Mr. Schürmann, we are happy to have you as an IC contributor since you are both a photographer and a collector of contemporary art. How did your passion for photography and collecting begin?WILHELM SCHÜRMANN
When I was a young teenager I bought my first camera. I have always been interested in photography, constantly seeing the world in images. Until today, I take my camera wherever I go.
As a photographer I am naturally interested in historic photography, which is why I founded a Gallery for classic and modern photography with my friend Rudolf Kicken in Aachen. In 1978 I left the gallery because I did not really want to sell the photographs but wanted to collect them instead. This was when I realized that I began to develop a strong passion for collecting.
For Independent Collectors you started “inside sailing” a photo series about the art world, which you have been photographing for a long time now. What made you start taking photos at exhibitions and art events?WILHELM SCHÜRMANN
The reason I take photos in galleries and generally within an art world context is that I am visiting a lot of exhibitions. Seeing art is my primary reason for going there in the first place. But of course I have my camera with me, as I always do, and take photos of artworks for myself. You may think of it as a visual personal notebook I keep, so I can document and remember everything I found interesting.
The process involved in photographing art is something that interests me. I often ask myself: Is my view on art biased? Do I see art through the eyes of a photographer? Or do I see the world with the eyes of an art enthusiast? Of course it is impossible to differentiate what influences what. It is a chicken and egg dilemma.
As for the art world photographs I take: when I am at an exhibition I naturally also see people who look at artworks. When I observe these people, they often seem perfectly staged to me, so I take a picture. Sometimes I like to add a title with a hidden hint or twist to go along with these images. When I take a photo of Kasper König looking at a video installation at KOW’s gallery stand and name it “Kasper König, ABC”, then this title is not only mentioning the place of an art fair.
“Inside Sailing” not only contains photographs of the art world but also photos of every day situations. Why is that?WILHELM SCHÜRMANN
If I would only show images of art or people looking at art the posts would soon seem monotonous and tiring. All images are part of a whole series in which the sequence is of great importance. They are like a stack of photographs lying on top of each other and I like that due to the website’s layout the image flow is organized vertically.
The interesting thing about the sequence of these images is that they visually document the tours I take walking from one place to the next. On my way from one gallery to another I often walk down the same paths and pass the same places again and again, such as the Lustgarten in front of the Berliner Dome. There I took the pictures of the Turkish wedding and the one of the boy taking a photo of his girlfriend. I often see the way people stage themselves in front of a camera. It looks very professional. People like to construct an image of their private life and exhibit this image in a public space.
Most importantly I include these images to depict which visual input or stimulation I encountered just before going to a gallery exhibition. Undoubtedly these images, sounds and situations will shape the way I look at art just a few minutes later. So how do they change my view on things? And how do the things I see in a gallery influence my perception of reality shortly after? In order to make these often sub-conscious and hidden processes visible it is necessary to give an idea of the entire journey.
When you go to art fairs and exhibitions do you visit the gallery as a collector or as a photographer? Are you looking for interesting art to collect or are you hunting for photo opportunities?WILHELM SCHÜRMANN
As a photographer you are automatically a collector. A collector of images. I don’t feel I am a hunter. Not as a photographer and not as a collector either. I just stumble across things and encounter situations without looking for them deliberately. I do not chase a motive or photo opportunity; the things I depict just pass me by. Collecting and photographing have a lot of things in common. Ultimately both fulfill the function of appropriating something. The art I live with is different to the art I see in a museum because the art I own is part of my very own appropriation process; in a way it becomes part of my own biography.
Do you view the photographs you take for “Inside Sailing” as art or as a medium you use purely for documentation purposes?WILHELM SCHÜRMANN
When I look back at the images I took I often realize that they always seem to have been a step ahead of the very moment I took them. This has something to do with the fact that a picture will never turn out exactly the way you initially thought it would. There is always something left unnoticed when you take a picture, something to be discovered only later when you look at it again. I think it is this is often the moment of coincidence, the moment when you lose control about what you depict, when a photograph starts to turn into something else or rather when art begins to develop a life of its own. The French critic Roland Barthes called this moment “punctum”. For “Inside Sailing” I never stage any of the photographs I take. When you look at the images you see that it is really classic street photography. I never use a tripod and all images are taken somewhat spontaneously.
Why the name “Inside Sailing”?WILHELM SCHÜRMANN
The name is actually taken from a work by Scott Myles that had “Inside Sailing” written on it. I like the wording because I enjoy the moments in which you start seeing things from an insider perspective and sailing to me has to do with weightlessness and freedom. It is a floating feeling that replaces firmly integrated concepts with a state of mind that is based on openness.
Wilhelm Schürmann’s art collection has been exhibited at the Ludwig Forum in Aachen and in an Online Exhibition on Independent Collectors. See the exhibition here.