Thomas Kellner: Art through Photography
Thomas Kellner is a fascinating German photographic artist, whose style involves distorting our usual viewpoints of famous landmarks, challenging the way we look at the world around us. The process of producing his work essentially involves taking a series of photographs of small sections of a view, turning the camera slightly in between each shot to create an overall image, when the pictures are positioned together, that looks as though the landmark is dancing, or about to fall over. It is a technique that lends itself to forcing the viewer to question their understanding of things that they would otherwise consider to be solid, or unchanging. Here, I interview Kellner to understand more about his style, aims and inspirations.
His website offers an insight into more of his work, his style, and his exhibitions.
Fran Lowe: Firstly, I find it really interesting that while so many artists are keen to depict reality exactly as it is, you do the opposite, and deliberately distort it. Were there any artists in particular who influenced and inspired you in this?
“Choosing not to create the singular indexical, and direct reality-mirroring image beloved of the Bechers and their followers, Kellner chose to make an image that could not for a moment be equated with the real thing, by moving his camera in a succession of shots that he collectively combined to constitute both a reference and an interpretation.” Nordström, Alison, George Eastman House Rochester in: Dancing Walls
Thomas Kellner: There was a variety of experiences that influenced me in this direction. Very obviously it was the French orphistic Cubist Robert Delaunay and his paintings of the city of Paris and his paintings of the Eiffel tower up to the final pieces of the fenetres simultanee. But also experiences of perception and creating narration from the early gothic paintings up to Renaissance when the central perspective was invented. Initially searching for something comparable to Cubism, the work itself has found its own way in a balance of documenting, distorting and reconstructing an image. It was also important to me to stay in Siegen, a small town in Northrhine Westphalia. Here Bernhard Becher, founder of the Typologies and teacher of the Dusseldorf school was born and it’s here where he created the first typologies with his wife Hilla. It’s also the area where August Sander lived. And so there are the two most important examples of modern photography, who lived where I live. They did not grow their work in a Metropolis, but in the Province, outside the mainstream. I still love to live there, to have the silence that I need. The world is in front of us behind every computer screen iPad and smartphone. Airports are enough to bring me in a few hours or half days journey to the other side of our planet.
FL: You mention on your website that your work is all about playing with your viewers’ perceptions of what is real, landmarks that they consider to be constant and unchanging. Why is it that you think this is such an important message to spread?
“Kellner’s contact sheets give bodily form to our scattered, animated and animating act of viewing. In doing so, they reclaim the individual’s central position to the formation of image and building alike.” Pappas, Allison, MFA Houston in: Houston, we’ve had a problem!
TK: It was just half a year after 9/11 that I came first time to the States. The Impression of the falling Twin Towers was very strong and for over a decade people have been telling me that my images also remind them of that vulnerability, where the towers were representations of our economy , our culture and society. When we look at an object, a building, or a figure it’s not that one shot, like the photograph. We perceive with all our senses and memories in a huge puzzle of images and impressions to form one individual inner image.
FL: There is often a perceivable sense of fun in your work- buildings appear to be dancing, or even drunk, sending a serious message about the vulnerability of human constructions. Would you ever change your style now that it has become something of a signature for you? For example, would you consider spreading out into the world of portraiture, as well as buildings?
“Kellner does not just play what is there; like Miles Davis dictated, he also plays what is not there” Flunkinger, Roy, Harry Ransom Center, Austin in: Houston, we’ve had a problem!
TK: My time and my resources are very limited. There are artists who keep inventing themselves and there are artists who took a decision. It has been a wonderful experience to invent something new in photography, where it always seems to be so limited in comparison to other forms of Fine Art. It’s a challenge to devote a lifetime to a work and to the material, which is always essential part of the perceivable image. Architecture was one thing to start with; I did portraits already, still life and landscapes. Many different groups of images have grown; the recent one was about industrial architectures. I do hope that we keep using film for long enough, so that I can finish some essential bodies of work.
FL: How do you choose the landmarks that you distort in your work?
TK: I started with a group of images, which is still in progress, the European Monuments. From there the work took off to Tango Metropolis which is a series of the New World Wonders. People became curious about my works and asked me how the buildings would look inside, and so I started work on a series of interiors, Dancing Walls. During my work on the New World Wonders one day I found myself standing in Brasilia and decided to make body of work about Niemeyer and this fascinating city for its 50th anniversary. What a challenge, to make such an artistic work about a city whose visual history is so young and yet it was supposed to be the future of our parents. The last project started with a request from a Russian Museum to create a concept for a show during the 790th anniversary of Yekaterinburg, because the city was founded by Georg Wilhelm Henning, who was born in my town, where I live today.
FL: Do you have any favorite pieces? Or any places that you intend to visit next?
TK: I always love a recent or new piece, which is just now The Reichstag in Berlin. I am very curious about many countries that I have not visited yet; next year brings me for the first time to Australia.
Interviewing Thomas Kellner gave me a really interesting insight into the artist and his work; this is one artist I will be keeping my eye on, to see where he goes next!
Images reproduced with the kind permission of Thomas Kellner