CAMERA International, December 01, 1992
by Gabriel Bauret
In fact Gottfried Helnwein made his name by spectacular performances, among them are self mutilations or simulacra of violence inflicted on himself. The violence is often concentrated on the eyes. The artist takes to bandaging the head which deprives the individual of all visual relations with the outside world. An obvious paradox on the part of an artist's whole life and work is closely linked with sight, to apply himself to representing, in various forms, impediments and problems of sight. Undoubtedly the scope of his projects is not limited to the sole artistic domain. His art also takes on an obvious historic dimension. Like a good number of artists of his generation, those born after the war, be they writers, painters, film makers or photographers, Gottfried Helnwein feels intense guilt at belonging to a part of Europe with such an unbearable past.
Nazism, Hitler, and all the actions committed in their names leading to genocide are present in the works of Helnwein, occupying a overwhelming place. In tandem to this fercely engaged work - certain images are directly inspired by tragic episodes, notably the infamous "Night of the Crystal" which marked the beginning of the holocaust in 1938
- he has realized a series of photographic portraits dating from the early eighties. Rock musicians, writers, painters, actors (most of them ango-saxons), politicians, all are celebrities who seem to appreciate the photographer's work, and in whom the photographer sometimes achieves self recognition.
Thus, other than the portraits featured here, he is scheduled to do the portraits of Michael Jackson, Sting, Roland Topor, the Rolling Stones, Muhamed Ali, Pavarotti, Mother Theresa, Leo Catelli, Lech Walesa, Norman Mailer... He also photographed the writer H.C. Artmann, whom he met in 1981 and with whom he has become close friends.
In the image of the diversity of people that he has photographed, the biography of Helnwein reflects multiple activities. First painter, then filmmaker, as actor in conceptual "happenings" of course, he deploys his energies in disparate fields of art. Add to that his activity in the press and publishing - several of his images have appeared on the covers of magazines - and his work often takes on impressive dimensions.
His exhibition at the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, in 1983, on the theme of the "Night of the Crystal" consisted of a series of children's faces presented on a surface 4 meters high and 100 meters long.
The photographic portraits today exhibited during the Month of the Photo are also very large. While their over-sized dimension cannot but suggest that rest of his photographic works, something morbid is also evoked by certain of his obsessions. Notable are his representations of mutism, vacant stares, absence of expression. As if man could only by represented bereft of his communicative functions.
Camera International No.12, Paris, Winter, 1992