Done right, photography can bring the world closer to us while simultaneously widening our horizons — as a comprehensive new exhibition of inspiring imagery at Stockholm’s Fotografiska demonstrates
Photography connects with our desire to understand who we are and to relate with the world around us. Private collectors have become change makers of standardised taste in art, exploring new ways in which the medium can been shared with the public. They add fresh perspectives on reality. At the opening night of Time and Again at Fotografiska, Stockholm, we met Artur Walther – the man behind the show and the creator of one of the most important private collections of contemporary photography.
Building up this collection has not happened quickly – it’s been an organic process that started more than 20 years ago when Walther left a career as an investment banker on Wall Street. The creative path he chose to pursue instead has led to a world- renowned body of photography from Germany, the US, Africa and Asia, as well as an exhibition space in his hometown of Neu-Ulm, Germany, a project space in New york and numerous international shows.
For Time and Again, 800 photographs by 34 photographers from 10 countries have been selected. The bringing together of established and unknown photographers from all around the world prompts the viewer to look at different ideas and eras and consider what actually defines our own culture or place in the world – and as Walther himself says, “to contemplate what is unique and what is universal”.
During your time as a collector, what has been important to you?
“Collecting photography has been a journey of passion – a very expanding journey, in terms of what I’ve learnt, what I’ve shared with others and what I’ve been able to give artists in terms of both credit and visibility. I feel good about the personal element, about getting to know and learning from different artists. It has been a very special experience.”
What have you learned or discovered on the way?
“With collecting you always discover new things, not only pictures, but also ideas and concepts. Looking at the world helps you see how similar many things are. When you really look for the underlying theme, the key issues often involve race, gender, sexuality and ethnicity.”
How would you describe the work you do today?
“If I look at what I’m doing right now, it goes far beyond collecting – it is also covers researching, exhibiting and publishing. We have published four major catalogues thematically on the works in the collection and seven books on individual artists or important projects so far. For a number of lesser-known or non-Western artists, this has been very important. Furthermore, a number of our exhibitions travel to various institutions worldwide, for example this exhibition here at Fotografiska was shown at the 45th edition of the Les Rencontres d’Arles photo festival in 2014 and at La Maison Rouge in Paris in 2015.”
What makes exhibiting interesting for you?
“That you really have to think about things conceptually – it’s not good enough just to put pictures up. They have to have a message, concept and theme. They have to play off each other, question each other or create a dynamic.”
One part of the exhibition shows Richard Avedon’s portrait series called The Family, of the American political establishment during the 1970s, alongside the Occupy Wall Street images. What are your thoughts on this? What comes to mind?
“There is a direct timeline to the political landscape in the United States today. The emergence of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders is the direct outgrowth of the power structure Avedon so skilfully presented in 1976. And the discontent of the Occupy Wall Street movement has expanded to a much broader level all over the United States.”
How did you start to put together Time and Again?
“The origin of this exhibition goes back a number of years. When I was first archiving all my images, printing them out, I could see that I was looking at things very much in grids and series. I thought it would be interesting to put together an exhibition – Typology, Taxonomy and Seriality – which was first shown in Arles in 2014. It became clear that, nowadays, we are very focused on the single, individual image. But historically, photography was shown in series – it was not about the precise moment or the perfectly framed picture taken at the perfect time. At this point I had collected a large body of Chinese and African work, and I could see in there, as you can see in all of this work, this concept repeating itself. Out of this came the idea of looking cross-culturally, cross-geographically and across time and putting this exhibition together.”
Given your international influence, what made you think about showing at Fotografiska?
“Fotografiska holds about 20 exhibitions each year of work that comes from all over the world – different places, cultures and artists. It makes Fotografiska a very interesting venue. A museum normally only looks at the more established, the proven, and museums in general still very much revolve around a Western perspective.”
Walther’s words and his collection highlight how art in its purest form can often turn the focus on universal questions. Photography triggers questions about culture, society and structures of power. Walther’s experiences, meanwhile, illustrate what can happen when we act on our creative impulses. And that we shouldn’t look for a quick fix when creating something new. In his case, it all started the moment he picked up a Leica camera 20 years ago – it’s a reminder of how one small action can change the way we live in surprising ways.
Time and Again, until May 15; Fotografiska, Stockholm
Words by Anna Åhrén
Feature Image: Eadweard Muybridge, Animal Locomotion: Woman in Long Dress Stooping and Carrying a 30-LB Basket, Plate 217, 1887, Courtesy The Walther Collection and Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.
1 Ai Weiwei, Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 1995, Courtesy The Walther Collection and Lisson Gallery.
2 Bernd and Hilla Becher, Kugel-Gasbehälter (Spheric Gas Tanks), 1963-1983. Courtesy The Walther Collection and Sonnabend Gallery
3 Hiroh Kikai, Akusa Portraits, 1998 and 1985. Courtesy The Walther Collection and Yancey Richardson Gallery
4 Guy Tillim, Mai Mai militia in training, December 2002. Courtesy The Walther Collection and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
5 Martina Bacigalupo, Gulu Real Art Studio, 2011-12. Courtesy The Walther Collection
6 Samuel Fosso, Self Portrait, from “African Spirits”, 2008. Courtesy The Walther Collection and Jean Marc Patras, Paris
7 J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere, Untitled [Hairstyles], 1971 and 1974. Courtesy The Walther Collection and Galerie Magnin-A, Paris
8 August Sander, Antlitz der Zeit (Face of Our Time) – Unemployed Sailor, 1929; Boxers, 1929; © 2015 Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne / VG Bild–Kunst / ARS, NY
9 Accra Shepp, Occupying Wall Street, 2011-12. Courtesy The Walther Collection and Steven Kasher Gallery
10 Zanele Muholi, Faces and Phases, 2008-10. Courtesy The Walther Collection and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
11 Malick Sidibé, Vues de Dos (Back View), 1999/2005. Courtesy The Walther Collection and MAGNIN-A, Paris
12 Stephen Shore, Avenue of the Americas, 1970. Courtesy The Walther Collection and 303 Gallery, New York