NEW YORK — Katharina Sieverding, whose new show at P.S.1 opened Monday, has an interesting fan base for an obscure art photographer from Düsseldorf: She has collaborated with Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, and Mario Testino reportedly collects her work. And while she hasn’t yet achieved cult status among the vast majority of fashion photographers, Sieverding does exert a quiet influence on the field.
“There is nothing better around. Period,” van Lamsweerde said of Sieverding in the fall 2004 issue of V.
Some so-called high artists might bristle at that sort of praise coming from a commercial counterpart, but Sieverding enjoys the attention.
“I love it when [my work] was or is an influence for some of these professionals,” she says. “Fashion is influencing all of us, so why not?”
The P.S.1 show, which focuses primarily on Sieverding’s large-scale self-portraits from the late Sixties and Seventies, features pieces in which the artist’s face is melded with others in a process Sieverding developed long before computers were commonplace, using only analogue technologies.
“She found a way to have a political and spiritual message and to use her face to do it,” van Lamsweerde told WWD. “She would use herself to convey another message, to not talk about beauty only. She would transform herself, by combining herself with her husband to create a new human being. She was the first one to print on this large scale. They were really quite macho pieces.”
“I was of course influenced more by films [at that time],” says Sieverding. “Mae West movies, the Chaplin movies, Fassbinder, Eisenstein. I was not that much influenced by the traditional art photographers….I worked a lot with a motor camera to get this kind of filmic idea and structure. You could take many many pictures in seconds. I tried to do photographic works that functioned like film. That was also part of [my decision to use] this monumental size.”
Pieces in the exhibit range from 3 feet square to 10 feet by 15 feet.
“I tried to break through the conventional size of photographs,” says the quiet and thoughtful Sieverding, who tends to avoid eye contact. “In those years, as a female artist, it was also a political statement….Even the use of gold dust on the skin [used in one of her portraits] was to extinguish the definitions of age, sex and race.”
“From a fashion point of view, she looked amazing in the early Seventies pieces,” says Lamsweerde, who with Matadin, recently photographed Sieverding in Paris for V. “My favorite piece of hers [titled V/76] is a picture of her like someone takes when you’re on holiday. She’s wearing Mexican jewelry and a scarf and a hat. She looks like a very rich Western woman who wears native garb, and she juxtaposed it with a photograph of a Chinese field worker. The contrast was just really striking in many ways — the size, the political concept of it, her beauty, the ostentatiousness of her look.”
“What I love about fashion is this kind of global style,” says Sieverding, who herself favors all black ensembles and little makeup save a shock of red lipstick and her slicked back auburn hair. “To use elements of this culture and that culture — that’s no longer just open to a certain level of people….For me, fashion is a part of the cultural and art world. Even what you wear, it’s a kind of communication.”
— Sara James