L'OEIL DE LA PHOTOGRAPHIE: Karlheinz Weinberger, Getting dark
Article by: François Cheval
Provided by: L'OEIL DE LA PHOTOGRAPHIE
NOVEMBER 15, 2017
Karlheinz Weinberger was an unknown Swiss photographer until his photographs were widely discovered in 2011. After Les Rencontres d’Arles this summer, Steidl this fall, Paris Photo paid him homage with an exhibition in the “Prismes” sector.
These eye-catching portraits of Zurich’s hooligans, the Halbstarke, have a very specific relationship with time and the way it creates myths. The connection that Karlheinz Weinberger developed with these rebels was exemplary and rare in the history of photography. The Halbstarke were subjects in waiting, their truth demanded a biographer and this is where Karlheinz Weinberger came in.
He tended to photograph those on the margins of society, the excluded, adding his support to their attempts to reinvent the world. His mission was to erect monuments. The Zurich of the end of the 1950s was a strange place, the only places these young working-class boys could be themselves was either the fairground or in the photographer’s apartment. The Halbstarke collaborated fully with Karlheinz Weinberger manufacturing a shared mythology regardless of the validity of the fable, and, just like their English cousins the Teddy Boys, what they really wanted was to break free. They saw themselves as the only truly free survivors of a dying society. Their perception of the real was manufactured from archetypal symbols and images. Their world was a fantasy place where James Dean, Marlon Brando and Vince Taylor (Elvis Presley’s evil twin), certified a whole arsenal of poses and attitudes that screamed revolt. The body, this perfect, transformable object, is a backdrop for signs that are, in fact, a form of homage. Tattoos prove gang membership, they are modern coat of arms whose only values are rejection and transgression. The belts, buckles, jackets and boots feed into the collective image of a new identity.
Karlheinz Weinberger uses the attributes of the Halbstarke to shore up their identity in his portraits. He adds light-hearted references when they go dark. At times, these barely-grown young men awkwardly attempt to express power and strength, manifesting imperious, vital desires with extreme candour.
These original images, some of which are exceptional in size, were printed when the artist was alive. This was his first coherent selection of his work. They were shown for the first time in 1980 at the Klubschule Migros. The photographs were then presented in 2011 at the Swiss Institute in New York, then at the Museum für Gegenwartskunst in Basel, under the generic title Intimate Stranger.
François Cheval is a French photography exhibition curator. He lives and works in Paris.
Paris Photo 2017
From 9th to 12th November 2017
3 Avenue du Général Eisenhower