Markus Müller (1994)
"...guided along, as it were, a chain of photographs into the mysteries of life."
If you can still remember the last time somebody asked you to say Cheese' or when you last asked someone to say it, in order to take a really nice and becoming photo of you, you will certainly also remember this mean little lie about the little birdie that is supposed to fly out when the shutter release is pressed on the box with the glass eye. Kodak has been promising for decades: "You press the button. We do the rest", but Kodak hasn't cared a thing about the millions and millions of disappointed children who have been waiting for that little bird for generations. And maybe it is because of this story about the bird that our relationship to photography is blocked by optimistic misunderstandings. These will obviously not be done away with by the following but it is exactly about these misunderstandings why so much has been written about photography and Jazz (e.g. Joachim Ernst Berendt's "Photo-Story des Jazz", 1978) and how important it is for the understanding of this kind of music, because: "Jazz is visual music".
"Jazz photography", in fact, just like any other area of photography, above all documents the photographer's relationship to the object of his desire and does neither represent the "Nature of the music" nor the "Nature of improvisation". The shutter remains silent about what we cannot talk about. The fact that you understand something better if you experience it with more than one sense is banal on the one hand and would have to be proven on the other hand (Cognitive perception, see Beethoven).
Jazz has as little to do with the cigarette smoke which envelops Hank Mobley and his tenor sax on the famous Herman Leonard photo as with the cool Chet Baker in a William Claxton arrangement. The black and white image of Jazz, fogged by cigarette smoke is, on the other hand, the classic cliché which can be compared to the stereotype image of Black people with rhythm or dancing running in their blood (stereotypes, see racial hygiene). From the photographic point of view, the reason for the Hard Bop revival is not so much about the original music but the photographic representation of certain musicians. It is not the music which is being marketed but certain clichés, transformed by photography, are being picked out and made to fit in with certain lifestyles. Dancefloor-Jazz, Acid-Jazz etc only orientate themselves to a particular kind of music because it is exactly this kind of music which, through its photographic representation can be linked to a certain kind of lifestyle which is being made fashionable and marketed as "coolness" und "hipness". The fact that photography delivers the background for the current styles of life is neither the problem of photography nor the problem of Jazz photography. At present, photography is still the medium for making the world available to us in the era of technical reproducibility. There is basically no difference between Grace Kelly, Woodstock, Mona Lisa, the Taj Mahal and Jazz.
Yet there is a difference, however, between "Staged photography" and (as I would like to call it) the "intimate view", which is halfway an artistic snapshot, halfway a photographic diary. "Staged photography" has developed from the studio session to "digital picture processing" or "electronic imaging", which means to the unlimited possibilities of manipulation of photography (only limited by technical considerations). These days, only the person who knows how a photo was taken can describe what kind of reality a photo 'depicts'.
"Intimate photography", as in the case of Nan Goldin or Linda Eastman and with the best hobby photographer shows something other than "Staged photography". But what?
Photographic truth is a question of angle. "As with chess or with writing it depends on choosing one particular possibility from a variety of options but with photography the number of possibilities is not limited, it is unlimited." (John Swarkowski). This is why, in order to understand Dagmar Gebers' photography, it seems essential to me to try and describe how and under what conditions these photos have come about and not only what is to be seen on these photos.
Dagmar Gebers has been photographing the events of "Free Music Production (FMP)" since the company started, which means for 25 years. FMP presents music in accordance with its own very distinct aesthetic criteria. These criteria originate from the conviction that it is about the music and the ways of presenting it. The preconditions for the performance are reduced to the bare minimum (less is more). There is a stage, an auditorium, there is just about enough light and amplification as is necessary. Bert Noglik has described this general framework brilliantly in his essay "Ball Pompös, Arte Povera, Daily New Paradox", published on the 20th anniversary of FMP: "Principles of presentation: no non-musical constraints; integration of musicians in matters regarding the preparation phase; close contact between musicians and audience; reduction of pressure to deliver something valid per order. Instead: a sequence of performances, musicians are present over a period of several days; self determined ad-hoc groups; no interfering with the musicians. For Jost Gebers, a 'Climate of trust' between him and the musicians is one of the basic requirements; he hates 'caravan-like herd performances of high-class musicians'."
This may sound unspectacular in a society of the 'spectacular', when hardly anybody will be able to remember that there was once an (if only unofficial) dress code for the musicians of the Berlin "Jazzfest". But the "Total Music Meeting" and the "Workshop Freie Musik" have created a different working situation from the 'traditional' one for both musicians and audience right from the beginning and in so doing have established a special aesthetic of presentation. The picture we have in our heads of this aesthetic has also been shaped by Dagmar Gebers' photography.
She has been working in accordance with certain principles for 25 years. She sits in the same boat as the concert audience. She is never on stage (during the concert), she takes her photos from the auditorium, she does not photograph "cigarette smoke" (except maybe Misha Mengelberg's), she photographs musicians at work. Very matter-of-fact. If you compare Dagmar Gebers' photography with the 'standard' photos we know from books by Leonard Feather or the previously mentioned photo book by Berendt, you immediately notice this matter-of-fact manner of dealing with the motive. Until the 60's, photography (and the major part was staged photography) stylised the musician as a star, a remote miraculous being. It would be a very interesting task to explore if, along with the emancipation of the European kind of Jazz, also the photographer and the concertgoer have emancipated themselves from the classic relationship between stage and auditorium and if the "October revolution" in Jazz in the 60's also changed the photographic truth, i.e. the points of view. It would be an even more tempting task to examine how Dagmar Gebers, over the past 25 years, has been getting closer to her 'motive', bit by bit, and, at the same time, kept her distance. How she, for over 25 years, keeps adding new pieces from the mosaic of unlimited possibilities to a Proust-like photographic diary of strangers who have long since become friends. Sometimes this kind of photography reminds one of Valerie Wilmer, but at a second glance you see that Dagmar Gebers (maybe because she has been systematically photographing a very defined context, the FMP context) is much closer and also, I must repeat myself, much more distant. It is family photography but it seems that the members of the family meet each other anew, again and again. Have a closer look, maybe you recognize yourself. The works shown here demonstrate what photography is about (unfortunately it is only a small selection). It is musician, photographer and observer - you do the rest.
Translation: Isabel Seeberg & Paul Lytton
From a folder of Free Music Production (FMP) for a photo exhibition