17 September 2014

Viktoria Binschtok employs conceptual photography to explore contemporary visual worlds. Her “Flash” series is currently on view in the exhibition “Paparazzi!” We met up with the artist in her studio in Berlin.

SM: How do you present these clusters?VB: In very different ways. Making this decision is an important part of the work process. In the case of "Black Cluster," for example, I go beyond the boundaries of the image and let the central, very dark photograph of nighttime Tokyo continue into the space by imbedding it in a diffuse setting that is painted black. This makes it capable of being experienced spatially. I sometimes present sculptural, multilayered photo objects as opposed to works in classic frames. What all the presentations have in common is that each image in a cluster always makes reference to at least one other image.

SM: Is the series also a commentary on the constantly and uncontrollably growing archive of images that envelops us in the Internet? It, too, is produced through a collaboration between man and machine, thus programmed computer intelligence.VB: We are aware of the fact that the volume of images in the Internet is constantly growing, that more and more images are added to and circulate in it, but we have no notion of what it really looks like. One always needs search terms or, as in the case of the "Cluster Series," an image in order to be able to see a section of it. In my work I essentially make a pause visible before the circulation progresses. If I carried out my image search a week later, everything would probably look very different.

SM: It's fascinating how this method influences your artistic practice. You suddenly no longer just take photographs but start to build things.

VB: It's new for me; I never used to stage things, but primarily used images that I came across. This was also the case for the works that are now on view in the exhibition "Paparazzi!" at the SCHIRN.

SM: For "Flash" you used film stills taken from a news video. Almost all one sees is a white area and a couple of outlines, because the photo reporters' flashes so brightly light up the scene. A comment on the mediatized spectacle?VB: The profusion of photoflashes by the paparazzi produces a stroboscopic effect. This almost completely blocks out what the individual making the video is actually concerned with. Normal lighting would allow seeing a celebrity coming out of a restaurant and getting into a limousine. Strictly speaking, this is not an important event. It doesn't become one until our attention is drawn to it. The light serves, so to speak, as a representative of this excessive attention.

SM: You've been interested in the visual aesthetics that originate in the Internet for some time now, and you link them to your own practice. For your most well known series, "World of Details," you took images from Google Street View and then drove to the places in order to take photographs of details. What prompted you to do this?

VB: I discovered Google Street View in 2009. I was fascinating by being able to take a virtual walk through New York, which I did night after night. At some point it became apparent that some people noticed the camera and looked into it. I then collected such situations. I later had the idea to go to the places where people were taken by surprise by the unmanned Google camera for the purpose of setting something against these pictures.

SM: You took photographs there that sharply contrast with the Google Street View images. They are carefully thought out compositions: light, detail, color--everything is right.VB: The photographs mostly show details that came to my attention within these scenes. Some of the pictures feature highly enlarged details from the reference image. This almost makes it look as if I had zoomed into the original scene to scan the surface with the camera. In others I made something visible that was not visible on the source image. In one of them, for example, you could see a couple through the window of a diner. I then went there and took a picture of the table that they were sitting at. I wanted to explore the scene, yet at the same time show the difference between what the machine unthinkingly recorded and the process, which is characterized by numerous decisions, with which I as a human being arrive at a final picture.SM: Your body of work appears to be a bit like a research project: do you examine how photography and new photo technologies influence everyday culture?VB: I'm interested in finding out what people use cameras for and what they think is even worth depicting. It was a long time before I could even take pictures myself, because I was much too involved in sorting and understanding the images that I saw every day through various channels. It was therefore only logical for me to remove such images from their contexts. Working on these series is always a process that above all provides insight into the time in which they were produced.