Encounters between people, confrontations between different themes and attitudes, outlines of other modes of thinking, all of these are manifest in the oeuvre of Hinrich Sachs (born 1962, lives in Basel and Hamburg). For the exhibition at the Kunsthalle Basel he invited the 86-year-old photographer Leonore Mau, Hamburg, to show a wide selection of her black-and-white and colour photographs. She took these photographs during her travels, particularly in Africa and Latin America, and since the 1970s they have established the photographer’s much acknowledged and publicised position in the worlds of literature, journalism and ethnography. This invitation by Hinrich Sachs has resulted in a first large-scale presentation of her photographs in an art context.
Hinrich Sachs had various reasons for developing an exhibition concept based on an intense engagement with Leonore Mau and her oeuvre. Her photographs possess a great narrative force and a surprising topicality. From our current viewpoint, these reportages are reminiscent in some ways of the art photography of recent years. Hinrich Sachs’ objective is to highlight the pictorial quality of these works and to introduce them to a young international public. In the context of international art, Leonore Mau’s mixture of formal precision and radical choice of theme and motif are clearly recognisable as an original artistic achievement.
Another focal point is the time in which these photographs were taken. Leonore Mau’s numerous publications from the 1960s-1980s illustrate the social and cultural climate in the German-speaking region in which her works first appeared. Not just the reproductions, but how they are placed, the layout, and the respective media tell us a lot about the visual and cultural frameworks, which, though always present, as a rule are overlooked or ignored at the respective moment in time. In terms of the exhibition concept, this reading of the photographs is emphasised by the availability of a reprint with a selection of the magazine articles for the visitors to peruse or read. A recorded and edited conversation between Mau and Sachs addresses biographical, professional and historical aspects.
This project not only shifts Leonore Mau’s direct, sensual photographs – her keenly interested gaze at people – into the present and shows how compelling and up-to-date her photographic narrative is. The exhibition also addresses the contrived nature of our cultural codes, our distinction between art and documentary photography, and our idea of the art exhibition as such.
Two catalogues will be published for this exhibition: one on Leonore Mau and her photography with an essay by Ronald Kay, and one on the works of Hinrich Sachs, Schwabe Verlag.