Most photographers have a well-developed signature style, inside the boundaries of which they produce their work. But there are also photographers who experiment a lot and whose bodies of work look very different. Thomas Ruff is maybe the most obvious example I can think of. Ralf Peters is another one (his website is not being updated, to see his newer work go here). Of course, Peters isn’t nearly as well-known as Ruff, but for those curious about the photographer’s work, there now is Until Today, a compilation covering photography from 1995 until today. (more)
Just like in the case of Thomas Ruff, if I didn’t know that the photography in Until Today was produced by the same person, I would not have guessed it. In fact, looking through Until Today reminded me a little bit of Fotofest portfolio reviews: You don’t really know what to expect next, and occasionally, you really wish there was some pre-screening involved. Of course, that’s the big risk an artist like Peters takes: Some ideas result in wonderful images, others really only make you want to channel Ludwig Wittgenstein (“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” [Tractatus 7]).
Let’s talk a little bit about the highlights. For me, Gas Stations (these look much better in the book) clearly is one of those. Photographs of (German) gas stations at night, with all the logos and names removed, presented in a very uniform manner. These photos are visually very compelling, even though they might border very slightly on being eye candy (but would that be so wrong?).
Mix contains what I’d call visual remixes - all of these images were produced on a computer, assembling a set of source images taken at holiday resorts into completely believable, yet un-real photographs of such resorts. Given that these places are so fake in the first place, the photos are almost too well-made. They provide a strong artistic commentary on the kinds of environments that many people love to spend their vacations at.
And there’s Different Persons, which looks just like digital fakery - except that it isn’t. These are actual photographs of professional models and women encountered in the street, picked to correspond to a certain type of beauty ideal. Very eerie!
The rest of Until Today is a bit of a mixed bag, with a lot of work that is conceptually interesting, but visually less so. All in all, especially given the three bodies of work I mentioned above, anyone interested in contemporary photography coming out of Germany might want to consider buying the book.
Until Today, photographs by Ralf Peters, essays by Klaus Honnef, Renate Puvogel, Raimar Stange, Heinz Kattner, 208 pages, English/German, Hatje-Cantz, 2010