Memory is a fickle thing — marred by ego, happenstance, and the desire to make sense of the countless tableaus that flicker in and out of our consciousness. With the exhibit Fremde Heimat, German-born photographer Bastienne Schmidt has attempted to rerecord such illusive images; consequently, the series reflects a bittersweet sense of personal loss and detachment.
Schmidt's work teeters between straight photojournalism and fine art. Aesthetically, however, her work is about as fine as photography can get. Schmidt's catalogue is a mixture of still life and portraiture that often navigates the strange social landscape of contemporary American society. For Fremde Heimat, Schmidt shelved her ongoing obsession with probing alien lands and turned her lens toward the nation she left behind more than decade ago, Germany. The show's title, which translates as "foreign homeland," reflects Schmidt's awkward nationality (as no longer German and not yet American) and the human need to seek self-definition through her own complex culture and its rituals.
Schmidt's extensive body of work , which includes countless images culled from her travels in America, draws obvious parallels with the metier of fellow German transplant Robert Frank. Frank's The Americans is widely considered the champion of transatlantic travelogues. Like Frank, Schmidt's work is not an overt polemic; she does not seek pat moments of journalistic truth by capturing conflict. Fremde Heimat is simply the recorded observations of a participant observer, equally seduced and repulsed by the now unfamiliar world set before her.
The exhibit is an unusual curatorial choice for UNAM, considering that Schmidt has done a copious amount of work in both Latin America and the United States. One of her long-term research projects, "Vivir la Muerte," sustains an anthropological gaze in its exploration of death rituals in Latin America. Schmidt also recently received a prestigious Soros Media Fellowship for her ongoing work on the subject of rituals surrounding death and dying in the United States.
Fremde Heimat avoids dialogues on death but maintains Schmidt's thematic preoccupation with ritual. Schmidt's still life work is uncanny in its ambiguity. By photographing an object, Schmidt manages to inject an imagined history into it, producing images charged with anomalous precision. Her portraits are less cryptic than her still life work by virtue of the mere tangibility of flesh and bone, and come across as quite candid. Subjects that stare directly into the camera's lens initiate a reflexive standoff that blurs distinction between artist and subject, viewer and object. The precise symmetry of Schmidt's images suggest a deliberate patience and the innate ability to recognize the perfect photographic moment.
Fremde Heimat (Foreign Homeland)
A photography exhibit by Bastienne Schmidt
Opening reception, 6-9pm Thursday, September 5
Through September 30
600 Hemisfair Plaza