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ALFRED SEILAND. Photography at the Albertina Museum

Category: Exhibition 3. July 2018

Until October 7th, a comprehensive retrospective in the Albertina is dedicated to Austrian photographer Alfred Seiland. Curator Anna Hanreich selected 65 photographs from five of his series of the last 40 years.
This exhibition is the kickoff for a cycle of exhibitions about Austrian photography at Albertina Museum, which Director Klaus Albrecht Schröder finds is „internationally underestimated“.
Until the 1970ies color pictures were frowned on in art photography, mainly because of its use in advertising and fashion. Only gradually color film began to be used in street photography, in the USA by artists like Joel Meyerowitz or William Eggleston. Alfred Seiland (*1952) was one of the first Austrian photographers to work exclusively with color film.
In his realistic photographs, Seiland thematizes the diversity of cultural spaces, from the US to Austria, Iran or the former territory of the Roman Empire.
His approach gives a pitiless outlook on reality, he is fascinated by the imaginary possibilities of the ordinary, the viewer should get an unbiased sight on the poignancy of normal life, without any preconceptions.
In the Albertina’s exhibition, his early series of photographs „East Coast – West Coast“ (1979-1986) takes us to the US, where Seiland develops an original outlook on the cultural exotism of American landscapes, the very same landscapes that the famous American photographers had depicted before him: Streets and cityscapes, billboards, neon lights and motels. In the meticulously composed photographs there are almost no humans present, the atmosphere, often at night or twilight, is mysterious, at times reminding of stage settings.
Seiland applied the same foreigner’s perspective on his own home country in his series „Austria“ (1981-1995). Ordinary, non-nostalgic subjects and unspectacular, even ugly non-places take the center-stage in the pictures. In these melancholic, sometimes humorous images with their precise lighting humans are rarely seen.
Seiland was inspired to his cycle „Austria“ by various contracts for magazines and newspapers. For the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper he made the photographs for an advertising campaign that has received a number of awards. A separate room is dedicated to this series in the exhibition. „There is always a bright head behind“. Celebrities were photographed reading, their heads invisible behind the open large-format newspaper, in surroundings matching their personalities. There is Reinhold Messner, placed in an impressive mountain landscape, director Wolfgang Petersen on the film set, fashon model Nadja Auermann in the zoo, chancellor Helmut Kohl on a ship or violonist Yehudi Menuhin on the roof of Royal Alert Hall. All these human figures are very tiny details on the image, almost like in a search puzzle.
In the series „Imperium Romanum“ that he started in 2006, Seiland explores contexts and references between relics of the Roman Empire and our present time. In these pictures he used a wide-angle lens. The broad images of historic sights and their surroundings provide glimpses of current circumstances, like the picture of the Wailing Wall, where Israeli safety measures and barriers are visible.
Until now „Imperium Romanum“ contains 130 photographs. In the course of his travels Seiland began his newest picture cycle in 2017, titled « Iran » , presented to the public for the first time here in the Albertina.
Equipped with a press permit he travelled all over Iran, including the battlegrounds and monuments of the first Gulf War between Iraq and Iran from 1980 to 1988. There is also a spectacular large format night scene with the headlight of a motorcycle in the ruins of the city Bam. The depth of focus is remarkable, according to Seiland digital photography does not yield such impressive effects.
He intends to keep working with analogue technology, refusing to « let himself be terrorized by technology ». (written by Cem Angeli)

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