FROM THE BOOK
Excerpt from "Between Lifestyle, the Grotesque and Metaphysics: How Frank Kunert Charmingly Reduces Everyday Life to the Absurd by Jörg Restorff
The deceptively real character of these fictitious photographs stands and falls with the illusionism that Frank Kunert brings about by means of his models and stage sets. “How it is possible to create illusions in the studio with the medium of photography by means of the choice of detail, the lighting, and the independence from the outside world,” Kunert recalls, “already fascinated me when I was studying.” As a commercial photographer—which Kunert was for some time—you have to “mingle with people.” But Frank Kunert wanted just the opposite: “I always had the desire to be able to work undisturbed and in peace and quiet; something that I achieve best when I create my own world with my hands, in a ‘quiet chamber,’ so to say, and am able to tell stories through doing so.” The lighting and the miniaturization of scale are also essential. The latter gives Kunert the freedom to “‘play God’ in a perhaps somewhat pretentious way: to construct scenes that otherwise do not exist in such a way or at times also cannot exist at all.” As a result, the process of creation—from the first flash of artistic inspiration to the presentation of the finished photo—goes through a series of stages. These include sketching, building models (“generally a slow, cautious approach to the scene”), and taking test photos with a digital camera, up to the final shoot with a large-format camera. Indeed, this perfectionist leaves nothing to chance.
If one bears in mind the considerable effort with which Kunert constructs his models and puts them in the right light, one questions why only one photo always stands at the end of every work session, so to say, as a crowning achievement. When asked about this, Kunert emphasizes that, in his eyes, the actual effect always first comes to light as a result of the photograph. “The interesting thing,” according to Kunert,“is that the two-dimensional photo seems more real than the model to a certain extent: the original scale is cancelled out, while the limited detail and the perspective steered by the camera view generally makes it difficult to recognize the scenes as miniatures at first glance. And I again and again find this play with perception fascinating. Since, when I take a first look through the camera myself, I often get the feeling that I am standing in front of a real scene—even though I know that, standing on the table in front of me, is a setting that I have built with my own hands.”
Although Frank Kunert’s large-format camera is quite old, he in no way rejects technology. He willingly admits that he is “a little bit old-fashioned.” His approach to making art reflects “a longing for the tangible— today in particular. And this gradual approach and grasping of what I am doing, in the truest sense of the word, is most possible for me as a result of my way of working. I often notice that I first get a feeling for my materials through touching them directly and consequently gradually developing a relationship to the scene that I am in the process of creating. It’s perhaps a little like I have just moved into a new apartment, am in the process of setting it up, and very gradually settling in.”
But doesn’t an apartment also need inhabitants, people? Why does the artist then abstain from populating his stage with actors? “I think,” Kunert explains, “that my worlds work better as projection screens when there are no actors. No people have to enter them, since the traces that they leave behind are visible representatively for them. What arise as a result are more spaces for fantasy and a floating state of excited calm—consequently, as if something might just be about to occur.” As is well known, there are few things more unsettling than the calm before the storm. From this perspective, Frank Kunert’s deceptive views from his quiet chamber are the ideal means for mystifying viewers.