Thanks to Finding Berlin's post about Gallery Weekend in Berlin, I came across Andreas Mühe’s work and let me tell you, it’s breathtaking.
The blog recommends exhibitions worth seeing and one of them is Mühe’s.
Mühe’s oeuvre—the artist works exclusively in analogue photography—includes portraits, interiors, and landscapes. Many motifs in the various genres attest to his critical engagement of the aesthetic representations of political power. That is especially true of the pictures in this exhibition: Mühe shows seven photographs from the series “Obersalzberg,” shots whose picturesque setting has been charged with ideological overtones ever since it served Hitler as a vacation home and second seat of government. Mühe also stages Nazi propaganda materials designed for the indoctrination of children: he transposes enlarged photographs of 1930s and 1940s toy figurines into the installation by printing them on Rhenish-format newsprint, cutting them into fragments, and papering the walls in one of the gallery rooms with them.
The six small-format photographs in the exhibition—the dimensions match the size of the original negatives produced by Mühe’s large-format camera—seem at first glance to present sublime Alpine panoramas and romantic forest scenes with captivating technical perfection. At a second glance, the composition and careful use of light guide the eye to men in uniform that are almost lost amid the nature. It takes even closer inspection to recognize that they are Nazis and, as their poses reveal, were emptying their bladders at the moment the pictures were taken. Mühe stages the ‘pissing Nazis’ as a nuisance in the idyllic landscape: they ignorantly pollute a pristine natural setting. Even now they refuse to enable a reinterpretation of the countryside near Berchtesgaden, symbolically holding on to it by brazenly marking it as their territory.
MüheMühe’s theatrical production deploys ambivalent signifiers: he does not picture Nazis, but rather arranges figures—most of them turn their backs to the beholder and thus become faceless and characterless—who unambiguously represent Nazis. The difference is subtle and yet of great importance: the pictures become legible as fictions in which borrowings from contemporary strategies of filmic and theatrical staging are conspicuous. So the figures in these frequently shadowy and uncanny scenarios do not refer to neo-Nazis posing at Obersalzberg in a form of reenactment, nor must they be confused with historic National Socialists. They instead recall the ambitiously accoutered Nazis in contemporary Hollywood cinema and the satirically exaggerated embodiments of Nazism in postdramatic theater. Their uniforms are patently costumes, unworn and sparkling clean. Their poses burst with vulgar mannerisms. It is indubitably our picture of the past that is at issue here, and with it the medium-specific conventions that shape this picture.
Mühe’s visual compositions draw on the megalomaniacal aesthetic of the National Socialists, but he does not just update it, as though working in an unbroken tradition. A large-format work that is also part of the “Obersalzberg” series contains a key to how Mühe distances himself from this aesthetic. The picture’s protagonist (first photograph)—turned to the beholder, he is recognizable as a high-ranking SS officer—is partly obscured by his photographer, a slightly smaller petty officer, who holds his camera right up to his superior’s face, concealing his eyes and nose—all we see are the head held up high, with the chin vigorously jutting forward and the mouth pursed into an arrogant frown, and his upper body, which he keeps straight as a pole. The picture does not simply reproduce the way the Nazis staged themselves to convey their superiority, pride, and intransigence; it at once also stages the theatrical production as such, emphasizing an aspect that defines the other pictures in the “Obersalzberg” series as well: the photograph is also about the moment a picture is taken, when the meticulous arrangements that went before are distilled into a single shot. The officer’s self-projection is patently subjected to a contemporary framing and integrated into a narrative of somber appeal. In this picture, which fades into darkness along the edges, Mühe presents ‘our Nazis’ as revenants of those perpetrators of atrocities who will never be fully contained by the pictures we form of them, still demanding our unwavering critical engagement.
Andreas Mühe has worked as a freelance photographer since 2001. Having started out as a press and advertising photographer, he has built a growing body of uncommissioned work since 2004. His photographs, which have been exhibited in Germany and abroad, have received numerous awards, including the 2010 Hansel Mieth Award and the 2008 and 2010 LeadAwards for portrait photography. In 2011, Kunsthalle Rostock mounted his first solo exhibition at a museum. Mühe’s work is also featured in the show State of the Art Photography at NRW Forum, Düsseldorf, which will be on display until May 6.