urge also to show something that is beautiful, is true, in a World of chaos, power and fear. So in this dotcom age, we could ask ourselves what a picture actually is. A reproduction of reality? An impression of reality? Or the conceptual processing of reality? These are old questions in art history, but now more relevant than ever thanks to the dominance of new media in our culture. They define, more than ever before, how we receive an impression of the reality using the advanced techniques and multimedia gadgets that are available to us all.
We already know that the term reality has been a somewhat dubious concept since Modernity. During the twentieth century, we also discovered that a mechanical device such as a camera is not reliable when reproducing reality. It is the human decisions that govern here, because they can influence every aspect – composition, lighting, focus, framing. At any point in the process, even – especially – afterwards. Christian Voigt travels a great deal in order to discover and experience, his only travel companions his Hasselblad and stand. He sees the world differently from the arbitrarily photographing tourist or traveller. His eyes ‚change’ when he looks through the viewfinder. He sees depths that he would not otherwise see; his perspective seems to be different, and he sees details and connections more clearly. Then he sees the stories, and that is what he does: he tells stories.
Christian Voigt works with large-format cameras, both digital and analogue. He experiments with new camera techniques and makes the best use of the digital medium. Christian Voigt has developed a language capable of telling new stories. He continually works to refine a pictorial idiom, the stories he wants to tell, the feelings he convey. This is visible in his pictures; Landscape and architecture are his principal areas of interest, but he also does portraits and nudes. The travels associated with his projects and places call for concentration, for the ability to get to grips with people, with their history and their religion.
His series on the vanished architecture of the past and its appearance in our own times come across just as vividly as the craziness of today’s societies that his images depict. ‘My pictures are created with the camera, not on the computer,’ he says, with a reference to the complicated technology and processing that goes into creating his work, ‘but without the computer technology of today, the pictures couldn’t be crafted into their final form.’
Solo shows and Art Fairs have been staged in Basel, Hamburg, New York, Los Angeles, London, Saint Tropez, Amsterdam, Madrid.