In the early 1980s, German photographer Joachim Brohm managed to receive a Fulbright scholarship. He went to live in Ohio for a year, and he took photographs. This sounds like an interesting combination, doesn’t it? A German photographer, in the US, at about the time when colour photography was coming of age in the art world…
And indeed, the results of that year, now finally published in Ohio, are tremendously interesting and beautiful. There’s the idea that you can tell apart the Germans and Americans by their photography. While that’s a seemingly attractive idea, in reality it’s not quite that simple. The Germans who take “American photographs” (whatever that might be) and the Americans who take “German photographs” (ditto) - that would be a good topic for another post (but there’s too many of them to all just call them exceptions that prove some rule).
So I personally want to take Ohio less as an exhibit for some point that could potentially be made about categorizing photography. Instead, I want to take it as a truly wonderful body of work by a very talented photographer, who found himself transplanted into a somewhat different world for a year, and who went out to document what he saw, under the influence of his own sensibility and the general discussions during that time.
After all, one does Ohio and its photographer injustice by treating it merely as something to be used to make a point that might or might not be not all that interesting in the first place (seriously, does it matter all that much whether there is a German or American photography?).
The book shows an American city at a certain moment in time. What I was reminded of when looking through it was an interview with film maker Jim Jarmusch. When asked about where he had shot the movie Ghost Dog (one of my favourite movies), he said he had looked for a location that could be practically anywhere in the US. Ghost Dog and Ohio certainly don’t look like every place in the US, but the way they are produced gives the viewer the feeling that, well, it could be anywhere. For me, that gives Ohio an undefinable, somewhat mysterious quality. You just know that when you open the book again, it will look the same, but you will experience it differently.
A true gem.
Ohio, photography by Joachim Brohm, essays by Thomas Weski, Vince Leo, 120 pages, Steidl, 2010