Publishing house Wieser Verlag, Austria, 2008
Photobook, 112 Pages, Hardcover, ISBN 978-3-85129-803-1
Edition: 1000 Copies
Texts about the Scratches from Nina Schedlmayer and Ulrich Tragatschnig
Large Series: 150 x 110 cm and 110 x 135 cm | Edition of 3 + 2 a.p. | Silver gelatine Print
Small Series: 50 x 36 cm and 36 x 45 cm | Edition of 5 + 2 a.p. | Silver gelatine Print
Marko Lipuš is quite merciless with his pictures. He cuts, breaks and scratches the negatives of the photos he has taken of writers with needles, knives and sand-paper. On top of all that, in the present work he confronts them with only one page taken from one of their texts, no more than an extract, a snippet, a snapshot – which is another act of mercilessness.
Peter Wollen writes: “The lover of photography is fascinated not only by the moment, but also by the past. The moment captured in a picture lasts an almost negligible amount of time and is located in the eternally fleeting ‘then’. At the same time also the viewer’s ‘now’ – the moment in which he looks at the picture – has no defined length. It can be stretched as long as it holds the viewer’s fascination, and be endlessly repeated as long as curiosity returns.” This, continues Wollen, is the essential difference between photography and film. Pictures, like literature, do not dictate us the length of time we dedicate to them. In contrast to painting, photography always captures an extract of a time line, an extract of the world as it surrounds us. If Lipuš chooses only one single page of an author’s work to place it opposite his photograph, he then parallelises the photographical act of fragmentation. At the same time, the viewer/reader is asked to perceive the text differently – the fragment gains more meaning, it joins the other fragments in the book. Thus, the viewer/reader is tempted to make connections between the text and the picture, to fill the space between the two art forms.
Lipuš does not limit himself to comparing text with photography by means of basically using a montage – in this case quite a simple one. His scratched photographs are also montages: he first separates the negatives, then joins them together again, consciously leaving gaps and breaks, which can either be considered wounds or, on the contrary, islands, which seem to swim toward each other, reminding us of a continental drift. However, Lipuš’s work has little to do with montage in the classical sense. Benjamin H.D. Buchloh ascribes to it the “acquisition and depletion of meaning, the fragmentation and dialectic comparison of individual snapshots” as well as the “systematic division of the signifier and the signified”. Usually created from separate elements to make new configurations, here the opposite is the case: Lipuš uses only one photograph. The act of cutting is somewhat violent. The reconstruction, on the other hand, seems like a reconciliation; his works thus look like picture puzzles. They are reminiscent of Susan Sontag’s classic book (“On Photography”), where she wrote amongst other things: “All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”
It is also worth noting how Lipuš works on his negatives aside from the montage: he scratches them, carves tiny symbols and drawings into them. He uses antiquated techniques, in some places the scratches are reminiscent of etchings, the delicate images of early graffito art which were found on walls and memorials long before the time of the tags and stencils of today’s graffiti sprayers. Although the photographs taken by Lipuš are relatively recent, they therefore seem much older; as if a disassociated patina overshadowed them. They elude the viewer on various levels, also through the black missing parts in their bodies. For example, Friederike Mayröcker is missing one half of her face, Peter Turrini has to manage with only one eye and Feridun Zaimoglu has been forbidden to speak (he has no mouth), whilst Markus Werner’s shoulder, part of his jaw and neck have been removed. Walter Kappacher’s face has been split into three parts, whilst Marica Bodrožić and Gerhild Steinbuch are allowed to stay more or less complete. The more scratched a negative is, the more the portrayed people withdraw into the impenetrable depth of the picture: Drago Jančar, for example, seems to be partly concealed by a veil; Kathrin Röggla is hiding behind streaks. As far away as they seem to be from us, they are still close to us. The staring eyes of Walter Kappacher, Robert Menasse’s frown and Gerhild Steinbuch’s slightly bored look bring them back to us into the here and now. A fundamental factor in photography – the dichotomy between presence and absence – is thereby underlined. It’s not difficult to think of those “scratches” and “dephotographisations” as archaeological finds. Only Lipuš does not excavate any objects; instead he tries to find a person out, to reveal their character layer by layer.
