That which is visible is merely a veil – An interview with Ute Mahler

Daniela Hinrichs March 5, 2014
Ute Mahler: Zusammen Leben, 1974-1984, DDR. From the exhibition UTE MAHLER UND WERNER MAHLER - WERKSCHAU, 11.4. - 29.6.2014 Deichtorhallen Hamburg: House of Photography

Ute Mahler: Zusammen Leben, 1974-1984, DDR. From the exhibition UTE MAHLER UND WERNER MAHLER – WERKSCHAU, 11.4. – 29.6.2014 Deichtorhallen Hamburg: House of Photography

Stemming from the great and rich tradition of so-called ‘live photography’, Ute Mahler’s formal expression is certainly influenced by photojournalism. But her absolutely individual way of seeing, through which her personality and intention reveal themselves, clearly points far beyond the familiar, hastily produced photo reportage.

In opting for precisely those moments in which a situation is uncertain and open, perhaps surprising us, sometimes even puzzling us, Ute Mahler crosses the border of photography often deemed to be impermeable. That which is visible in her images is merely a thin veil that instantly evaporates the moment interest is aroused in the actual content – in that which is invisible, that for which even our own language only has hesitant and fumbling terms. Maybe grief and joy, love and loneliness, emptiness and exuberance, and often a touch of all of these.*

Mrs. Mahler, what is it that fascinates you in your work?

The discovering of situations, people or objects, and the metamorphosis of this discovery into images is something quite astonishing. It keeps me awake, keeps me curious. I differentiate between commissioned photography and free-form works. In journalistic photography commissions, somebody else stipulates the object, and I have to occupy myself with an unfamiliar theme within a short space of time and transport my experience, my reflection in images. In personal projects I am solely interested in contents, and those that I can sound out with the help of photography. For me, both ways of working share in common an unconditional engaging of onself with the respective topic. When I first started out as a photographer I felt extremely committed to documentary photography. Nowadays I am interested in the relationship between reality and fiction as well.

When does photography become something special?

Photography has become a highly democratic medium. Everyone can take a photograph. But simply pressing the shutter button doesn’t result in an image. It creates a copy perhaps, a reproduction. Such outcomes are found in abundance in family albums, on the Internet, they pester us throughout mass media. We are also exposed to visualisation produced by the advertising industry in a more skilled, glossy and technical way. The assertion that photography is a document and therefore objective was well and truly revealed to be a falsehood with the dawn of the era of digitalisation.

For me, photography is a process of seeing and recognising. It is also always the discovery of a secret.

 

Ute and Werner Mahler open their joint exhibition in the “Deichtorhallen” in Hamburg on 10 April. They have been producing joint works since 2009. The “Werkschau” show will provide insights both into their attitude towards photography and their various approaches to it. The exhibition is being curated by Ingo Taubhorn, the curator of the “Haus der Photographie” in Hamburg, and by Brigitte Woischnik.

The gallery Robert Morath accompanies this exhibition with a presentation of newest series by Ute and Werner Mahler, “Strange Days”, which will open May 23.

* Exhibition catalogue Burg-Galerie Halle/Saale. Wolfgang Kil, 1984

 

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