March 16, 2010

Stefan Heyne

Perhaps we take the seeming continuity of the world and its surfaces for granted. After all, there are certain conventional expectations in how we see, which in practice often means seeing what we expect to and not what we might, if our experience of the world wasn’t so obscured by conventionality. The distinctive photographic work of Stefan Heyne probes the complex tension that occurs between appearance in the flow of human perception and meaning, or what can be understood of the visual reality in which we are immersed. It is the anxiety of living in a world so utterly saturated by images that we can no longer be sure exactly what we are looking at and how this uncertainly in turn bleeds out into the negotiation of lived experience. His work is a challenge to what is often thought of as the rational way we perceive in direct correlation to some external reality. This is what Heyne’s photography takes at its starting point, the moment when the certainties of appearance fail and break apart. We can almost name what he photographs, but not quite. His subject is the familiar, but still mostly unrecognisable – it is perception itself.

How far can we get from the conventional ideas about the medium, from description and from content, but still call an image “photographic” in any sense? Or, put another way, in what sense is an image a photograph? He doesn’t necessarily propose answers to any of these questions, or really need to, but brings a philosophical awareness to photography that is all too often absent. The particular subject matter (if it is even that) Heyne works with has, no doubt, some particular significance in itself. The pictures consistently draw our attention to built structures, often with repeating elements and a restricted colour palette, as opposed to landscapes or the human figure. He doesn’t seem to operate by breaking down the descriptive qualities of the photograph however, but by seeing what survives intact once that “description” has been eliminated. The visual structures that remain relate to the psychological (and, of course, physiological) structures of seeing itself, hard-wired, primary forms of visual perception, along with the conventions that develop around them.

What is increasingly overlooked too is the physical presence of the photograph as an object, a quality obscured by the fact that more often than not we treat it like a surface for the content of an image, a subject or a narrative. Heyne’s work, given its resistance to the norms of photographic description, brings our attention back to the dimensionality of the print. Yet a frame won’t just naturally fall around how we see and Heyne makes that artificiality a central part of the work. Here photography becomes an eloquent way to address the fundamental ways in which perception endlessly mediates our experience of the world and also how our systems of representation are often balanced on a very contingent kind of order, after-images of a moment that will not resolve into something wholly legible, fixed in their uncertainty.

His own website is here.