»Stillleben« 2009/2010
Large format photographs, analogue C-Prints, mounted on Aludibond or framed
various sizes

When you look at Anne-Lena Michel’s large-format photograph “Stoffe” (Stuff), it is not immediately clear what is actually being depicted . In this picture, the photographer shows much too much all at once—and yet in a way much too little. At first glance, your eye initially hurries over the confusion that it meets, focusing in on one thing and giving it closer inspection, while disregarding something else more nondescript. There’s nothing misleading about the title of the image: it is indeed “stuff” that the photographer shows us here. Light colours dominate: all manner of beige tones, some white here and there, and in the background a very light grey. It is only in the lower left-hand corner that a dark, lush green sets up a clear contrast. There is also a plastic bag in evidence that makes little effort to fit in with the assemblage of other materials that have been put together in this image. If you are not willing to content yourself with observing what is in any case plain to see, you must begin to look again at the range of forms spread out in front of you here.

Even the most casual viewer is bound to notice that, strangely enough, in the middle of the image, only a little off-centre, is the lid of a tin can. It looks out from the jumble of stuff like an eye. And perhaps this is exactly what the photographer intended to show us here: a swirling movement of soft materials all revolving around the metallic hardness of a lid? Of course, an interpretation like this could never lay claim to any great significance. In any case, might it not be a good idea to take a step back from an overly literal reading of the image? If Leonardo let himself be led by the formation of passing clouds or the structure of a wall into a projective visual game , why shouldn’t we—at least as an experiment—be able to see in this mountain of different materials just that: a mountain, the suggestion of a landscape, a valley, and so on.

The subject of this image will continue to perplex. And this provides the opportunity to take at their word this and the other images that are put together here as a series. What is here called “stuff” connotes meat , plants or animals in other images. For Michel, it is invariably a matter of an idiosyncratic and, from a media-theory perspective, extremely important doubling: the display of a display. Because what becomes evident in these photographs, first and foremost, is that there is indeed something to see. There are materials—which here come into their own photographically as just that: materials. Going a step further, we must ask ourselves as observers what we are to make, if anything, of what we are shown in these images. Of course, it is interesting to ponder a question like this, one that is not always easy to answer. Moreover it throws up another absolutely fundamental question: What indeed is the real material of a photographer?

Essay by Steffen Siegel for the exhibition catalogue accompanying Kein Wort zu viel (Not a Word Too Many), Kunstverein Ettlingen, 2012.