Gábor Ösz


Notes de mon entretien avec Gábor Ösz le 20 novembre 2010, à Paris.


A photographer or an artist using photography?

I started as a painter. Conceptual photography always has been in focus from very early on (in the 80s in Hungary) from my teachers at the Academy, who were conceptual artists.


Main masters/ influencers?

Those Hungarian artists. Beuys. Kossuth. Matta-Clark.

Catalogues coming from the West.


Any conceptual photographers as influencers?

Then photography started to be different, “New Photography’, large size. Not photography anymore but kind of an art work, an art piece.


Trend of similarity to painting, to landscape?

There was an interest for that. Jeff Wall denies his relation to painting in many interviews.

Adam McCallan, Plastic Circles series.(McCollum)

My paintings series ‘Pictures from the Wall’. From 89, I started taking photographs.

In the darkroom, sometimes overexposed images, I was interested in the space; losing the image itself, black square on the wall. The image, the black square in the space as an unknown, unrecognized  artwork. So I did paintings trying to get the sense of the space in the back square.

Then Rijks Academie in Amsterdam beginning of 93, accepted with these series of paintings.

Concentrating on photographing these images, using the images not as an inspiration for the painting but as artwork itself.

I started paintings of light boxes with these photographs, unrecognizable, put in boxes, wrapping the contents. First time taking a step away from painting. Experimenting with films (60mm), like painting: busy with material, film in my hands, cutting it with scissors myself, very materialized way of dealing with the pictures, nothing to do with the images you will show. Like paint in the tube, you transform it into something else.

Making film loops. Filming unmoveable scenes, still images, whether paintings or photographs.

Not interested in split of a second image, making the movement to stealing an image.


Was it a reaction against the idea of photography being a capture on your part?

Yes, yes. That was something to avoid, not interesting for me. Relation to light, scientific approach of photography: I began experimenting with black and white, developing BW paper to get colors in the image : exposing, developing, exposing, playing with developers, painting with developers, and so on. Experimenting, exploring photo materials.


Importance of process, showing the process? Image making inherent part of the image. Idea and form at same time (his quote).

Experimenting with medium; there has always been a trend there in photography. Image, photograph, existing by itself as a story, but also image can be so strong itself, burning in your mind. I wanted to find a form which can be approached by anyone very easily, but at the same time there is something there which will always be disturbing; always it leaves a trace for something else, puts a question if someone carefully examines the image. But if people would not recognize that, they would still enjoy the image without recognizing the background. So I started to explore that. Have a beautiful or interesting image that you can enjoy; but the way the image has been made is quite different from taking a camera and making a snapshot. The idea that eventually you will end up with a picture which has a very different story from what you can right away see.


All your pictures immediately have a disturbing image. First impression is disturbing, there is something strange.

Yes, it can happen for sharp eyes.


Nice picture of the sea? No, they don’t look like that.

Often we have this first reaction of visitors : nice landscape, made with conventional technique. Then they ask questions, and are surprised. They think it has been made with a camera, and something happened during exposure or development.


Quote “why not use a conventional camera”. “a fictitious place” (his quote)

Often, at seaside, you can be strongly affected by a glazing of the landscape, but the image you take does not show that, impossible to render that, the atmospheric space which involves you, no way to find position where to click the camera. But in the bunker, when I decided to use it as camera, then I am meeting myself, I am taking everything. I am not designing, not composing, not doing anything extra to make the image closer to the idea,  but the circumstances are telling me what to do (distance, duration) .


Prora or greenhouses series more designed, image taking more constructed?

Prora: exact size of corridor : it gives me the distance, from the proportions of the building, not me deciding, taking in the constraints, designing the ‘camera’ to the building; taking care of the complexities of the space, of the building.


Permanent daylight (greenhouses)?

Greenhouses have the shape of social housing in this area: I wanted to take such apartments as camera, but difficulties with people living there. Used two (an office building, but too far, 9 days of exposure; and in the attic of a family home). Then caravan: lively living space for Dutch people, very popular. Two typical Dutch spaces, connection between the two. [long explanation about greenhouses].  To capture the light from this environment, actually artificial daylight so that plants can grow faster. Photosynthesis of photography.



Yes, it is a performance. I buy paper myself, cut it, roll it up, put it in a box, drive to the spot, put it on the wall, etc. The whole thing becomes a performance of itself, a strange one. The photographic paper will have a history with all these marks, these traces of the accidents, it remains there, the image is not recomposed, reformulated. The installation, exhibition: I always design the frames myself, the walls have to be painted. Sometimes, several pieces of paper, how to represent it, it belongs to the work.


Unique or multiple photos?

[misunderstood the question]

Architectura obscura, related to architecture. They had to build a dark chamber; it was always an architectural reference. The bunker project : I realized a very strongly recognizable architecture which relates to the view, the view has been designing the building, the building was conceived, designed not by chance but because of the view. So I made a series of work about the relation between observation and image making.