Lipuš’s attitude towards his subjects changes: sometimes affectionate, sometimes ironic, sometimes both. Robert Menasse is given a funky haircut – or is it perhaps genius thoughts emanating from his head? – moreover, there is a knife, a trident and a flower in his jacket pocket. The young Steinbuch gets a small flower on her hat; Zaimoglu, on the contrary, gets a whole bouquet put in front of his chest. Markus Werner gets a replacement for his cut off shoulder, and he is allowed to smoke, too. Maja Haderlap’s hair seems to have grown, or perhaps she has grown a halo. Who knows? Out of Peter Handke’s shoulder grows a little heart. A tiny train, a wheel and a figure bustle around in Gert Jonke’s picture.
These are symbols that are as small as those on search pictures; one literally has to look for them with a magnifying glass. Only the very observant viewer can detect these icons which hide in the texture of the picture although they are so obviously there. They form opposites to the often fairly serious looking authors – tiny commentaries speaking with the wink of an eye of the easiness of life, writing and art-making.
Marko Lipuš demonstrates how he furnishes photographic portraits of authors with increasing artistic value.
“I think photo art should be concerned exclusively with the aesthetics. The visual is the origin of the picture. The visual part alone is to express, move, respond, to please or also not too. The work of the artist must speak; be able to speak. It must stand for itself – without explanation, without enclosing an instruction manual of the creator.”
Who is stating these words is not a pictorialist at the turn of the 20th century, but the young photographer and photo artist Marko Lipuš in his manifesto on artistic photography. 100 years ago everything still was focused around the question of integration of photography into the art system; to release her from the duties that painting brought up and to establish photography as independent artistic medium (which should finally succeed only much later, in the suction of conceptual beginnings). Lipuš is concerned to turn back and to select from the start. Because in his eyes meanwhile not everything that pretends to be photo art, really is such. Thus he separates strictly between photo handicraft and photo work of art.
The author portraits from the series of scratches re-photographs follow a direct, but nevertheless rational relation to the observer in a first rather conventional representation logic comparable to the book cover. In order to make art from them, Lipuš follows an old prescription. In 1927 the art historian Ernst Kallai (1890-1954) pointed out, what was necessarily missing to photography at its time compared with really artistic media: the facture as “optically perceptible tension between visual material and picture”. To compensate this deficiency, the level drawn in between portrayed and recipient must be focused and the alleged transparency of the medium must be broken. Somehow it must be scratched at the photographic smooth surface to show the same one. This can be taken literally. Lipuš plans his negatives, cuts them, adds scratching wounds to them, and in addition brings a kind of symbolism to the large sized exposures on noble barite paper. He adds on graphics: constructively in continuity or additionally on shifted contours, others like abrasions. Appropriately, this in the long run literary method produces quite poetic results, because the vulnerability of the surface drops back onto the illustrated and enables a deeper view. The once dead mirror of nature seems anyhow broken thereby.
Via handicraft photo work of handicraft is to become a photo art. About risks and side effects history of art will inform you
Life is not round, life is a broken bottle, the actor Omar Sharif once mentioned in an interview. I don’t know why this sentence came to me and then sustained in my mind while regarding Marko Lipuš ‘ scratches -. Perhaps it suits Omar Sharif so well because he after all burned himself into the non-removable disk of our minds – not as a human being, but as a melancholic, passionate doctor Schiwago. Maybe because this short sentence tells a life history with breaks and psychic trauma, possibly even similar to those of poor Schiwago. Perhaps also, because life stories and all stories deal with memory. Memory is connected with literature and the same is connected again with images. With subjective images from inside, which develop while reading. Furthermore, literature is related with outside images, because who isn’t interested in how the person looks like who wrote the book, how Gert Jonke looks, the face of Friederike Mayröcker or Markus Werner.
