Dagmar Keller
On „Characters“
Video with sound, 5:17 min, 2021

Text: written with an AI Text Generator
Voice: created with an AI Text-to-Speech Generator

Could I breathe „life“ back into these hyper-real portraits / these portraits that have no reference in reality, that are therefore only empty signs, freely after Jean Baudrillard „The real is dead, long live the realistic sign!“? Could I, even if I don’t know it yet, get myself out of the already disastrous practice of the documentarian, of the anthropologist, of the metonymic observer, of the trickster, of the itinerant humanist photographer? Maybe this is a case of wilful blindness, of what one calls „traditional eye-pleasing realism“, of the cruelty of technology and the affliction of capitalism? No: I want to find „meaning“ in these photographs, I want them to mean something, I want them to exist, to haunt each other, I want them to haunt me!

I always start by making photographs that are at first beautiful in their absurd way, and then, I try to form a relationship between them, to transform them into new meaning, to play with them and infuse them with artistic fiction. This long black line, that face, that very different female hand, this moment of oddness that reveals something deeper, so much deeper, I want to turn that very precise impulse into something else, something new. This poor steel, which becomes a body, a vulnerable body, the actual human cost of the machine, I want to transform it into art. This tiny man who at once doesn’t seem a part of the scene, but also seems so, for the man with the bowler hat and the slightly archaic spirit of this ridiculous period of my life, who goes one way into the past, but comes out of it too soon, him I want to make into a mystery, a madness, a young director who oversteps and scatters everything.

So, I wanted to get over my problem, which is not so much that I would expose one, two or three films, but that I would expose too many. It is almost impossible for me to deny myself a photo, I love the image you might see right now. And I have no problems with such an industrial dimension, even if these little episodes sometimes lead me into danger, I was already aware of the risks before I left Germany. I was not seeking risk, rather opportunity. But this is the freedom of this photographic endeavor, this is what makes it so different from my artistic practice so far. The good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the fine and the rough, the fleeting and the eternal, the true and the false, the ugly realities and the future, they are all invited, they are all part of a single whole.

And yet, and yet… they are so different, so different that they both bring out the paradoxes and the contradictions of a photograph. It is something that provokes more questions, I think, than answers. For me the photograph is often less about impression than expression. Does it speak to us? Does it ask to be heard? Does it call us in our silence? It is a record of a time that does not exist anymore, but also of the present and the future, an invitation to enter into the act of creation, to try and to shape and to photograph, or not to photograph, or to photograph and invent another form of photography, an other language of seeing.

Yet it is often not enough, when I look at these images, to simply appreciate the directness of their execution, to read the images for what they are, as objects, pure objects, like any other object, ready to be seen, understood, and yet something so much more, as intimate, intimate in a different way, something that speaks to us because of its strangeness and because it cannot be immediately read. It is a very strange image indeed.