Manfred Willmann, Untitled
Untitled, from the series “Das Land” (1981–1993)
archival inkjet print
40 x 40 cm
Without matting and frame
“For those not versed in entomology, a blue butterfly sitting in the middle of a field of red clover may appear as a silhouette that has somehow ended up on top of the photograph. A creature inserted into a picture where it looks out of place. Its colour alone lends the electric-blue butterfly in the midst of the chiefly green and red meadow a surreal quality. Or should I say: a surreal effect. Not only because of its colour, but also because of the white and black edges on its wings, the insect appears to hover, superimposed on the surrounding plants, as if, although immobilized by photography, it is located somehow outside the photographic image. But however much one searches for signs that the butterfly has been pasted into the meadow as a montage, none can be found. And this is because, as we know from lepidoptery (as the scientific study of butterflies is known), the species shown here is in its specific natural habitat, exactly where it belongs: in a field of red clover. The insect depicted is a Mazarine Blue, a still relatively common species. Also, due to a marked sexual dichromatism, male and female can be told apart at a glance: while the blue upper wings of the male have clearly visible black veins, the tops of the female’s wings are uniform brown, with white edges. [...] My reason for prefacing the following remarks on the recipient of the 2009 Austrian State Prize for Artistic Photography with such a detailed description of a picture from his »Das Land« cycle begun in 19817 is that this cycle, and this photograph in particular, exemplify the artist’s work, and indeed his understanding of pictures. This includes the colour scheme not only of this picture but of the named species of butterfly.”
Excerpt from Herta Wolf’s The Mazarine Blue. For Manfred Willmann. On the occasion of his being awarded the Austrian State Prize for Artistic Photography, Camera Austria 109, March 2010, p. 46-51
“Every age knows the limits of what can be said. To reach the limits of what can be said, one must intend to do it.” - Manfred Willmann
In his artistic works, Manfred Willmann explores the outer limits of perception. His highly saturated colour photographs do not document the time and space in which they were created, but rather are an expression of the photo artist’s subjective observations. In its first exhibition of the Austrian artist’s work, Galerie Priska Pasquer is presenting pieces from the cycle entitled “Das Land” (The Countryside), created between 1981 and 1993 during a time of increasing technologisation and multimedialisation. These analogue photographs demonstrate an aesthetic of a kind that is constantly striven for in the digital age with the help of digital cameras and image editing programs.
The “countryside” images are exceptionally colour-intensive. Just as William Eggleston focused on chromatic elements in the 1976 MoMA exhibition, Willmann uses colour as his chosen form of artistic expression. With acute sensitivity, Willmann photographed natural landscapes and human interaction in an abstract-looking rural environment. Although taken with an affectionate eye, the photos do not veil the brutality of natural decay. By using a bright camera flash, even in broad daylight, the artist reveals the unsightly details as well. Close inspection will reveal contextual cross-references and aesthetic interconnections. Rather than a one-dimensional idyll, “Das Land” is a marriage of the familiar and the unfamiliar, of the near and the far, of the living and the dying. In spite of maximum proximity and hyper-real depiction, the nature of the “countryside” remains wholly impenetrable.
Manfred Willmann – born in Graz, Austria, in 1952 – is regarded as one of the most important photo artists in Europe. As head of "Fotogalerie im Forum Stadtpark Graz", he organized exhibitions on Austrian and international contemporary photography; 1979 to 1996 he organized in collaboration with Christine Frisinghelli annual symposia on photography. 1980 founder and until 2010 publisher of “CAMERA AUSTRIA International” which developed into the leading photography magazine in Europe. Regular visits to the South-Western Styria region of his homeland gave rise to the “Das Land” cycle from 1981 onwards. In 1994, Manfred Willmann was awarded the Cultural Award by the German Photographic Association (DGPh); in 2009, he received the Austrian State Award for Photography. His works are widely exhibited, including in the Museum of Modern Art, New York.