this issue contains
>> Portrait Cornelia Parker
>> Gerard Byrne: The world is a stage
>> Annelies Strba: Idyllic Worlds
>> Interview: Yehudit Sasportas

>> archive


Nyima 126, 2003,
Courtesy Galerie EIGEN + ART Leipzig/Berlin

Despite this, her work is far from the sexual obsession that Balthus unabashedly embellishes his portraits of girls with. Even Strba's early photographs were the epitome of caution. The scenes never seem posed, even when the motifs are immersed in alien, artificial colors. The formal experiment is also a means of creating individuality in which it's only everyday life that counts, because it's passing time that comes to expression in the photographs: the suddenly garish makeup on the girls' faces; the first rings beneath their eyes. In contrast with Nan Goldin's or Wolfgang Tillmans' photographs, proximity provides no testimony to intimacy in Strba's work. Perhaps because they lack the desire: instead of emphasizing the obvious charms of her daughters, Strba prefers to maintain a distance. She seldom shows the girls in detail; even in the nude photographs, the surrounding space protects the subjects from the camera's excessive penetration. While the works of Goldin and Tillmans harbor a sense of their own belonging to a particular scene and perhaps even celebrate this, Strba is more interested in random moments. People live together; hence, images arise. Clothed, in panties, or nude: it makes no difference to the mother, because in the final analysis it's daily routine for her to see her children’s bodies. In taking her photographs, she used to look for moments "when the girls weren't quite so confident." And today? Strba pays them for their work in front of the camera, "because after all, they're my models."

nNyima 307, 2006,
©&Courtesy Annelies Strba/Galerie EIGEN + ART Leipzig/Berlin

For a long time, the photographs were nothing more than part of an overflowing family photo album. Indeed, Strba wound up in the art business accidentally, as she readily admits. "I've been taking photographs ever since I was thirteen, but I never wanted to make art." It was only in 1990 that Bernhard Bürgi, director of the Kunsthalle Zurich, invited her to do a one-person show at the institution. "Back then, I only had the small prints", Strba recalls, "and that was why Bürgi asked me to enlarge them, in order to present them in a more appropriate way in the space. That's when I had the idea to stretch the photographs onto frames and to color them."

Les cathédrales de monnaie 03, 2002,
Deutsche Bank Collection © Annelies Strba / Courtesy Frith Street Gallery, London

Since that time, the technique has become Strba's trademark, whether she's depicting their life at home, fleeting images of streets in New York or Tokyo, or, more recently, her somnambulant fairy tale scenes. Printed in ink-jet onto canvas, the works, often one and a half by two meters in size, look like paintings in brilliant hues of green, red, and yellow. It's a magical world that thrives on the substance of reality. Strba's photographs were already termed "digital Impressionism" in 2002 and shown in a group exhibition of the same name at the Fondation Beyeler. Even the name Cathedrales de monnaies, the title of a series of skyscrapers made in 2002 on a trip to the USA and purchased for the Deutsche Bank London Collection, can be described in this regard: "I was always fascinated by Claude Monet's cathedral paintings, and in the sense, these photographs are also an homage to the painter." The fact that she includes the modern cathedrals of capital into her homage is a subtle dig at the market and its constant greed for new and exciting images. All of a sudden, the digital hypermodernity of Strba's images turn out to be a bow before the artistic forms of the 19th century.

Nyima 246, 2005,
©&Courtesy Annelies Strba/Galerie EIGEN + ART Leipzig/Berlin

And not without reason: as in the paintings of Monet or Paul Signac, Strba is concerned with "inner images" that she seeks a counterpart in nature for. Where Impressionism divided the colors like a prism according to optical and physical laws, the photographer uses the advantages of the Photoshop program on the computer. Sometimes she lets the green of a meadow tip over into a biting yellow; sometimes she covers Linda's face with a bluish veil, or dissolves the contours of her now thirty-year-old daughter into a surface of pixels. Her goal is to make some part of the unconscious visible in these ambiguous scenes: "When I see something outside of me that corresponds to my inner impressions, I take a photograph of it and work these out to create an image."

Nyima 169, 2001,
Courtesy Galerie EIGEN + ART Leipzig/Berlin

Yet for Strba, this special quality is by no means to be found in a single image. Instead, she arranges her photographs into series as a sequence of situations that are not united by a fixed concept, but whose loose combination emphasizes the fleeting character of places, moods, and physical states of being. In order to keep the transitions between the images as smooth as possible, Strba changed mediums in 1997 from the photo camera to the video camera. Here, too, her reasons were both aesthetic and pragmatic: "I always work very fast when I'm filming something. I only have a closer look at the pictures afterwards, when I determine the contours and color contrasts. Actually, I only really discover the real pictures afterwards, in the working process." One example of this was the video of New York, which she initially made in 2000 in psychedelic, overexposed colors. But then came September 11, "and after the attacks, my pictures no longer seemed right, which was why I colored them all black." What initially resembled the utopia of an empty Science Fiction city now wore mourning. Yet the New York memorial has remained an exception in the work of Annelies Strba: in all her other works, time casts lighter shadows.

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