Swiss-born photographer Rudolf Lichtsteiner first gained attention in 1966 when he was awarded France’s prestigious Nicéphore Niépce Prize. At the time, Lichtsteiner was part of a European avant-garde interested in liberating photography from its purely reproductive function. Over the course of a career that stretched until 2009, when Lichtsteiner gave up making photographs to concentrate on writing about photography, he continued to explore the question of what makes an authentic photograph. The first comprehensive retrospective of his work, “Rudolf Lichtsteiner—On the State of Things,” is on view at Fotostiftung Schweiz in Zurich until February 14. Lichtsteiner’s work includes accordion books, negative montages, tabletop still lifes that question perception, and large-scale photograms, such as his “Sukzessionen” (successions) series. In these, Lichtsteiner combines exposures and superimposes fragments from nature including weeds and fruits, making images he describes as “spatiality-oriented and rich in tonal values, transparent and compressed.”
“Photography is so difficult because it’s so simple,” is one of Lichtsteiner’s philosophical claims, and one that has become truer as digital photography has become widespread. Using everyday objects and situations—a table, a tree or his own room—provides Lichtsteiner with a field of reference to discover symbols that express a peaceful, haunting and sometimes dreamlike poetry, transforming the simple into something more complex.
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