The awareness of the possibility of visual trickery paralyzes the magic of authenticity in photography.“
– Axel Hütte 2014
No other artistic medium has undergone such radical changes, thanks to digital computer image processing, as photography; and these digital interventions are becoming less and less visible. The simulation of reality becomes deceptively real and imperceptible to the untrained eye. Mostly, we are willing to concede a direct connection between the photograph and the real world, even with a vague awareness of the possibility of manipulation in the back of our mind. This contradiction could be attributed to the hybridity of our own postmodern self.
Since the late 1990s, Axel Hütte has continuously sought ways to alienate us from the photographic image. He has explored how to provoke resistance, to cause disconcertment with images that seem familiar and realistic but, at the same time, seem off-kilter. Hütte has deliberately photographed peripheral, often unspectacular places – deserted, “advertisementfree” zones, highlighting not the actual subject but the image and its iconic structures. This is visible in his early views of urban areas (train stations, subways, building entrances), which operate within the ambiguity of perspective views, and interlace the depth of space with the impenetrability of the photographic surface. His interest in pictorial structure also characterizes the landscapes of the 1990s, radically fragmented views in which “landscape” is almost nothing more but a reference. In addition, Hütte’s later phantasmic representations of the Alps fragment the landscape motif even further and lead to a kind of detachment, though with entirely different means than his previous works. Almost all the early landscape photographs feature an evenly lit, white sky as a neutral background, or a blank space. The later works, however, are characterized by dense fog and heavy clouds blocking the mountain views, thus restricting our gaze into the depth of the scene.
In Hütte’s night photographs, which he began in 1997, light reflections and reflexes blur the images, creating complex superimpositions of indoor and outdoor spaces. In the work “Berlin, NG” (2001-2016), the lights from inside the national gallery building shine through reflections on its glass facade. In “Linz, Austria” (2015), it’s again difficult to make out the difference between neon tubes and their reflections. Here, the light reflected on the large soffit of a building actually stems from the Danube, though this is only revealed through a “forensic” study of the overall composition, in which the river is omitted. In a way, the immediate certainty of what is seen is undermined and subject to doubt. Hütte’s photographs of interiors in Venice (since 2012) show intricate spatial relationships involving doors, mirrors, and windows. Light coming in through the windows is reflected off ceilings, walls, and floors in very different ways, revealing its varied qualities. The photographs expose a range of effects from the finest details to a glaring backlight. Hütte has printed some of the Venice photographs on mirrors, which makes these images even more unstable; an effect of reality multiplied.
Axel Hütte uses classic analog photography. Although the images are scanned and digitally processed for printing, these interventions are limited to adjustments of brightness and contrast only, the structure of the photograph remaining untouched. For his first exhibition at Daniel Marzona the artist has selected a number of architectural photographs, somewhat in response to the gallery space. While the stucco on the gallery ceiling refers to the history of the building, its white walls offer space of resonance for Hütte’s works.