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Mois de la Photo 2014: Michael von Graffenried, Bierfest, at Galerie Esther Woerdehoff


For this year’s edition ot the Mois de la Photo-OFF, the Galerie Esther Woerdehoff presents Michael von Graffenried’s new series Bierfest.
“What does privacy look like nowadays? Do we find it in the private space, in the closed sphere? Or rather on the internet, especially on the social networks, those mixed areas in between public and private spaces where the invitation is too irresistible to the users to make public, in a continuous flow, their most intimate feelings, the small events of their life, such as visits to museum, meetings, sexual experiences, and any other little facts or states of mind. As soon as we ask this question, the ground seems to shift under our feet. “Where and what is privacy today ?”; this has become a major philosophical and artistic question of our time.

And what if that same privacy let itself shown in bright daylight, during events with a long history and tradition, whose apparent repetition was in fact hiding the true revolution of a contemporary privacy that finds its own conscience and well-being only when exposed?
With Bierfest, his latest important series, Michael von Graffenried, Swiss photographer based in Paris for the past 25 years and winner of the 2010 Erich Solomon-Preis, the most important German award for photography, decided to address this particular subject. This complete series can soon be discovered in an upcoming book, published by Steidl and also in an exhibition during the Mois-Off de la Photographie, in Paris. The artist book soon to be released by Steidl is not just showing the Oktoberfest in Munich, this beer festival and gatherings under gigantic tents created in 1810 by the Bavarian monarchy to mobilize the population against Napoleon’s France, held for two weeks every year, before the first Sunday in October and considered today as the largest alcohol consuming celebration in the world. In nowadays Germany to state that the artist worked on the famous Oktoberfest in Munich would be too controversial and lead to polemics.

Michael von Graffenried went there in 2010 and 2011 as a casual visitor although he had the support of an artist residency program of the city of Munich. While working with a middle format panoramic camera and films, same as in his previous impressive series on the civil war in Algeria – “the only way to take a sincere photograph” according to him, Michael was the opposite of an invisible photographer keeping his distance behind a telephoto lens. The panoramic camera requires – and allows -, to get as close as possible to the people photographed. Michael von Graffenried takes his photographs at about one meter from his subjects without looking trough the viewfinder and composes his image thanks to his sole experience; the camera resting on his chest “becomes one with the photographer’s body”, according to Hans Ulrich Obrist. If you are only one meter away from a person, a couple or a group to take a photograph, you have already entered his or her personal space. This constitutes the first important dimension of Michael von Graffenried’s new work. He is the first to show us the Oktoberfest in Munich, this international celebration of intimacy without censorship but with equal consideration for everyone.

On a second level, Michael von Graffenried offers us a unique and stunning insight on a freed privacy which now exist among individuals and groups, like the ones we can meet at this beer festival in Munich, now an international meeting for “recomposed privacies” (like recomposed families). Through fifty images, the photographer gives us an unforgettable reflection on this meeting place, apparently opened and visible but in fact segmented and subject to certain codes in order to get in. This only reminds us of the international gay prides photographs also by Michael von Graffenried, which will remain anthology images of our time.
Finally, when we look at this series of photos, we can see through the eyes of many individuals seeking privacy in the crowd, or who tried to find it, or experienced a great disappointment, a terrible evening. Every time, we get a little closer to their privacy without the photographer taking advantage of it. Often, this privacy is experienced only when exposed. Michael von Graffenried’s new series, Bierfest, can make you happy and sad at the same time. If humanity can sink so low, it can also elevate itself like, for instance, through the pictorial achievement in this series which celebrates all its “characters”.

Text by Robert Fleck, Art critic, Art and Public Space Professor, vice-director of the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf. (translated from French)


Bierfest _ Michael van Graffenried
Through December 20th 2014
Galerie Esther Woerdehoff
36 rue Falguière
75015 Paris
Tue. – Sat. 2pm – 6pm

Photgraphs by ichael van Graffenried
Publisher : Steidl
112 pages,
29,5 x 24 cm
ISBN : 978-3-86930-680-3

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