"Those commonplace and merely beautiful pictures, which thrive mainly thanks to the charm of some actual object, are thrust into the background in favor of experiments and fresh solutions. Adventures into the realm of optics are still for the most part unpopular. But only that photography which enlists the help of the experimental will be able to lay bare all the technical formation of the visual experience in our
times." Otto Steinert
"Art would perhaps be authentic only when it had totally rid itself of the idea of authenticity . . ." Theodor Adorno
Ever since the beginning, the camera has pointed to myself," confessed Minor White, espousing a self-reflexive attitude that also characterized Subjektive Fotografie, the postwar European photography movement founded by Dr. Otto Steinert.
Steinert defined Subjective photography as "humanized and individualized photography," which was meant "to capture from the individual object a picture compounding to its nature." A contemporary West German curator, Ute Eskildsen, explains the subjective thrust of this renewal of Modernism: "The viewing of reality changed after the war to a self-oriented need for expression."
The movement's exhibitions spanned the years 1951through 1958, serving not only the aesthetic but also the economic and ideological needs of postwar West Germany.
It was theory of a camerawork that may be explicated by examining its theoretical kinship with the Continental philosophies of Phenomenology and, particularly, Existentialism. The latter is in large part a development of the former in its Sartrean version, as James Edie observes: "Sartre is the person who more than any other has 'domesticated' the German Phenomenology of Edmund Husserl and created what is now called the 'second school of Phenomenology'. . ."
Theoretically, Subjective Photography could draw from Phenomenology's positing of the mutual implication of subject and object, from the phenomenological method that involves intending, intuiting, reflecting upon, and describing phenomena. And existential zed Phenomenology (ŕ la Sartre), like Subjektive Fotografie, stressed how one subjectively intends and constitutes one's "life-world." Both espouse making a transition from a natural, non reflexive perception of things to an intensified, self-reflexive grasp of key aspects. Albeit without the transcendental ego, Sartre subjectifies this intentional grasping of things, putting an emphasis on subjective knowledge, knowledge constituted by feelings and desires, as well as thought, played out in specific "situations." Like Jean-Paul Sartre, Steinert stresses the constituting power of the gaze, and the importance of authenticity: a creative, personal individuality opposed to inauthenticity, "bad faith" or mauvaise foi in Sartre's terminology. Commenting on the existentialist aspect of modern photography in the 1950s, the editor of the periodical Magnum, Dr. Karl Pawek, observes in the 1959 German Photographic Annual: "Every modern photograph is . . . based on the momentary existence of an object which does not always exist in that form. . . . How did 'photography' come by this Existentialism which at the same time reveals the essence and the very substance of the subject? It is characteristic of the modern camera that it has discovered the third and fourth dimension for the two dimensional picture." Phenomenology, Existentialism, and Steinert's Subjektive Fotographie all converge on the ethic that one is "to make no use whatever of the testimony of others in confronting the given ness of experience." ...
From: "Subjektive Fotografie And the Existentialist Ethic"
Copyright 1988 by James R. Hugunin