'The first photo I ever wanted to own was one of his Photogenetic Drafts. A reclaimer of images and thematic compiler, he neither creates nor produces any image himself; rather, in his hands, found pictures, discarded negatives, and shots collected on the Net acquire a satisfying status.'
PICTURES FROM THE STREET
The first thing likely to strike viewers of Pictures from the Street is that the photographs themselves are utterly and unexpectedly fascinating, both as visual artifacts and human documents. The second thing is that these photographs aren’t really art at all and were never intended by their makers to be seen in a public exhibition. But since 1982, Joachim Schmid has found and collected over nine hundred photographs which were formerly lost or thrown away. They now form a sprawling conceptual art work that ironically redefines the accepted genre of fine-print ‘street photography’. Pictures from the Street is the longest project that has occupied Joachim Schmid to date, and it remains arguably the most radical piece he has yet produced. It is conceptually crucial that Pictures from the Street encompasses all the photos Joachim Schmid has found since 1982, hung in chronological sequence according to when they were found. He does not edit the series according to aesthetic criteria, preferring to offer an unbiased, sociological sample of imagery lost or thrown away by its owners.
Nearly all of Joachim Schmid’s street photos depict people, and more than half of them have been ripped to pieces. He has commented on the violent energy these tiny image fragments still contain, and it is impossible not to read these torn figures as deeply personal and perhaps desperate attempts to purge memory. For in a society that relies on photographs to record the past, memories cannot be banished as long as photographic evidence survives. This belief, so apparent in Pictures from the Street, underscores the deep-seated psychological role photography plays as an expected, almost compulsory accompaniment to modern human relationships.
Intervening in the life of these images, Joachim Schmid has recuperated them as testimony to the extended imprint left by photography on the modern city and modern life. Beyond that, Pictures from the Street also tells the story of his own peripatetic urban travels for two and a half decades. Each picture is labeled according to the time and place he found it, thereby serving as a route-marker in Schmid’s journey as an international ‘photo-flâneur’.
In this sense, Joachim Schmid is indeed the artist behind Pictures from the Street. Yet by including every photograph he finds, Joachim Schmid deliberately explodes the notions of personal style and expression that we normally associate with art and photography. This in turn points to the peculiar dual register on which Pictures from the Street operates: it is simultaneously a sophisticated commentary on our obsession with photography, and a collection of images visually seductive in their own right.
Approached as a whole, Pictures from the Street is a genuine ‘Salon des Refusés’ – an anti-museum of throwaways, and an archaeological sweep through the streets of modern life. Simply by picking up what other people have dropped on the ground, Schmid has compiled a sprawling, evocative, disturbing, hilarious, utterly familiar, yet uncanny artwork of simple means and surprising depth. In refusing to play the ‘photo-auteur’, Joachim Schmid has told a far more ambitious story about the life and afterlife of photographs.
John S. Weber, writer and dayton Director of the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York.
Joachim Schmid is represented by the gallery Alain Gutharc, Paris.