Barbara Probst, Exposures, 2000–present
Text by Shoair Mavlian
When viewing photographs, we are used to seeing things from a single perspective, a frozen moment captured by one lens. Although the camera often allows us to see beyond what is visible to the human eye, the singular photographic viewpoint can also limit perceptions. In the series Exposures, Barbara Probst attempts to break apart and expand this singular viewpoint by presenting multiple perspectives of the same incident side by side.
With a background in sculpture, Probst first enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich in the late 1980s. She then spent a year at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, before resuming her studies in Munich. While in Düsseldorf, Probst studied under the direction of the sculptor Günther Uecker. She also studied photography under the legendary Bechers and sometimes assisted the couple, either accompanying Bernd when location scouting or helping Hilla in the darkroom. For her graduation show in Munich in 1990, Probst explored the space between photography and sculpture by presenting large-scale photographs of models of sculptures that she had made, but not the sculptures themselves, in doing so questioning the line between physical space and photographic representation.
On 7 January, 2000, Probst made the first work in the now well-known Exposures series. ‘Exposure #1: NYC, 545 8th Avenue, 01.07.00, 10:37 pm, 2000’ depicts Probst jumping on a rooftop in New York at night. Probst captured the scene with 12 different cameras simultaneously, and the 12 resulting images are presented together as one work, offering multiple perspectives and entry points to viewers. The work is initially confusing: because the mind is so used to reading a photograph from one angle, it takes several moments to figure out what is being presented. Once deciphered, each image acts as a building block that can be used to piece together the scene, providing a fuller, more complex perspective.
Probst has produced more than 140 works in the Exposures series during the past 19 years. Although she has refined her technique over time, she continues to broadly employ the same methodology, using multiple cameras (as few as two and as many as 12) and a radio-controlled shutter release to synchronise and enable simultaneous exposure. By contrast, the works vary hugely in subject matter and complexity, ranging from simple studio portraits to complicated street scenes and sets incorporating backdrops and props. The portraits are perhaps the simplest to grasp, such as ‘Exposure #48: Munich, Minerviusstrasse 11, 01.06.07, 3:17 pm, which depicts one sitter captured by two cameras simultaneously, with the resulting images presented side by side. In the left-hand image, the sitter is looking directly into the camera lens, whereas in the right-hand image she is slightly in profile, a juxtaposition that is slightly unnerving. Some works include a combination of colour and black and white images. ‘Exposure #106: NYC, Broome & Crosby Streets, 04.17.13, 2:29 pm, 2013’, for example, is a patchwork exposing an internal and external view of a New York street, in which a yellow cab and a red apple are central motifs. The titles of each work add to the detail, denoting the exact location, time, and date of the exposures, clearly signifying that all the images in each individual work are taken in the same instant.
Exposures is both satisfying and amusing in how it embraces and challenges the characteristics of the photographic medium. Each frame, although deliberately set up, look almost like a test, with her tools – tripods, shutter release, backdrops – and sometimes even her assistants on view. However, the carefully framed staging undercuts any sense of spontaneity. The series highlights the importance of perception, raising viewers’ awareness of the fiction of truth and authenticity when reading a single image. The work also actively challenges the idea of one image representing the definitive moment. Rather, Probst fragments the moment, fracturing that split second into several different images, which, when displayed side by side, cohere to form a whole. Ultimately, in Exposures, time becomes spatial rather than linear, challenging conventions surrounding photography’s ability to capture temporality.
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Kuckei + Kuckei Gallery will present Barbara Probst during Paris Photo at Grand Palais, Paris, 7-10 November 2019