The work of Hubertus Hamm is characterized by its critical exploration of the medium of portrait photography, culminating in the installation Portrait IV, which the art historian Thomas Zaunschirm describes as follows: Portrait IV (2016) is an epochal work by photographer and artist Hubertus Hamm, comprised of a wooden stele and the first golden mirror in the history of art. On the one hand, the minimalistic, simple-seeming piece is the culmination of Hamm’s life work and his aspiration to expand the limits of photography. On the other hand, this installation, with its 18-kg plate of 24-carat gold, presupposes an understanding of the history of seeing (consciousness), perspective (space), the mirror, the portrait, gold and its (monetary) value.
In the vein of Renaissance thinker Leon Battista Alberti (1435), the title “Narziss und Goldgrund” (Narcissus and Gold Ground) is a reference to Narcissus, i.e., to the idea of reflection as the origin of art, and, related to this, to the end of the medieval gold ground. Seeing and gold exist in a dialectical relationship, which begins in ancient Egypt, is transformed and developed during the Renaissance, the Baroque Period and the Romantic Era, and finds its conclusion in the present day.
The installation Portrait IV separates the viewer from the surrounding space by means of a simple wooden stele, provoking a confrontation with one’s own (literally) gilded reflection, a dialogue with the manifold myths and meanings surrounding “gold” (a material that is both transcendent and highly profane), and, lastly, a reflection on the value of one’s self.
Showcasing a selection of works, our exhibition traces the path that led Hubertus Hamm to this unique installation.
The works from his series Portrait I, exhibited with great success at the Villa Stuck in Munich and at the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg, combine Hubertus Hamm’s portrait photos with manual modifications of the photographic image by the models themselves. In a classic example of double exposure, Portrait II fuses the individual and unalterable pattern of the fingerprint with a photographic portrait of the owner of the fingerprint, superimposing the two photos to create a new image.
With his series Portrait III, Hubertus Hamm pushes the parameters of portrait photography even further towards objectivity. Using a self-constructed white box that isolates the sitter from the surrounding world, he exposes the latter to a completely mechanized photo process: once set in motion, the camera takes pictures at regular intervals. Two flashes, at a 45-degree angle, flood the box with light, creating the same neutral tone that is used in repro-photography for the lighting of different types of objects. The result is an image that is generated without the conscious intervention of the photographer.
In the works from the series Diamonds (Portrait V), the photographic image is broken up into a myriad of kaleidoscopic sense impressions by a large number of small crystals. The shimmer and glitter seem to contradict the subject of the image: elderly people, their physiognomy visibly marked by life, elevated to the status of (image) objects. Their creased skin reflects the finitude of existence and raises questions about the value of old age in our society, thrown into relief by the preciousness of the material.
In stark contrast, there is a photo of a Buddha, a portrait of the divine itself. Yet the photo has been manually altered, disrupting the god’s grandeur and power. Analogous to the erosion of the gold surface on the ancient statue, initially made to last for all eternity, the perfect surface of the photo is visibly destroyed. Time has prominently written itself into both the image and the photographic carrier.
The exhibition is rounded off with an installation of what might be the quintessential mirror of our times: the smartphone. The latter is our umbilical cord with the world and, because of its selfie function, also a mirror of our own selves – or at least of the self-image we would like to project. Properly lit, the smartphone’s shiny black display seems like a dark mirror, even when it is switched off, an idea explored in Hubert Hamm’s installation.
As a consistent expansion of the principle of “photography”, which the artist calls “Dimensioning Photography”, Hubertus Hamm’s works engage the viewer in a dialogue, encouraging self-reflection and self-questioning. They have been shown in several important spaces, such as the Villa Stuck, Munich, the Deichtorhallen, Hamburg, the Neue Sammlung der Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, and the Yuan Art Museum, Beijing. Temporary installations have been exhibited at, amongst other places, the National Theatre Munich, at the Allianz Arena, as well as at the acatech, the German Academy of Science and Engineering (all in Munich).