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Albrecht Tübke

Pulica, a small settlement in Tuscany, not far from Carrara, away from the popular region’s tourist spots, inspired Albrecht Tübke to use his camera to get closer to the inhabitants and indeed the place in which he also lived for a while. His portraits provide an insight into a small, heterogeneous, Italian village community. An elderly woman wearing a plain yellow T-shirt, checkered pleated skirt and faded apron stands serenely, leaning on a wooden stick, in front off a wall, perhaps her home. Wearing sturdy shoes but no stockings, probably her practical, everyday working attire, she is pictured on a stony path that is lined with sparse grass and chamomile blossom. She looks at the camera with self-confidence and a certain pride, though at the same critically, skeptically and a little benevolently. Her gaze is directed straight at it, the photographer and, later on, the observer, and it is as if she is about to start telling us about her life and everyday existence. A life that, on closer inspection, can be surmised in part by her gestures, her body, and her clothing, as well as little attributes such as her golden necklace. The picture makes us curious, captures our attention and inspires us to reflect on the woman in it. Tübke, who in his various series of portraits depicts the people of his time, those living in his (immediate) environs, always works outdoors using natural daylight, never in a closed studio using artificial light. His portraits are an attempt to not only depict the outer surface, but to get close to the persons involved, transporting them by means of photography, which, as is well known, captures but a mere fleeting moment in time. In his works Tübke addresses the frequently posed question of the purpose behind and indeed the opportunities provided by portraits, the relationship between reproduction and image and the challenge of creating, by means of a single shot, the likeness of a human being in which, without it necessarily being flattering, the person portrayed is recognized both by himself and an outside observer, who is then inspired to a story. Individuals, personalities are meant to be displayed, yet there is also a certain general validity and timelessness about them that allow the observer to relate to his own life and surroundings. Studying the individual portraits, for example the resolute, but tired old man in his checkered jacket and blue work trousers, the siblings, holding each others’ hands tightly as they line up in the street, their mother seemingly self-assured on the same street, the young man with his horse, or the young girls asserting themselves in their fragile individuality, one is both impressed and startled by the intensity of the pictures. All those portrayed are depictured in full figure from the front, positioned around the center of the picture in a calm, relaxed, but at the same time, highly alert and attentive pose. It is precisely this contradiction of, on the one hand, the self assurance and candor to have oneself portrayed, which in turn would indicate the enormous trust those being portrayed have in the photographer, and, on the other, the skepticism and insecurity that reveal themselves in the figures in front of the camera, the foraign gaze, that enable their personalities to be surmised. The photographer seldom wields any influence on the poses they choose. It is astonishing how many chose something with which to support themselves; either something quite tangible such as a stick, a horse, their work tool or the protective framework of a uniform, a soccer shirt or a dog lying on the ground. The village inhabitants chose these attributes themselves, as they do the locations in which they are portrayed, and the objects introduce a narrative level. Whereas the landscape and the immediate surroundings give little indication as to the exact location and concrete living conditions and only very generally point to a country setting, the poses, clothes and accompanying animals reveal human desires and real lives. Tübke has suceeded in producing narrative pictures, which, as part of a series or on their own, gently, and with sensitivity, reveal a small village community. In his works various intentions are discernible, exposing him as a documentary photographer. These are photographs of Italian villagers; Tübke, however, does not conduct typological studies in the style of August Sander, and also pictures emerge of people that voluntarily stand in front of the camera, posing. In addition the photographs also give us an insight into the life of the photographer; they display a place where Tübke spent some considerable time. He shows us the people he met every day and, by means of them and their tiny peculiarities characteristics makes visible to us his own environment. Tübke almost always discovers his motifs, his pictures, and their history in his immediate surroundings and in the people. Through his proximity and very presence in the place, Tübke is able to get to know the people and, by means of the camera, which makes possible and creates distance between the photographer and his subjects, to observe them, overcome possible language barriers and get close to the people and their individual personalities as a caring, respectful, as well as distant observer.

Jeannette Stoschek
Museum of Art, Leipzig/Germany

Tübke’s Bio