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To Capture a Moment in Time

Barbara Probst's images liberate traditional photography from its static, single view structure

"The world is what we see... and nonetheless, we must learn to see it."--Maurice Merleau-Ponty

At the end of 1999, German artist Barbara Probst (b.1964), who had been living and working in New York and Munich, began to create and process her 21st century work. Through the construction of photographic exposures and the deconstruction of structural photography, Probst has created bodies of two or more pigmented inkjet prints that offer a unique interpretation of capturing a moment in time.

The first work, entitled Exposure #1: N.Y.C., 545, 8th Avenue, 01.07.00, 10:37 p.m., (2000), showed a dozen unframed photographs, printed to poster size, exposing one single nocturnal urban moment captured from 12 different angles. The scene of a woman (the artist herself) jumping on the floor of a Manhattan rooftop was shot by employing a radio-controlled device that simultaneously activated the shutters of 12 different, electronically connected cameras. In the gallery, viewers were confronted with the tension of the moment from multiple viewpoints, some in color and others in black and white. For the first time, Probst broke a moment in time into a range of perspectives, strategically exposing the illusion of representation.

More than four years later in Exposure #30: N.Y.C., 249 W. 34th Street, 11.20.04, 2:27 p.m., (2004), Probst expressed further complexity and intrigue by playing with the viewer's sense of time and place. She exposed one woman during a single instant in what appeared to be four different sites. The woman was in a park next to a skyscraper, looking nervously into a giant eye and standing on a floor covered with letters. The series was actually shot inside a studio, and Probst placed enlarged print backdrops on three walls and on the floor. The monochrome park was from film director Antonioni's "Blowup," the skyscraper was Probst's shot of the Empire State Building, the eye came from film director Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," and the letters on the floor were an excerpt from a Paul Celan poem. The absent narrative in Probst's work allowed the viewer to approach her photographs from all directions. There was no one specific way to read the work and each observer could narrate his/her own complexity of seeing. In 2006-2007, the #30 series and additional exposures were exhibited at MOMA's renowned New Photography group show.

The titles of Probst's exposures are concerned with time and place. In the titles, she abandons any reference to her subjects and openly reflects on the meaning of her methodology. Probst's discourse is not with representation, but rather with its illusion. She signals the observer to decode and question her aesthetic practice and implicitly asks him or her to think.

The only factual truth about the photographs is the specific time and place in which they were shot. Their represent-ation is variable and depends on the eye or lens that is looking. Hence the artist is providing us with the knowledge, found in her titles, and we, the observers, provide the work of art with our own private meaning.

The power and beauty of Probst's exposures are in the process. Her precisely staged concept liberates traditional photography from its static, single view structure. Each viewpoint opens a door to our understanding of pictorial logistics and reiterates the concerns that can arise from the tyranny of representation.

Critic Reinhard Braun writes of Probst's work: "Facticity is enacted in the multi-part, large-format tableaux as a construct of photography itself. The exposures show that omissions and contradictions, that replacements and appropriations in particular, are part of [the] photographic practice itself, and that they indicate how a picture not only shows something but also causes something else, another picture to disappear..." (Camera Austria International, 85/2004).

Here in Chicago, April 6 and through June 2, the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College is going to exhibit Barbara Probst: Exposures. The comprehensive show will include 19 works that Probst created between 2000 and 2006. The opening will also mark a book launching celebration as the museum and Steidl Publishing are releasing a new monograph. The hardcover will include color and black-and-white images of Probst's work, as well as essays and interviews by artist and art historian David Bate and philosopher Johannes Meinhardt.

Published: April 01, 2007
Issue: Spring 2007


Great Photography Article
As a baby photographer in Chicago, I just loved this article about professional photographer Barbara Probst. It was extremely well written and a pleasure to read. Please keep up the great work.
Chicago Photographer, Jan-09-2011