Johannes Gramm

The ABETTERI series of self portraits is a game in which Johannes Gramm has reshuffled the cards of the photographic self image. King, Queen, and Jack, and their attributes – strength, beauty, youth – are gone through in every aspect, and unfurled in every facet.

In states between brutal and battered, the kings appear drawn, tattooed and pierced, without abdicating their upright and self-confident bearing. The other archetypes also maintain their frontality, but they change. The Queens, who are able only to half cover their nakedness, have a gentler gaze, and the raised shoulders speak of a self-protective posture. In addition to their questioning, naive facial expressions, the younger Jacks have haircuts which in combination with their features are neither clearly male nor female. They are still undamaged, but certainly resolute to everything.

In the history of photography, there is a tradition of photographic self portraits as the location for a mise-en-scène in which the metamorphosis in front of the camera becomes a search and type of redefinition of one’s own persona. The Bauhaus artist Gertrud Arndt (1903 – 2000) attempted roles and examples of female expression, through dressing herself in elaborate laces, fabrics, and hats. In the 1930 series, she becomes the naïve doll-like girl, the worldly seductress, the secretive beauty, or the strict observer. The French artist Claude Cahun (1894 – 1954) was simultaneously an actress, photographer, and writer, and for four decades she created role models and poses in front of the camera, experimented with herself and with the possibilities of photography.

Johannes Gramm follows a comparable strategy. He does not restrict himself to experimentation with clothes, but instead the artist works graphically with his own body. With him, the King bears neither a crown nor a scepter; instead, as the embodiment of power and strength, he has wounds. And he avails of the effectiveness of tattooed symbols, of slogans like ‘Love’ and ‘Hate’, and of the outwardly worn experience of pain. Clothes make the man, even in our society today, but apart from the general dress code, the body which has been manipulated has become more than ever the expressive medium of self-definition. And the path via the camera allows the step to be made to the role change of the sexes or of the generations. Here however, Johannes Gramm never pretends to be anyone other than himself – photography shows us this because it loves the truth. For him, it remains a game in which one can have good or bad luck. And the question, ‘What is true and what is made up?’ has only a subordinate role when viewing the pictures, because it is much more important to perceive the image for what it is.

Text by Christiane Kuhlmann



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