It all started with a leap: in 2000, Barbara Probst decided to capture a single moment on the rooftop of the apartment building in New York where she had recently moved. She wanted to record a leap she was going to make from various perspectives using multiple cameras. Thus originated the first series she would entitle “exposures,” representing different views of the same moment in an unsettling tableau that confounds ordinary vision. According to the curator of the exhibition and BAL director Diane Dufour, “this process challenges the very authority of photography; however, the authority of the moment is preserved, which is the source of unease these images make us feel.”
Barbara Probst, born in 1964, studied sculpture in Munich before becoming a disciple of the Bechers in Düsseldorf. She thus learned spatial modeling, which persists in her work, and adopted the formal rigor of the Bechers who would always wait for a neutral, grey sky to photograph industrial buildings. Probst has also incorporated into her work the technique she learned in sculpture classes, in which a model may be rotated to allow students different points of view. The artist drew on this technique in a triptych in which she photographed three boys simultaneously from different angles. This work is also a tribute to Rodin’s Burghers of Calais which represents a cluster of individuals whom the viewer can circle. “It’s the most sculptural piece I’ve ever made,” Barbara Probst explained: “If you do multiple views, you can immediately see the different points of view that there are in life.”
By offering multiple shots of the same moment Barbara Probst disturbs our habits of looking at pictures. An example of this effect can be seen in the series the artist made at a railway station in New York, where she asked a model to play a passenger and had six photographs to capture her image. The images appear to represent a catwalk at a place that would seem the least suitable for a fashion show, which makes it only more unsettling. “Barbara Probst produces anti-photography,” notes the other exhibition curator, Frédéric Paul. “The fact of having a multitude of images undermines every attempt to pick one.” Indeed, by presenting an array of photographs of the same moment, the artist challenges the uniqueness of an image and unravels the customary frame by proving that there is an infinite number of points of view. As a result, she exposes what we could call the “lie of photography,” that is the fact of lending reality to a fragment of the real that is subject to the conditions of framing, the point of view, and printing.
By preventing us from becoming literally immersed in the image, which we want to take as a springboard for reverie, Barbara Probst brings us back to the present moment, to the very place where we are now. Her “exposures” compel us to question what is in front of us and lead us to challenge the authority of the image. The fact that the artist combines reality, specifically through outdoor shots made outside the studio, with sometimes very elaborate mises-en-scène, further perturbs the usual sense of reassurance we experience before a photograph. Our anxiety also comes from the fact that by getting us to refocus on ourselves, on the place where are at the moment, that is the exhibition space, we become subjects just like the people photographed by the artist. The exhibition scenography is also designed in that vein: the visitor feels “framed” in front of the photographic models who seem to look at us, creating an uncanny feeling of no longer looking, as voyeurs, but of being watched.
By Jean-Baptiste Gauvin
Barbara Probst, The Moment in Space
May 10 to August 25, 2019
Le BAL, 6 Impasse de la Défense, 75018 Paris