“The work of the artist must speak, be able to speak. The work must stand for itself – without explanation, without enclosing an instruction manual” writes Marko Lipuš, born in Eisenkappel / Železna Kapla in 1974, grew up bi-lingual (German and Slovenian), in his manifesto “General text on artistic photography”. And: “Today’s artistic photography is thoughtless, far off the medium, without ideas, elitist, visually insignificant, content wise unconvincing, exaggerated conceptually and aesthetically undemanding.” A manifesto presupposes a clear attitude, rage over circumstances, alert view and knowledge about handicraft and traditions. H. C Artmann, another manifesto writer, postulated in his poetic manifesto: “One can be a poet, without ever having written a single word.” His concern was not to dedicate life completely to artistic production however, but around a certain view of the world; an attitude facing life. The German word “attitude” describes not only the attitude which one has towards things, but also signifies a term in the sense of setting for photography, standing for light, time and perspective. Each photographic setting shows the position of the one who took the picture. Many have thought about this point before. Walter Benjamin in his small history of photography, or Susan Sontag in her essay “On photography”, in which she notes: “while taking photographs one learns why the camera at the same time identifies and isolates” Roland Barthes writes in “Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography” that everyone must read ones´ own literature in photography, to confess ones´ own subjectivity.
All this captures rather small interest of Lipuš who educated himself first at the Academy for photography in Prague and at the Viennese school for artistic photography and as well at the Viennese graphic school while living in Milan and London. – Although his, in stating lines “normal” photos of authors are published in the FAZ, the NZZ, the ZEIT, and in various German-language printed media. Nevertheless for him photography does not stand for a technically optimized form of naturalistic representation or a decrease stage of film. He wants to show it more radically, with more power, as his scratches demonstrate he takes of Austrian, German, Swiss´ and Slovenian writers. For Lipuš photography is a medium, which is able, to fulfil things, which remain refused to others. He is concerned to understand the nature of photography and to use it accordingly. Likewise to make literary thoughts visible with words as documented in the scratches. Lipuš integrates a text passage comparable to a text snapshot; from a work of the portrayed author into the momentary photography. He cuts the picture which we get of the author, the authoress, scratches and sticks, overlaps it and uploads it depending upon selected passage, topic or action with symbols. Suddenly cracks but also connecting lines become visible, and if one knows the book; perhaps has had “seen” completely different things. One is irritated – and looks even closer. In the scratches, which give the possibility of reproduction, contrary to conventional collages; Lipuš works directly onto the 13×18 cm large negative; the text is connected with the visual image. The text becomes – as Lipuš calls it: “verfotografiert” – which can be expressed in English at the closest as “re-photographed”.
You shall make yourself an image… the scratches hide and reveal at the same time. They explain, they lightly touch, point into a direction, interpret and describe a possible reading form. The quality of good books can be approved by the formula that they “hold”: One can read them over and over again and to be surprised, to discover certain things which are obvious, but nevertheless not to have “seen” them within the last reading. That has to do with complexity, with compression and as well with blank spots and secrets which the text retains. The scratching are pictures, which remain, because they leave the secrets to image and text and the liberty to the viewers own gaze. I like them because they have something compact despite all breaks. They do not show a person or a work, do not illustrate a superficial feature, but outline a shape. And what about life? – Of course, we experienced it with our entire body. These experiences are not round; they are multi-dimensional and splintered. But the fragment; the piece of broken glass can be the stronger picture of a lost glass than its complete copy. And it is the privilege of art, to hold to the illusion of the indivisible; to the moment and to the subjective view.
Marko Lipuš and his approach to art photography
Someone once remarked to me that photographs steal the soul, but observing the photos by Marko Lipuš I am bound to dispute that statement. His subjects, including writers, have enigmatic and silent faces charged with an intrinsic poetic quality; their apparently still gazes appear to establish a dialogue with the observer. The artist-photographer “smashes” his images as if to underline a hidden personality within each subject. Hence the idea of Kratzungen, i.e. of critically analyzing the characteristics of immanent forms, to change the point of view (photo) and signs (text), to enable a merging of signs and images, where a form takes on the traits of other forms. The page of a book written by an author whose work has already been published is compared to the person (author) portrayed photographically.
