Stefan Heyne's The Noise is aptly named. His images give the impression of being situated between two states, like the static between radio stations. Their subjects, a window, the keel of a boat, a doorway, a phone, are still recognizable but are reduced to the most basic forms emerging from the surrounding darkness. Heyne uses blur to create these abstractions of simple objects in such a way that there is little that is obviously 'photographic' about these images. The essays in the book refer to Gerhard Richter's photorealistic paintings and Heyne's images feel like a similar exploration of the boundary between painting and photography.
The Noise is a collection of controlled experiments at the edge of photography. These are not happy accidents or ultra-loose snapshots, but very deliberate images made which question the nature of photography and of our perception. In some ways this feels like anti-photography, rejecting the sharpness and the detail that is is often equated with photographic perfection in favour of out-of-focus hard-to-read images. Even though Heyne may be deep into uncharted territory, these images are still fundamentally about photography, even though it is a corner of it that few of us spend much time in.
Other adventurous types have wandered into this remote area before, Hiroshi Sugimoto's double-infinity series comes to mind, but Heyne's images feel more purposeful. Less 'let's see what happens' than complex visual conundrums. The images all seem to be emerging from pitch-blackness, as if they were shot from the window of a deep-sea submarine, just short glimpses of a passing object that is already drifting back into the silence and the darkness. And yet, despite all of this I found that the austerity of these images made it difficult to penetrate into this world.
I was surprised to see that Heyne's titles give information about their subjects, although at times this is so general that it reveals little. With abstract photography, I often find that my vision oscillates between focusing on the object being photographed and 'accepting' the form and texture of the abstraction. Because of this I found the titles to be distracting as they keep the images anchored to their subjects, instead of allowing them to move into a different realm.
I am not convinced that the photobook is the best space for this work. The book's three essays (were three really necessary?) refer to Heyne's prints on several occasions and I have the feeling that this work may work better the form of individual images at a large scale.
This is intriguing, adventurous and difficult work that is more of a visual and conceptual work-out than a feast.
Stefan Heyne, The Noise: The Exposure of the Uncertain, (Heidelberg: Kehrer Verlag, Hardback, 267 x 222 mm, 96 pp, 45 colour plates, 2008).
Rating: Worth a look