Fremdes Wien



Fremdes Wien is, in a sense, a catalogue of cultural presence, of people who, at best, are publicly invisible and at worst, defined as a political and social ‘problem’. The images of Fremdes Wien are large, 80cm x 80cm, expanses of black photographic paper with smaller images located strategically on its surface. At times due to the composition (figures against a dark background) and at others simply to the process of copying and enlargement from super-8 film, the images appear to be fugitive, hovering between coming into existence and disappearing, revealing more of themselves and subsiding into obscurity. Viewed like this they invite speculation. At which point in their expansion out into the darkness would they disintegrate into impressionist colour studies devoid of content? Contracting, when would they come clearly into focus? The answer to the latter is at their point of origin, the single super-8 frame. The choice of super-8 as a photographic medium has certain implications apart from the simply aesthetic, questions of content, context and conditions of production.





Modern photography often relies on motor-driven film transport, fast film and large magazines (especially when dealing with a moving target) so that the work sequence approximates the shooting of a film. Nevertheless we perceive the results as a photograph, as is their intention. In comparison, a frame from a film has a stronger affinity to duration and movement, making us aware that it is part of a sequence (shot at 24 frames per second and which we will never see) of an event. This relationship persists even with the most static of pictures such as the Hindu bride. She could, we feel, stand up or her bridegroom could walk into the frame. These fleeting glimpses of public events and ceremonies insist on a consciousness of chronology and an awareness of their narrative nature.


The choice of super-8 can be interpreted as part of an artistic strategy of avoidance and re-presentation. Re-presentation within the context of a book enables the people to speak for themselves. Here, Father Christmas is as foreign as a masked dancer and more foreign than a double wedding. It is also seems to be an attempt to avoid sharp, focused images which automatically activate the stereotypes inherent in Western culture and which are continually reinforced in our image-saturated lives. These stereotypes or categories, along with their ascribed characteristics, existed long before photography, and go to the roots of both photography and Western thought and are central to Ponger’s work.





On the same page of the book as the photograph of St. Nicholas, Anton L. van Beek says: “Our mutual acceptance of one another is much, much greater (than that of the Austrians / Viennese). What others do, doesn’t upset us, even when it is something completely different to what one is used to. We don’t cut ourselves off from the others. You can see this from the fact that curtained windows are very rare in Dutch homes. If you choose the right route, you can watch a television programme from beginning to end from the train.”





Whether one ascribes this unwritten rule (and image) of transparent living to liberal openness or another form of social control, it raises the question of the gaze, of looking.