Controlling observation? Interest in control (Germans, Dutch farmers controlling light and temperature)

Of course, of course. Architecture wants to have control over the space. Intriguing and exciting. When I entered the buildings, I felt strongly how the buildings are exposed to these ideas. I am controlled by the buildings also, driven by circumstances which are already there, facts which maybe I didn’t know, it captured me, something is going on which I am trying to find out.


Unique prints?

Each work is unique piece, it’s a performance.  For the BMW price (unfortunately very bad lighting from the top of the painting) [ML : you said ‘paintings’ GO : ah, sorry (laughs)]. You can see a mistake, something went wrong at the developer, they had to drag it out by hand. I saw that it was a very special image and decided to keep it, it’s part of the image itself. I like to take care of the lighting myself, here I could not.

These works are unique. But now I started for 2 or 3 years with [ ?? set. Inaudible] . Creating a location which will be photographed, (Cibachrome paper, color positive image). With black and white paper, you get a negative image. I did not like the idea of the negative; I think that images should be positive. I know that technically you can turn an image from negative to positive, but it is part of my concept that I don’t want any technical intervention once the image has been taken, no other technical process (making a positive out of a negative). Only exposing the paper and having a positive image: how to do it ? So I came to the idea that reality has to be turned into negative, so the paper will show a ‘normal’ representation of a BW positive image.

So I used camera obscura as well. During the process, grey tones, but it is always color. I should use color, most beautiful tones, closer to the question of reality. What is representation of reality? All theoretical writings, a very important topic. When we think about reality, “documentary” photography, how can we talk about reality? what’s the information behind that. I did painting in color (in BW it could take very different colors ending in same tone of grey). Make abstract image, abstract space.

Images ‘blow-up’ (from film), obsession same as with bunkers (obsession with bunkers, Virilio book found by chance). Started to work on “colors of black and white”. Second work, show in London, visited location. My set-up was trying to deal with original scene (fence is not there anymore), I worked in garden of holiday house of my in-laws, could build a fence, looks like original scene. What is the concept of B&W photography? In 60s, even 70s, artistic photography must be B&W (ex Magnum: no color photos). In the film, still image, story of photography, B&W (his artistic photos) vs color (THE photo in the film). Discovering something through a photograph, almost abstract image, almost nothing to do with reality, dramatic happening which he experiences without knowing it. I took the night scene, when photographer goes back to the scene to recheck. I took night scene in our park, very strange image, modified reality. When turning into BW negative, it turns out to be a color representation of a BW positive image. I zoomed into the night scene, into bushes, which are painted and lighted, then into sky, dark ; then slowly light coming. Turning color into a BW negative. Negative of the daylight. When image comes back, zooms, same image, daybreak light. Getting to know more about the unknown (in film, enlarging). Representation of reality connected to photography?

Susan Sontag said that if one wants to make representation of him or herself for family, posterity, 90% chose photograph, not painting; it is closer to themselves; but portrait studios are different from ‘normal life’, giving representation of self for the photograph.

Camera obscura used for paintings from Renaissance. Reference to David Hockney, documentary book, made photos, then paintings (explored camera obscura use by painters), stopped photos.

Holbein. The only one who touched me deeply is Vermeer. Also van Eyck.


Reduction of many images into one (Prora). From multitude to one

An artist asked me about Prora: why not only one room, representing all? I am other way around, the whole representing the one.  His idea would have been pure conceptual idea. For me, working for months, being deeply involved with building, it produces very different images, the experience is in the image. With bunkers, I spent hours sitting next to paper in the dark, I see very strange image of the real world, upside down projection which you are experiencing in the dark. Getting in a trance, a certain feeling that you might see something which cannot be seen otherwise


A mystical experience ?

Yes, related to the building itself, the circumstances, the landscape, the history. It affects you.


Laptop screens . First time? link with digital world?

Camera architetura series: trilogy of nazi forms, bunkers, Prora, Hitler’s house, but it doesn’t exist anymore. Very related to landscape, to mountains. Ongoing project. I will go there, find exact position of windows, record on video, then project this recorded image on Cibachrome paper on original size of the window. Conceptual process: I thought of putting Cibachrome paper on screen of cinema and record the film: a still image recording a sequence of moving images. Dark chamber, like cinema. Questioning yourself: do you see reality or a projection of reality?

The building does not exist anymore, destroyed, I found only three images on Google by amateur or tourist; the window is a hole. Between 1948 and 1951, tourists came; in 1952 the Americans blew up the building. You only see the edges of the window; panoramic view. Learned about history, mystical history of the mountain in Middle Ages, huge cave inside mountain, huge lake (999m deep), time disappearing inside (like Bermuda Triangle). Dalai Lama came in 1986, considers it a magical place on earth. Hitler knew that, extra power for him. The landscape made the war last longer, Hitler hoping for mystical happening thanks to the mountain: guilty landscape.

Original photograph was analog, I got digital image from Internet, wanted to turn it back to analog; instead of print, taking image from screen, in the spirit of the mountain itself. Technical process with contact sheet.