For his latest project, Andreas Mühe has opened a dialogue between the centuries. For alongside the photographs of austere politicians and dramatic cliffs in Pathos as Distance, he has interwoven excerpts from a novel, 1913 – The Year before the Storm by Florian Illies. In doing so, he hopes to give readers a sense of perspective about our own, increasingly fractious era.
“1913 reminded me a little bit of our here and now,” says Mühe. “This unburdened and rather easy-going lifestyle right before World War One breaks out – [the start of the war] completely surprising, but very predictable at the same time. It is similar to our way of closing our eyes and us trying to ignore what’s obviously happening around us. It’s all good but it’s not. Like nobody feels the catastrophe coming.”
“I sometimes get the feeling that we do not realise the disconcerting situation these days, neither politically nor socially,” he adds. “Refugees, political struggles, religious issues, parallel societies. Us looking away, us ignoring the signs. It’s all part of our daily lives.”
Drawing these different moments together has taken over a decade, and the project includes images taken from 2004-2016. The images sum up both private moments and key events of world history, says Mühe, reminding him of “things and impressions which have been accompanying me for the last years, things I grew up with, politically, regarding my family”.
Given that he grew up in Germany, some of this history is loaded. A series of images titled Obersalzburg reflect on posture and power via men in various states of undress, for example, in and out of SS Army uniform. For those who know Nazi history even the name Obersalzburg acts as a trigger, the site of Adolf Hitler’s mountain residence.
“Obersalzberg was a special place for me, I shot [there for] three years and always went back,” says Mühe. “The relationship between power and this landmark was my personal point of interest – this wonderful landmark which was sort of polluted and confiscated by the SS Regime.”
As such his images becomes ambivalent, the idea of the ‘decisive moment’ knocked back by the realisation that each shot might one day be read differently. Every photograph is a potential harbinger of change and, as such, the ostensible subject maybe not the key point at all.
“To me it’s not the people that stand in the front row,” says Mühe. “In Pathos as Distance there are a lot of pictures where people turn their back on us and we don’t even see what they’re seeing.”
Andreas Mühe’s Pathos als Distanz exhibition is on show at the Deichtorhallen Haus der Photographie, Hamburg until 20 August. His photobook of the same name is now available through Kehrer Verlag. www.andreasmuehe.com