by Ruttkowski68 on June 15, 2011
> Stephan Zirwes
> Opening 1 July – 8pm
> Running from 1 July – 6 August
> Event on Facebook
ABOUT THE EXHIBITION
Stephan Zirwes, a German photographer, has no fear of heights. Unlike other photographers he doesn’t take his photos in the studio. Usually he takes them out of the door of a flying helicopter, in spiraling heights several hundred meters above the ground. While a safety device ensures a more or less secure working environment, one might still wonder about the motivation to work under such conditions. The photos of Zirwes reveal a stunning answer: From above ground European industrial wasteland, African townships or Arabian deserts look completely different.
Enormous metal constructions, buildings, highways, mountains and other elements form structures that are only visible from above. Patterns and contrasts appear and give another perspective on reality, as Zirwes says. It’s a playful view, one that specifically questions reality and its perception. The photos show that we as humans are often limited to the reality of our eye level or, more general, to the reality given by our observation methods and techniques.
Zirwes’ works often look artificial and fictitious, even more like paintings than photos, but they are barely edited. In fact, he has to rely on the nature for lighting instead on studio equipment. Therefore, his photos are even more authentic than other professional ones.
The photos of Zirwes often exceed a purely aesthetical interest and usually explore other dimensions of reality. For instance, when a cloud produced by the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull caused a shutdown of most airplane traffic in Europe, Zirwes caught the calmness of an airport. From above, it looked like a quite place. For a number of passengers however, it was an emotional time as their plans were forcefully changed. Another series consists of photos of Swiss glaciers. Their melting process started in the 1940s and hasn’t stopped since. To prevent or at least delay it, desperate attempts have been made. One of them was to cover glaciers parly with large plastic canvases. The gigantic glaciers though still move, sometimes up to ten centimeters a day, swallowing and playing with the human made solution. Zirwes devoted himself to portrait the glaciers in their existing form.
Over the years Zirwes has moved into a new direction, using the same techniques and motives but discreetly and effectively changing reality by using actors, a conceptual resemblance to the work of Canadian photographer Jeff Wall. In contrast, the actors are usually just a small component of the composition.
Images, very familiar from being constantly screened in the mass media, that leave one numb by constant repetition, are newly staged by Zirwes. In his recent impressive photos of the navy blue Mediterranean, humans also play a crucial role. After closely examining the photos, one can see a nutshell full of a few dozen “Africans” trying to find shelter in Europe. Likewise, on another set of photos, he awakens collective memories of torture at Guantanamo Bay, by having helpers pose as inmates in their well-known orange suits.
Lately, Zirwes started talking more about socio-political issues like exclusion, globalization, environmental pollution and other topics, relevant to most, if not all viewers. He intelligently comments, sometimes beautifully and disturbing at the same time, and rather turns the viewer towards the issue than away from it.
To improve the viewing experience, Zirwes has used various new presentation techniques, from using a highglossy liquid gloss surface on his photos to projections. To maintain a high level of detail, most photos of Zirwes exhibited at Ruttkowski68 are 120x160cm or larger.
Zirwes has exhibited internationally in galleries and museums such as the SF Moma and won awards like the prestigious Hasselblad Masters Award. He started out with video-installations and art-videos in 1994 and moved to mainly shooting from helicopters in 2000.
Text by Martin Schulze