Edgar Leciejewski, 1 West 119th Street, New York NY, United Staates. 2010
Edgar Leciejewski's new works comprises a series of large sized pictures showing seemingly ghost-like pedestrians on the streets of New York - blow-ups of the Internet service "Google Street View". During his stay in New York, the artist - using this procedure - chose the very medium that transforms distance into closeness that transforms one's own closeness to an object back to a photographical distance.
Google's camera vans fan out on sunny days and at times when the streets should be as deserted by people as possible. If it happens that someone still walks into the picture, an image recognition software automatically blurs the face. It is exactly these supposedly de-identified people - sources of irritation with „Google Street View" - who turn into the actual protagonists in Leciejewski's pictures. These people have no idea about their being captured in a picture permanently available on the Internet. And they also don't know that Leciejewski accentuates them in monumental works of art. The privacy protection has been adhered to with regards to the blurred faces but they themselves as well as people who know them will be able to recognise them on these pictures without a doubt.
The Google algorithm complies with buildings, not with people who - as Adriano Sack logically remarks - become "homme trouvés" in the pictures. Their appearance on "Google Street View" is random, their appearance in Leciejewski's works, however, is the product of a precise artistic selection.
Edgar Leciejewski (*1977) studied dramatics at Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design Halle and at the Academy of Visual Arts Leipzig. He currently lives and works in Berlin and Leipzig. His works were presented in a solo exhibition at the Stadtmuseum Munich, Germany, as well as numerous group exhibitions, among others at Kunsthalle Wien, Austria or Kunstraum Witte de With in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Alongside to the exhibition at Galerie Parrotta, further works from the series „Ghost and Flowers" are displayed at the NRW-Forum Düsseldorf. Reviews of his works were featured in an artist portrait on ARTE and publications „Himmel ohne Wolken" (2011) und „NYC - Ghosts and Flowers" (2011).
des hommes trouvés. Edgar Leciejewski's Urban Ghosts
By Adriano Sack
"Not even Martin Parr himself would be able to tell his pictures from Flickr shots," the art director Alexander Wiederin speculates. Austrian by birth, he has lived in New York for many years. Which, as we all know, makes it easier to say it like it is: digital modernity has changed the nature and possibilities of photography. It has become difficult to distinguish between photographs randomly produced at the hands of amateurs and art photography, because the traditional criteria-such as composition, exposure, depth of focus-have been called in question, but most importantly because a growing range of ways to make images have become widely available. After the tsunami of December 2004, a cell-phone picture appeared on the cover of stern magazine: a tourist in Thailand had snapped the flood wave barreling toward him (luckily, he survived). It was the most impressive picture because the man happened to be in the right place at the right time. The picture's low resolution-in technical terms and judged by traditional standards, it was far from cover material-only made it more powerful. The availability of technology poses a new challenge to the idea of the artistic production of images. Photography, which took a strikingly long time to gain recognition as a form of art and so remains a young genre, articulates itself not just through the picture itself but also through the idea on which it is based (or that floats above it), the referential system within which it is situated, and simply through the attribution the artist imposes. The scans of found dead birds the Leipzig-based artist Edgar Leciejewski creates, for instance, are images so precise as to resemble illustrations from a textbook of biology. The grace and expressive force of his arrangements (the proudly ruffled feathers, the elegantly contorted neck) are evidence of a clear-sighted creative impulse. And the minute depiction by means of art of what is immediately natural, he says, goes back as far as Leonardo da Vinci's ink prints of leaves.
Leciejewski points out that one of the first impulses driving the work of early photographers was to create archives; be it of plants, as with the Englishwoman Anna Atkins or the German Karl Blossfeldt, be it of cities, a mission taken on, for example, by Atget in Paris. The medium of photography lent itself to the task. For it seemed to replace the expressive force of the brush brandished by the artist with a soulless mechanism. That idea, of course, turned out, first, not to be true and nonetheless, second, made photography the machine age's congenial medium.
From technological reproducibility to digital volatility. Anyone can make a technically clean picture today. The stars on the covers of fashion and celebrity magazines would be impossible to identify were it not for the headlines, as their faces are made to conform to a vague but powerful ideal of beauty first by means of the scalpel and then using Photoshop. The function "Edit Your Profile" lets us work on our own public images day after day. Earlier versions become blurry, although they presumably continue to exist. "There are different ways for individual people to take over space-to command space […] Before media there used to be a physical limit on how much space one person could take up by themselves," Andy Warhol writes in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again). The space a person can take up has grown to infinity. The actual attention we garner is measured not in terms of the amount of data we ourselves select but in the numbers of clicks, friends, comments, links. Social success has become unequivocally measurable and transparent.
New York is a city of fleeting and exact glances. When he stayed there in 2010, Leciejewski noticed the contrast between the freedom and unlimited possibilities that are part of the promise of happiness the city holds out, and the rigid codes its residents observe. The metropolis as a place of organized violence to which people submit. Architecture and social conventions determine how people must move, dress, greet and ignore each other. New Yorkers say "Excuse me" and mean "Move over." The city's density forces them to be polite and brutal.
The cover of Scott Schuman's picture book The Sartorialist is graced by a quote from Mario Testino: "The place to be seen." Testino is referring to the photographer's blog-for several years, Schuman has used it to publish pictures of people he saw in the street and captured because of their extraordinary style. Some of the subjects are well known-stylists, designers, bloggers-but their names do not appear on the website. A felicitous combination of jacket and pants or the right shoe is all it takes to get in. Testino's blurb is of course no more than a superstar's favor to a star, but it contains an interesting idea. The Internet as a site to see and be seen, it suggests, is replacing the traditional venues where social structures manifest themselves: restaurants, clubs, opening-night parties. In restaurants that draw a celebrity clientele, New Yorkers call the seats located near the bathrooms or merely in hard-to-see corners "Siberia." On the Internet, you're in Siberia when your pictures do not appear under "Most viewed." The world has become more permeable and, if that is still possible, more merciless.
"The Google algorithm goes by buildings, not by people," Leciejewski says about the cracks, blurry areas, and digital misconstructions in the pictures he uses in his work. They are taken from Google Street View, the large-scale project for which the corporation deploys camera-equipped vehicles to capture streets all over the world. These cameras-in Germany, the project met with considerable opposition-are the equivalent of Andy Warhol's running tape recorder from the early 1970s. Impassive producers of a testimonial record. The artist processes the images, selects the parts he will use, removes details. Or he will leave them in for compositional reasons, thus with the bottles on the stoop outside the brownstone. The people in his photographs are hommes trouvés-their appearance on Google Street View is accidental, whereas their appearance in Leciejewski's work is the result of a precise artistic selection. Their anonymity renders them symbols and projection screens. Where is the gangly boy in the ultramarine T-shirt going? Did the two men recognize each other as they passed in the street? Might that woman with the first-rate legs not be Naomi Campbell? The people in this series are unreal and hence movable images of ideas associated with New York City: sex, success, love, money, danger, beauty, etc. They walk across the street, are captured by the camera, the artist discovers them, shapes their images, then makes large-format prints he mounts in a gallery. This process turns them into ghosts.
Adriano Sack is a writer and founder of the social network ilikemystyle.net.