Personal-views – an interdisciplinary web project focusing on identity construction in private photography
Personal-views – the title evokes views of, onto or from the private life of anyone and anybody at any time, starting from the first beginnings of private photography. Whether it is a matter of families, couples, travels, festivities, still lives or group portraits – people take snapshots of one another, their friends and their relatives, documenting a multifaceted ‘I was here’ signature in the stream of time; they capture private contexts – which may equally have social relevance – in the medium of photography, like cartographers mapping a ‘here, there and elsewhere’ in terms of place, and so give rise to countless personal views.
Berlin artist Susanne Wehr has put together a collection of photographic images from slides created between the 1950s and the 1990s. Some of these formed part of photographic legacies, others were acquired by purchase. Multifarious subjects, anonymous photographers, unknown biographies, leaps in time, models and self-presentations, constructions of individual identities throng together from one picture to the next. Yielding to the fascination and sensing the potential of these anonymous personal views, Susanne Wehr launched the volks-bild project, where she sorts the private slides, arranges them in layers and exposes them in new contexts. In her second project, personal-views, the selection of individual slides is accompanied by two writers – Birgit Szepanski, an artist and author and media philosopher and author Rainer Totzke – who supply text essays in dialogue on the potential and possible points of view in looking at this half-hidden treasury of private photography.
What pictorial models are to be found, how are identities formulated and what normative structures can be seen in these graphic materials, can be recognised as familiar or remain quite opaque from our point of view today? The essays of Szepanski and Totzke form an approach to the slides that Susanne Wehr has selected and thematically grouped together. The photographs and the text complement one another, resulting in a ‘How to Look at It’ vade mecum of photography in the private sphere.
As a public project, set in a contemporary pictorial context, personal-views is presented as a website and online platform. The linking of digital private photographs found in the internet flux makes it possible for contemporary photographic archives (like Google and Flickr) to be thematically included. This gives rise to countless further links, an engagement with material content and the raising of questions on the theme of the private view, which is invariably located in the field of tension between the flood of images supplied by the media, pictorial stereotypes and the creation of an individual identity.
The tracking of photographic time trails, life sketches, the construction of an identity, and dealing with the medium of photography – in this multimedia graphic project these have given birth to a search for linguistic and visual standards and possibilities of expression. It is crucial to reveal the contradictions and borderlines of a controversial situation and to engage in the discussion of: the consciousness of living in a world dominated by the media, and the longing for the vindication of the private world as a place of retreat. Dr. Birgit Szepanski
Personal Views – the investigation process
The project “Personal Views” was developed in a successive and collective process of choice, reflexion and discussion among the artists and authors involved, namely Susanne Wehr, Birgit Szepanski and Rainer Totzke. This involved the processual selection of 25 slide photographs from the comprehensive store of the volks-bild collection, and included loops of feedback and the production of the texts.
The creation of the texts
Although they have an auctorial voice, Birgit Szepanski and Rainer Totzke’s short essays always reflect the ways of seeing, thoughts and reflexions of the other project participants. The corresponding texts were commented on in depth after the first draft by all involved, both in the context of the authors’ own texts and the entire image and text corpus. This process influenced the possibilities of editing and developing the text as well as primarily affecting the production of texts on the further image motifs that followed from different thematic areas.