The pages of texts express a representative view in the poetics of the author portrayed. The text creates a brief and “instantaneous” contact with the writer’s artistic output. The pages of the book, extracted from the context of the entire novel, offer a snap shot (a characteristic inherent to photography).
Going on to define how photographic images can characterise both the subject in the portrait and his or her literary works. Through a long, complex process (Kratzungen/Scratches), the meaning of a photo which goes far beyond a snapshot is reinforced. This ingenious process succeeds in providing an accurate description, sketch and interpretation, thus assuming a “literary” characteristic. Texts and passages by the subjects portrayed are displayed within the portrait and are transposed from a content, thematic, interpretative or literal point of view in an experimental manner (“Scratches”) in a photographic-visual portrait. The fil rouge is that the works are all rooted in painting, since imaginary figures and text are “photographically altered”. The images which the reader has already created are extended to the visual representation. The reader/observer is thus offered another key for interpretation.
Every print is taken from a negative, from where it is then placed on photo paper (silver gelatine). This “collage” is created on a negative and can therefore be reproduced, something that has never been possible with traditional collages. This photographic characteristic of reproducibility is an essential requisite, fulfilling an important photographic characteristic. Another important aspect for me is the possibility to interpret the text in the portrait through symbols. As a result of this, I can maintain the relative textual characteristics, that is to say the multiple possibilities of interpretation. In the portrait (original 150 x 110 cm) there are what we might term explorative images that allude to the texts/works of art of the subject portrayed and through these they interpret the latter.
Along all the landscapes bordering to our country, the Austrian “Carinthia” has a very special meaning. These special features in our neighbourhood are based on historical nature which developed over the centuries. It concerns a very traditional starting point, which includes not always such characteristics which one can find in a European aligned Vienna, neither the liberalism; we are trying to develop on this side of the border. Especially those authors are even more interesting, which succeed to overcome the narrowness caused by general conditions and include cultural, artistic and civilization achievements, summaries of common components of all of us into their works.
In the photographic series of Marko Lipuš one can recognize several different conceptual proceedings that are very often expressed differently. If one compares them among each other, one finds some of stressed lyrically content, others again express tunes, contrasts and forms. Besides he proceeds from different categories which contain the documentation of individual situations; for instance perfect directed photographs, in particular if they are portraits. Such pluralism is frequently encountered with recent photographic schools. The author inherits the rich visual tradition; includes this knowledge into the work and at the same time tries to give the work an individual character. If one tries to categorize the style of Lipuš photographs, one finds within them the presence of modernism, in particular its´ directions, which regarded figurative works from the point of view of a researcher. Therefore the photography as such is not a perfectly determined unit, which has all rules set up already and which cannot be changed. With his technique he continues these chapters of modernism, which have looked over and over again for a change in the scheme of visual organization by investigating and developing new innovative proceedings. Especially in such a system one can find progress.
The Portraits incorporate into the series are particularly outstanding along his oeuvre. He uses a very unconventional technique, although so much heterogeneity is to be found in nowadays in visual production that one can ask oneself, whether the use of such expression stands at all in place. However his photographic portraits differ by the fact that his works enter a field where they come into contact with procedures, which one knows from painting or even from graphics. A classical portrait serves as the working basis which is proceeded by the artist techniques, substantially changed and this way receives a new character. It still remains a portrait, containing the most important characteristics of the portrayed, but however now this work inherits still numerous other meanings which possess their own narration completely on the photographic surface, layered one above the other. If one has the feeling that these additives in the form of different layers, lines and abstract components are understood with difficulty, it can be explained by the fact that the structure meaning of Lipuš photographs is arranged in multiple ways. With this visual expression the artist underlines the diversity of the persons presented by him. The portrayed are intellectuals who set important accents with their public work in our recent time. It concerns persons who are mentioned also in this opening text passage broadly representing a society in its cheerful, but also in less pleasant nuances. And this is what these photographs tell us about.
