Given I published posts on What makes a great portrait? (part 2) and What makes a great photo? the next logical step would be to ask “What makes a great artist?” Maybe I’ll simply kick this off by giving my own answer. When I think about photographers (often when being prodded to name photographers I admire) I tend to come back to those who are less defined by that one masterly body of work and more by a living, complex set of bodies of work. This is not because I dislike great, masterly bodies of work - quite on the contrary. There are all kinds of problems associated with that: How do you follow up on something like that? And, inevitably, there’s always the comparison with that one famous book (let’s assume there’s a book), which, I assume, must be just crippling for an artist: How do you deal with that? (I’ve always wanted to ask that question, but I’ve always been too afraid of poking at exactly the sorest possible spot). But for me, there’s even more to the great artist than just that. (more)
I love looking at great photography, and I also love being thrown into confusion. Mind you, random confusion is not what I’m talking about. When I talked earlier about great artists - or artists who I admire - what they tend to do is to keep their own artistic voice, while - to use a sports metaphor - throwing curveballs all the time (here’s how this is being done - don’t try this at home unless you can afford reconstructive elbow surgery). In other words, you don’t quite know what to expect next. But you can be somewhat certain it’s not what you’d imagine, and you can be very certain that it’s going to be very interesting.
Hans-Christian Schink is one of the artists who has been engaged in this. In all likelihood, Schink is not as well-known in North America as in Europe and especially Germany. A recently released retrospective of his work entitled Hans-Christian Schink offers a good opportunity to learn about this photographer. I mentioned before that I’m always a bit torn about retrospectives, since it’s just so tempting to compile a “best of,” add a bunch of essays and call it a day. Three retrospectives released over the past couple of years showed how to do it better: From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America, The Flesh and The Spirit by Sally Mann, and Thomas Ruff - Surfaces, Depths. Hans-Christian Schink fits nicely into this category.
What I’m personally interested in when looking at a retrospective are not just the photographs. In all likelihood, those I know - at least the well-known ones. I’m more interested in seeing the person behind those photographs, to get an idea of how she or he developed, what made her/him tick, how one step led to another. Hans-Christian Schink does this very nicely, presenting the photographer’s major works and adding to them those that aren’t quite so well known, providing both essays and an extended interview with the artist. Of course, a good retrospective must also be produced well - if you’ve seen any of the three other books I mentioned earlier you’re probably aware of their excellent production quality. Schink’s is no exception. I’ve noticed this with Hatje Cantz books recently - there has been a subtle move towards more elegant and modern design.
So I can only recommend Hans-Christian Schink highly. If you know the photographer’s work you’re sure to find a lot of unexpected treasures inside. If you don’t know Schink’s photography here is someone you definitely want to check out - it’ll be a great addition to your bookshelf.
Hans-Christian Schink, photographs by Hans-Christian Schink, essays/interview by Ulrike Bestgen, Matthias Flügge, Simone Förster, T.O. Immisch, Sisse Malene Markvardine Kirkegaard, Antje Rávic Strubel, Kai Uwe Schierz, Phil Taylor, Thomas Weski, 180 pages, Hatje Cantz, 2011
Find my presentation of this photobook here