“Yes it bothers you. But with painted photographs, so many details are left out or blurred that it all becomes a little more bearable, and one perhaps becomes a little more curious.”Gerhard Richter
Photography can be extremely cruel, super up-front and in our faces. There is something unavoidable about the reality that is captured – that millisecond of a memory that stays ingrained into one’s mind. However, reality is even more unbearable, knowing that the photograph itself only allows us to see a fraction of the beauty and the pain behind each frame. But once that still image is blurred, smeared onto the canvass, something else comes into focus: curiosity and attraction. We all of a sudden what to understand a deeper meaning or try to look away but not necessarily know what we are looking at. That is when our curiosity gets the best of us and we can’t look away.
Kurt and Richter don’t necessarily have an agenda with these paintings, rather just representing periods of time captured in a capsule. All of these images begin to weight you down, because it feels like there is something missing, like they are unfinished. It is up to our imaginations to evoke meaning, with the art standing in as a symbol of the pursuit for truth. As Richter himself states, “since there is no such thing as absolute rightness and truth, we always pursue the artificial, leading, human truth. We judge and make a truth that excludes other truths. Art plays a formative part in this manufacture of truth.” He isn’t making statements, he makes art. The art itself does the work.
What is consistent behind these images is one thing: simpleness. They are not meant to be grand. They are a simulation. They are photographs of objects, people, who are simply part of history. We, the viewer, give the power to the art. It becomes a relationship where art manufactures the truth and we declare it. The art captures a perspective, a moment, where we complete it and widen it. Just as Kurt did with his art series in the movie “Never Look Away,” Richter in his whole series on October 18, 1977, stood as an understanding of reality, capturing numerous moments to create one overarching story. It never was just about Meinhof or the RAF, it was about something more, what they stood for and what effect that had in 1977 and today.
Richter is trying to understand what is, just like the rest of us living our lives. He just does it through painting. It’s not purposeful or personal, its an analogy. It is for us to contribute to and figure out the truth alongside him.
“Theory has nothing to do with a work of art. Pictures which are interpretable, and which contain a meaning, are bad pictures. A picture presents itself as the Unmanageable, the Illogical, the Meaningless. It demonstrates the endless multiplicity of aspects; it takes away our certainty, because it deprives a thing of its meaning and its name. It shows us the thing in all the manifold significance and infinite variety that preclude the emergence of any single meaning and view.”Richter’s Notes, 1964-65
To find out more about what photography brings to untangling violence and revolution, check out my research paper on Contemporary War Photography or my Images (Non-Textual).