In art history the portrait occasionally reveals more about the portraitist than about the portrayed subject. The portrait can sometimes be timeless or it is looking back to the past, it might emulate the requirements of a particular moment in art history but above all things it discloses the relationship between the painter and the portrayed subject.
However, in traditional photography the subject is mostly characterized by a snapshot, by a fraction of its individuality frozen in time, by just a fragment of its presence and appearances in the world. The photographer stays in the background even though there is a dialog between them. Removed, behind the stage, he becomes and stays the narrator, the observer, and the record keeper of the reflection of reality. Consequently, Marko Lipuš‘s crossing of the border of photography into the field of painting is even more noticeable. The photographical images from the series “Scratchings ” are altered on the negative. They are recreated to constitute portraits of subjects as they have been perceived by the author. Later, in the seclusion of his creative surroundings, they are carried out in a more intimate understanding. Lipuš does not stage their surroundings to represent them in their individuality. He does not place them into artificial conceived sets or costumes which would relate the story of the depicted subjects. Also, he isn’t testing the composition, lighting or physical appearances; he treats and presents subjects through the prism of his own visualization. These are people trapped in his world that defies the medium for he encroaches upon the negative; scratching its surface with a sharp physical (external) impact. He cuts its structure, he paints/draws and glues the fragments made from this process on the negative. The severe interference that appears almost violent, brutal, is continued by constructing a collage and then completed by exposing the finished negative. This treatment shows that the author is primarily interested in exploring the possibilities of photographic expression. The goal of the entire process is to go beyond the technical procedure and to deliberately interfere with the conventional role and function of this medium. Photography becomes only a device manipulated by the inventiveness and individuality of creative reflection. Like most other artists, Lipuš aspires to the departure, the disconnection from the “apparatus” and retracts to the level of creation that is marked by originality and dissimilarity. This takes one back to the remarks by Arnold Newman “Photography, as we all know, is not real at all. It is an illusion of reality with which we create our own private world.”
We could also draw a parallel to the great David Hockney and his famous series “Joiners” since Lipuš employs photography with the intention to create, to make a painting. His “photography – paintings” are not and cannot be recognized as photography only. These “photographic collages” are the result of critical assessments of the medium; they are a manifestation of personal expression to that extent that the presence of the author can be sensed to a degree larger than that of the person portrayed.
In a broader perspective the “Scratchings” of Lipuš can be also tied to the photographic work of Deborah Turbeville, one of the “enfants terrible” of the world of fashion photography. She plays with the negative by tearing and scratching it and by conveying an image of vulnerability by photographing through broken glass. In spite of their very different art concepts there are similarities in artistic methods and techniques. Both artists are exploring the boundaries of this medium by very unique methods. Turbeville staged her portrayed subjects in an ambience tinged with romanticism, saturated with the tension of expectations and with the anxieties of the anticipated; while Lipuš, with his intellectually retained expression, reaches into the darker, unarticulated corners of the private.
Because the photographic work “animates” the precise deducing of an idea and the perfect shaping of content in recreating the previously seen and recognized, it seems that the persons portrayed by Lipuš have found themselves in a dimension reaching beyond reality…
About Marko Lipuš’s Dephotographisations
Beside a spell of bad luck, at least for the superstitious, the breaking of a mirror also marks the beginning of Viennese Actionism in Austria or rather the “Festival of Psycho-Physical Naturalism”, the first public action by Otto Mühl and Hermann Nitsch in 1963, during which numerous other things also got broken and went “muddy”. And so – reflecting on a metaphor already applied to photographic realism in the 19th century – the symbol of an art was found, an art that was no longer concerned with the reflection of superficialities, but with the laying bare per se.
