This became the series Archiv. Pouring over the mass
of snapshots in the archive, he realised that the same kinds of family
pictures appeared again and again: birthday parties, weddings, mothers
with children. Like an anthropologist of the photograph, Schmid grouped
these images into different 'species'. The result is Knipsen, a history
of twentieth century Germany in snaps. But the history is a partial
one. If an alien were to come down and look at Knipsen they might
well think that everyone had spent the last hundred years partying
and going on holiday. What we do not see in the family snaps leaves
as big an impression as what we do: no work, no funerals, no arguments.
Knipsen makes an important statement about what we wish to record
and what we hope to forget.
Amongst the images Schmid found at fleamarkets were
pictures by famous photographers and artists. Or so it seemed. Occasionally
a picture would turn up which closely resembled an Ansel Adams, or
an August Sander, or a Cindy Sherman. Working with Adib Fricke, Schmid
collected these together into the series Masterpieces of Photography.
They make for convincing forgeries. The first time I saw a postcard
of Schmid and Fricke's found August Sander image, I was certain that
I was looking at a Sander photograph I had never seen before. The
series points out the tenuous nature of authorship. Perhaps to be
Ansel Adams you just have to be in the right place at the right time.
Authorship and originality, the flimsy foundations which prop up so
much of art history, are brought into question by the exhibition of
these lost masterpieces.
In a newer series by Schmid, no names are needed to elevate the images
to art. In 2002, Schmid rescued abandoned negatives made by portrait
photographers working in the city centre of Belo Horizonte in Brazil
(a project he first started ten years before). These photographers
make quick and cheap images to be used for passports, driving licenses
and ID cards. The colour pictures are processed and printed in nearby
labs. Once the client has their print the negatives are disposed of.
Getting up before the street cleaners every morning, Schmid found
the films and printed the scratched images for himself. The results
are stunning. A huge variety of faces shot against plain backgrounds
in a range of hues; like Thomas Ruff's portraits, but with far more
emotion. These photographs do not actually require any false provenance,
they stand up as 'masterpieces' in their own right.
Another recent project by Schmid shows a more personal side to a
body of work which had previously appeared to keep its subject at
arm's length. Very Miscellaneous is a moving selection of black and
white portraits made between the late-1920s and early-1950s by George
Garland, an almost unknown British photographer. Commissioned by Photoworks,
an organisation based in the South of England, to work with Garland's
images, Schmid chose to display the portraits alongside photographed
excerpts from local newspaper articles of the same era. As viewers
we link the stories with the people pictured nearby, despite the fact
that they are in reality unconnected. But then again, as so much of
Schmid's work suggests, what did reality ever have to do with photography?
Joachim Schmid may steal photographs and lie about their authors,
but his misdemeanours are all in a good cause. He has shown how the
supposed masters of photography plunder from the world of snapshots
and yet claim their work as unique and original. He has also pointed
out time and time again that snapshots themselves, far from being
innocent, are elaborately constructed deceits. Over the last twenty
years, Schmid has exposed the ways in which photography itself steals