Josef Schulz


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Bernd Finkeldey, translated by Alison Shamrock

Josef Schulz studied at the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie where he encountered both Bernd and Hilla Becher’s documentation-oriented photography, as well as that of Thomas Ruff, who also uses computers to edit photographs and to create images to meet his imagination. Josef Schulz has taken on board both these concepts and developed them further, for example in his “sachliches” and “formen” groups of works, where photographs of actual industrial architecture are edited in order to place these buildings in a green field, to remove entrances, windows, or lettering on the factory workshops, and also traces of use and decline. The buildings are thus deprived of their defining features. They are reduced to pure form. Here the computer becomes an artistic device for composing images. They are drawn from a real world yet they no longer seem real. Buildings become pictorial shapes, but without abandoning their origin. In this manner they allow the viewer to alternate between the spheres of reality and to imperceptibly cross the border separating them.

Josef Schulz's photographs are derived from reality. Yet they do not simply depict, they also form. They are characterized by their similarity. And because of this they perfectly conform to Martin Heidegger’s statement, that the essence of a work of art lies not in its being object or equipment, but rather in disclosing the essence of the object or the equipment. “terraform” is nascent, its photographs were taken in various locations in the Alps and show peaks, scree, mountainsides, and lakes.

This presents an almost gargantuan challenge to the artist, for these very motifs have been photographed countless times and have been reproduced to excess. But even here, Josef Schulz manages to find pictures for almost overwhelming images. Berg Gipfel (Mountain Top) or Felswand #1 and #2 (Rock Face #1 and #2) correspond to the view from a window through which one can glimpse part of the landscape. There is, however, no foreground.

They need no introduction, but also, they do not fix the viewpoint of the observer. He stands in front of the photograph and yet is directly confronted by it. What he sees is a landscape photograph, crystal clear in all its detail, shot with a plate camera. But it is not true to life, only close to it, as this group of works has also been subjected to the kind of editing which provides even – and therefore undramatic – lighting, the picture being constructed with the help of multiplication and mirroring. Heinz-Martin Weigand writes that Josef Schulz is interested in the very point at which authenticity and construction become indistinct, where it is no longer clear which detail is original and which detail has been added digitally.

These photographs, however, also afford us an experience which Friedrich Schiller could still find in nature. The sublime. We get lost, as Arnold Gehlen states, in the indescribable details of the picture's surface, in its subtly coloured and textured units, until we experience a feeling of not being able to find a scale and that it is utterly impossible to appropriate anything in the world.

From a distance the overall impression changes completely, just as a landscape which one has moved through reveals entirely different aspects when seen from a plane. In “terraform” we encounter the sublime, excessive demands on our perception, and it turns out that, sometimes, to comprehend one has to forego comprehending.