The wild game is now over. When the young photographer and photo-artist Marko Lipuš violently attacks the negatives of his author portraits, the cracks, grooves, and scratches he applies to the photographs appear far too thoughtful, too composed, to have been inflicted to release pent up aggression or to reveal his own desires. He scratches the medial surfaces of his photographs rather purposefully. Analysing the core of the image, he makes a concept of the image come alive that is rarely associated with photographic portraits.
If you consider the development of the image as a concept, you will quickly notice (perhaps with surprise) that while photography involved a revolution in the practicalities of image production, it left the theoretical foundation of the nature of an image at first untouched. It rather drew a strict conclusion from a fully developed idea that, at that time (in 1839), had been around for more than 400 years. In 1435 Leon Battista Alberti set to work to translate into Latin Brunelleschi’s experiments on creating a linear perspective image, which could match the natural perception of space. He presents the image as a result of quite complicated, but essentially mechanical calculations. To explain these also metaphorically, he uses a comparison, which was to become very famous very soon: as a cut made through the pyramid of sight the image was like a window. Thus, the core concept of a realistic image had been conceptualised paradoxically, as it were: a surface itself, an image shows something else, as if it were made of glass and transparent, as Alberti explains further. Therefore, it represents something qualitatively unrelated, something that obviously lays behind it. Although at first, probably to match the surface texture of the daguerreotype, Alberti’s window or rather glass metaphor, shifted towards that of the (silver) mirror, the theorisation of the photographic image can be seamlessly linked hereto. “Imagine that the mirror retained an impression of the objects it mirrored and you have a pretty complete introduction to the daguerreotype,” explains art critic Jules Janin in the arguably first ever text to describe the photographic medium. Similarly, Oliver Wendell Holmes speaks about the daguerreotype as a fixed mirror image. Even though now, thanks to the new comparative possibilities, the image’s surface is described in a material way, this does not much affect Alberti’s concept. Photography becomes the prototype of the realistic image, as Alberti envisioned. It captures nature – at the least in the eyes of its first advocates – in a nearly perfect way.
For a pictorial medium this can also result in negative conclusions and very soon did. After all, the surface of a perfect realistic image itself does not depict anything, but instead carries the image of something completely different. The more realistic an image is, the more it must effectively deny its own graphic quality to become a transparent foil behind which something is displayed. The more realistic an image, the less it can show the artist’s style. The mirror metaphor can be directly linked to the verdict of pretence, or the mirror is described as dead to begin with: as a medium for reflecting illusions devoid of ideas, which has qualitatively nothing to do with an artistically authentic image because while it fulfils the criteria of materialistic objectivity, it is also immune to any trace of subjectivity. For example, as much as Charles Baudelaire appreciates the imaging quality of photography when the subject is his mother’s realistic portrait, he takes a very critical stand towards the photography’s mechanical behaviour when an artistic image is required. He establishes a connection between photography and what he calls the “industrial delusion” of his time. To him, photography is like a machine that destroys artistic imagination, satisfying the bourgeoisie’s understanding of reality based purely on consumption and self-sufficiency, and providing everything but the truth.
In the 20th century the discussion was not over by a long shot. In 1927 Ernst Kallai defined what, in his eyes, the photography was lacking to be considered an artistic medium: the factor of an “optically perceivable tension between the image material and the image”. Therefore, to him, photography is also incapable of truly objectifying: “Certainly, it creates copies of reality that can be brilliantly clear and precise. But the perception substrate of these rich illusions, conditional upon actual material, is extremely poor, almost insubstantial.” He too falls back on the traditional metaphor: “The photographic level of composition is a spotless, pervious mirror surface.”
In 1945 André Bazin finally compared the two types of realism with each other: the non-pictorial, psychologically acting, illusionistic and the far more profound, aesthetic one, capable of showing not only the objects’ physical appearance in space, but also their spiritual reality. To him, by inventing perspective, the art of painting had, in a way, sinned and had, in this fall from grace, sacrificed the “symbolism of form” (something the art of the Middle Ages concerned itself with) on the altar of purely copying the outside world. He considers photography a New Testament-like revelation, as it were, capable of freeing the picture from this original sin because it could take upon itself to and actually satisfy the desire (which has its origins in magic) for the relic-like exact conservation of an image. Photography finally embodied the technique for the creation of a true-to-life image of the reality as an image generating apparatus. As such – in contrast to a realistically painted picture, which was affected by the certainty of its manufactured creation – a photograph was beyond the shadow of a doubt. In fact, photography possessed our belief in the reality of that which is depicted by it, and could therefore truly represent, thus finally allowing modern painting to reclaim its aesthetic-stylistic qualities.
