The entire picture and the absence
The entire picture and the absence
(Ildi Hermann Missing Stories exhibition can be viewed until 6th August in 2B Gallery) There is nothing more simple than the combination of picture and text; a story and the related portrait are as if they could give a complete picture of a person’s life. The expression ”as if” is slightly misleading, because actually the text and the picture together can have a lot of meanings, an interpretation that is even a little off due to the interference can lead to a huge difference in the ”completeness”. If we place the stories about Holocaust and the portraits of the storytellers next to each other, in the waving movement of meanings the notion of testimony also appears in a specific case giving even more layers and complicating the relation of image and text even more. If a photographer assigns a single portrait to a life story, this set of relations is only seemingly simplified. Ildi Hermann almost fully covers the walls 2B Gallery with texts and images. The ten life stories are spread out in more columns from the ceiling to the floor, the portrait of storyteller covers only one paragraph from the texts. If we see the installation in a picture, it looks as if giant pages from a book would be open and the photos would be just lying there on the pages. The title of the exhibition is ”Missing Stories”; Holocaust survivors, who have immigrated to New York in different historical periods and still live there, open up to the photographer and tell their life changing stories. The intersection in each case is the year 1944, after that all fates and paths take different turns. The viewer actually reads the story into a single picture, searches in the face of each person not only for the imprint of destinies, but also for the community or the absence of that. Absence is a key word that could start serious discussions in Hungary, just like the artwork of Sol LeWitt entitled ”Black shape – in memory of the missing Jews” displayed in Muenster, Germany 30 years ago when the processing of the past was still in its early days, which despite its mysteriousness and apparent closedness still moved the public dialogue about the past. However, in Hungary it seems as if absence and remaining silent are notions that are still much more strongly stuck together than they were in the more open-minded areas of the world decades ago. In the pictures the Hungarians of New York are all silent, the photographer did not take the photos during the discussion, but afterwards in a staged manner. ”I imagined stage photos and I wanted to show as much as possible from the environment, too so on each occasion I looked for a central spot in the apartment. And this coincided with the fact that I as guest was always seated in the living room”, says Ildi Hermann in the interview and we also read her sentences said subsequently together with the stiff or open gazes that were looking into her camera. The single image draws the attention to the details. In the background of the full, half and two-third body portraits in cropped pictures we can see the room interiors. Comfortable couches, armchairs, gobelins, paintings, valuable objects, little objects devoted to eternity. Among the paintings there happen to be some with Hungarian subjects, but in some cases the clothes are more familiar. A housedress, chinos, a shirt – they could even be portraits in Hungary. Because viewers look for the familiar, the connection points hidden in the gazes. Is there such a thing as a Hungarian gaze? Is there such a thing as a Jewish gaze?
Is there such a thing as an eloquent look? It turns out from the texts that from the photos the people who are looking back at us have survived their own deaths. This is the thought viewers build their image reading strategies on. We imagine that in front of the eyes of the people in the portraits the films of their lives are run down as they are looking into the camera, or we inevitably look for the mask with which they still decide to hide their film in their imagination (that is based on a true story) at the last moment, because they do not want to display it publicly. In the era of series and everyday documentaries viewers inevitably think in motion pictures: stories become movie scripts, individual pictures turn into still lives, or imaginary poster motives. Ildi Hermann’s last work was her series of portraits made during the shooting of ”Son of Saul”. Actors look into the camera in the breaks, and the suggestive nature of the photos comes from the tension between the role and today’s reality. Environment there was a tree or part of a house wall, clothes were emanating the air of the world 70 years ago that has turned inside out viewers read into the gazes historical reality and film history at the same time. Now actors are real, their faces may reflect their own, individual stories. However, the covered texts turn into imaginary films, in which everyone projects their own familiar, but distracted world. The standing format, large photo series of the Sonderkommando and the landscape format paper picture-like portraits of the Holocaust survivors living in New York are copied on top of each other in the eyes of the viewers and make the absence visible more sharply.