". . . Did you see the body? Did you visit the scene of the crime?"
"No? You're investigating a case and haven't seen the body? And you didn't even go to the crime scene to secure evidence?"
"When the body was discovered last Thursday, it wasn't my case. It was Henk Steiner's case. . . . The body is at the morgue. I saw no reason to go there myself until the autopsy report is ready. But I've got the photos of the body at the crime scene."
"That's a touchy situation, if you ask me." Jan raised his eyebrows in disbelief. "Photography is often a source of major misunderstandings . . ."
"What misunderstandings? I don't know what you mean." He chewed his fingernails, although there hadn't really been anything left to chew for some time. "What a subject!," Jan thought to himself and asked: "Can I photograph your fingers?"
"Can you do what?" Wein was hardly prepared for such a question.
"I'd like to photograph your fingers," said Jan.
"Does that have some special significance?" Wein was vain and anxious as well. He didn't want to find himself compromised.
"No, it doesn't have any special significance. I photograph everything that strikes me as interesting."
"And you find my fingers interesting?"
"Oh, yes. Very!"
"Because your nails are bitten practically to the bone."
"Oh, well. . . . Yes. But my face musn't be in the picture."
"There you have it, Mr. Wein. You think photography can reproduce reality. That it could reveal something about you, something you believe yourself to be but apparently don't wish to disclose. Isn't that a misunderstanding? I don't believe in that kind of truth in photography. I believe that photography inspires the imagination and awakens things in us that have nothing to do with reality."
"What do you mean by that? You surprise me."
"Look," Jan continued in a soft voice, "I'll give you a simple example: A little girl is playing with her favorite doll. Suddenly the doll falls into a pool of water and fills completely with water. It begins to sink. The little girl quickly grabs the doll and pulls off its head, letting the water run out. Then she puts the head and body back together again. Now, at the very moment the girl is pulling the doll's head off, you take a snapshot. In fact, you take three photos. The pictures show the girl beheading the doll, then pouring the water out of the head and finally pouring the water out of the body. To a stranger, these photos tell a completely different story. It looks as if the child had a marked inclination toward sadism and was abusing its doll. The water suddenly becomes a metaphor for blood, and the harmless episode appears as a ëmerciless' and ëbloody' deed in the photos."
"What are you trying to say?", asked Wein warily.
"A photograph is always an extraction, of 1/125th of a second, for instance, from life. It is a Now, and there is no Before or After. Thus, strictly speaking, photography has nothing to do with life. Life, reality, takes place in time and space. But a photograph is neither time nor space. It is simply this Now or this Then and therefore tells us nothing about life as it really unfolds. If you wrote a text, for example, and I plucked a single word from it and declared that the word expresses the whole content of the text, you would protest that the word says nothing about the content of the text, that it merely refers to itself, to its own meaning. If I selected an IS, a THAT or a WHERE, then I would be choosing words which can be linked in an infinite number of ways and can thus generate an infinite number of meanings. If I chose a word like PRISON or MURDER or WEIN, I would be limiting myself somewhat but would still be dealing with a multiplicity of possible meanings. Since I know you as a police detective, the word WEIN stands not only for all the kinds of wine I know but also for police detective Wein, who embodies certain specific qualities. If I didn't know you, then the level of meaning represented by Wein = police detective would not exist for me. In this sense, photography is the most abstract medium there is, since it has essentially nothing to do with the facts of life. This is not to say that it really has nothing at all to do with life but simply that it is not life itself and cannot represent it. Its meaning depends solely upon us as recipients. We determine the kind of life we breathe into the photograph - in contrast to painting, sculpture or video art, for example, in which the author always injects or implies this Before or After through composition, design, invention or estrangement. Of course this doesn't mean that an artist could not deliberately imply or express this specific photographic quality in a work of painting, sculpture or video art. But that would be a different story."
Wein was overcome with enthusiasm. "How can I make use of that in my work?"
"You could start with the crime-scene photos, taking an inventory of what's visible and then imbuing them with a life of their own. If you succeed in reconstructing the real events of the crime through interpretation, then you'll know what took place and you'll find your murderer. If you don't - if your imagination is too abstract, too radical - then the photos won't help you solve the case. In fact, they will lead you astray, and the murderer will have the last laugh. Thus the question is: What do these photos reveal to you? It might also be useful in this regard to familiarize yourself first with some of the different possibilities offered by photography, such as the peculiarities of the works of Andres Serrano, Cindy Sherman and Larry Clark."
"Who are Andres Serrano and Larry Clark?"
"Andres Serrano is a New York photographer known primarily for his unusual close-ups of murder, suicide and accident victims. He photographed people who died of gunshot wounds and beatings, poisonings, burns and stabbings, people who lost their lives in unusual ways and whose corpses are often horrible to look at. Larry Clark photographed the youth drug scene during the late sixties and early seventies, taking photos of himself and his friends in Tulsa and later of the prostitution scene on 42nd Street in New York. They are snapshots of unpretentious yet uncompromising directness, unretouched, decadent and brutal. Cindy Sherman's photographs, on the other hand, are staged. They deal with the themes of glamour, sexual perversion and extreme horrific visions. They constantly focus attention on the viewer and the question of his relationship to authenticity, manipulation, artificiality, fantasy, delusion and imagination. . . . In general we can say that the photo itself does not tell us what is genuine, what is posed, what is staged or what is voyeuristic or different from what really is or was. It is always left to us viewers to believe or to distrust the implied commentary and to read photographs in such a way that they communicate something to us - an insight, a feeling, an emotional surge, an ah-ha experience, etc. We must be capable of interpreting photographs in terms of their factual content, in terms of what we actually see and what we are looking for. These interpretations must bring across a certain self-evident quality; otherwise, we learn nothing and get nowhere with them. In that case, the photographs lead us both emotionally and factually astray. They remain a misunderstanding."
This text is an excerpt from the as yet unpublished novel Mord. Die gesammelten Werke von Jan Eide by Stefan Banz.