Already in their time Kallai and Bazin have admittedly been contradicted by the photographic practice. The Picturalists were probably the first who dared to question the transparency of the photographic medium as such. They employed blurring, pictorially looking duplicating techniques, re-touching – everything to unmask the surface of a photographic image and thus to defend its pictorial qualities from depiction paradigms rigidly attributed to photography at that time.
“I think photo art should simply be concerned with aesthetics. The visual is the origin of the image. The visual alone is to express, move, appeal, and please or not. An artist’s work must speak, be able to speak. The work must stand for itself – without explanation, without an instructions leaflet from the artist.”
These were not the words of a Pictorialist from the turn of the second-last century, but those of Marko Lipuš in his manifest on artistic photography. If only 100 years ago the issue was still whether to integrate photography into the art world at all, to free it from painters’ official duties, and to establish it as an independent artistic medium in its own right (which was to succeed only much later, in the wake of conceptual approaches), today Lipuš is concerned with bestowing the portrait – especially that of the photographic genre, which is the only type likely to be used as a relic in a Bazinian sense – with artistic qualities, or rather, tying it back to its pictorial qualities. The immediate, but still mostly soberly composed reference to the observer of the portrayed could be congruent with the reality-preserving realism Bazin considered to be truly photographical. To compensate for the flaws described by Kallai though, Lipuš then focuses on the conveyance level that appears between the portrayed and the recipient, breaks the perceived transparency of the photographic medium. Somehow, the photographic smooth surface must be scratched in order to be visualised. After all, the medium itself becomes perceivable only by being wounded.
Lipuš takes his negatives, cuts them, inflicts wounds by scratching them and bestows the large-format prints laid out on precious baryte paper with a certain symbolism, works graphisms into them: some of them constructively redrawing or completing the shifted outlines and others appearing as wear and tear.
What happens then is perhaps best described semiologically: the continual message without a code, in a Barthian sense – which indeed reduced reality, but could not transform it because that would contradict the divide between the signifié (the signified) and the signifiant (the signifier) – is broken into pieces to instead bring about that same effect of reality before (in the appearance of the principles by which it is defined) an additional connoted message would catch up with it anyway. Barthes stays loyal to the mirror metaphor, as the creation of a photographic image initially remains for him a quasi-natural event: “During the transition from reality to its photocopy it is by no means necessary to divide this reality into units and to constitute these units as signs, which differ substantially from the presented object; it is by no means necessary to create a relay, a code that is, between this object and the image.”
This is precisely what Lipuš does not follow. Being the artist’s direct influence on the image, the revisions of the photograph contradict the basic principle of photography. What otherwise initially could have been accepted as the analogue of reality, before it would have been recognised by its rather conventional representational logic, is now being firmly furnished with “style”; in other words, with what Barthes’ additional message amends the analogue reproduction of reality. Overwriting the image, they highlight the stylistic ambitions of the photographs and shorten the development of a connoted (and encoded) message.
Does this mean that the artistic imagination Baudelaire was missing will once more invade the photograph? After all, the traces deliberately worked into the photos unearth an ultimately literary moment and thus fit in with the images’ theme. This may result in breakthroughs, insights into a secondary, deeper background reality and in the best possible case, into what constitutes the essence of an author’s work. Perhaps the form thus becomes symbolic, as what fascinated Bazin about the art of the Middle Ages. At any rate, the vulnerability of the surface put on display reflects on the portrayed, and also allows for a deeper insight. The rest is, without a doubt, poetry.