Photographs copyright of Stefan Heyne 2009, courtesy of Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg
The title of Stefan Heyne’s recent photobook “The Noise; The Exposure of the Uncertain” is perplexing. The three accompanying essays that have translated from the original German to English only provide a little assistance. In an attempt to understand the accompanying photographs, I am digressing on his title to help with framing the body work.
I think of a noise as it compares to a musical tune or song. Noise is a random sound, perhaps like the jumbled background sounds that are occurring out the window or in a restaurant, of which I pay very little attention to. A tune or song is a series of tones that have a defined cadence and reflects some organizational structure that could be labeled a melody. Random noise is in a sense very “uncertain” with many unknowns; not knowing the source of the noise, the reason it occurred, the duration or if there is a meaning to it.
So what are the things that are the visual noise of life, seen but not become engaged? As example I think of this as driving to a destination and during that drive I am very intent upon what I needed to accomplish when I arrive. After getting there I can not tell you what I saw on the way, what signals I stopped at and if the last one was even green. I was looking enough to survive the drive, but not actually seeing, fully engaged or experiencing the passing environment. I was Zombie driving, and Heyne wants to investigate Zombie looking. I suspect that Heyne’s intent is in exploring the visual equivalence of noise, seeing the unseen, the visual noise of life.
By employing an out of focus photographic process, Heyne moves one big step further away from what we might expect of normal vision, a sharply focused capability of discernment. In using a soft focus, he both abstracts the environment while introducing a subtle and uncomfortable tension, as we can not be absolutely sure of the subject. The resulting photographs are symbolic of Zombie looking, recognizing only basic objects, shapes and colors. I do not normal walk around with my glasses off, experiencing a dreamlike soft and blurry world of shapes and colors. I could, but I don’t.
The photographs are reminiscent of the non-figurative and softer edge paintings from the Abstract Expressionist period of Color Field paintings, starting in the late 1940’s and into the 1950’s and 1960’s. From Wikipedia, “Color Field is characterized primarily by large fields of flat, solid color spread across or stained into the canvas; creating areas of unbroken surface and a flat picture plane. The movement places less emphasis on gesture, brushstrokes and action in favour of an overall consistency of form and process.” In the case of Heyne, less emphasis is placed on a detailed and full delineated subjects in favor of a soft focus with glowing edges and shapes pulled out of the receding darkness.
Heyne’s abstract photographs provide more organization and structure than is implied in his title and my understanding of his intent. The objects within the frame have not been so abstracted as to prevent some general identification of what was photographed, nevertheless there is still intrigue and mystery as these subjects defy specific identification. As a result I am left ungrounded and off-balance, uncomfortable and yet still with some sibilance of familiarity as I able to connect with the basic essence of the subject. But I am not sure that I am experiencing “noise” per se through these photographs, but there is an unknown quality to them.
While thinking about how to photograph noise, I am not sure what would be such a photograph that represents one of our basic senses, so the issue may be more of my own regarding this body of work. I do feel that his photographs are poetic and lyrical, perhaps more of soft Jazz or New Age melody that is more meditative and less definitive.
These photographs are indicative of how a memory evolves after an occurrence which is very strongly felt, accurately seen and fully experienced. Over time many of the details are progressively fading. That which constitutes the surrounding events that led up to this memory, details of what actually occurred and the events afterward are steadily more difficult to recall. The hard edges of the event over time slowly become soft, blurry and indistinct.
The essays are written by Klaus Honnef, Raimar Stange and Georgory Knight, with the texts provided in Deustch (German) with an English translation. The book is case-bound and nicely printed.
By Douglas Stockdale