inter esse

One thing that will not work when confronted with these images is sentiment. It is this entirely unforgiving, cold, securely instinctive analytical rage that makes inter esse so special – photographs as documents of a ‘being in the world’ that is both location- and time-specific. Of course Maria Sewcz has seen Lee Friedlander and studied Robert Frank. Michael Schmidt’s Waffenruhe (Cease Fire) and Wim Wender’s Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire) are both works created in the same period and presented to the public in the other part of the city in 1987: Maria Sewcz will not be able to take them into account, with great empathy and identification, until a few years later. Her own work is so much colder than they are that her response is perhaps a little surprising.

inter esse rejects the romantic sentiment that utopias are irredeemable. Maria Sewcz refused both the comfort and the emotional drama of tragic failure. To this end, she goes back to aesthetic processes developed between the two World Wars and associated with great utopian potential, and this is what makes the work so special. There are traces of the photographic method developed in the context of Neue Sachlichkeit in the 1920s, which isolated things in order to enhance their symbolic quality. But even more apparent in inter esse are László Moholy-Nagy’s ideas of the non-linearity of the visual experience of modern cities, and of their fragmentary nature. Moholy describes “… photographs of structures, textures, fractures, relating to their behaviour in relation to light (absorption, reflection, mirror images, dispersion) [and] … photographs of a previously unusual kind: rare viewpoints, oblique, upwards, downwards, distortion, shadow effects, tonal contrasts, enlargements, micro-shots …” as possibilities worthy of practical experiments.1 inter esse reads almost like a declension of these photographic possibilities. But here they arise almost as a matter of course from sensual experience of this history-saturated city.

Sewcz synthesizes a pictorial language from these traditions that could not be further from being a utopia. The diagonals, the tilting surfaces, do here too lead to dynamization of the linear flow. Architectural fragments and gestures seem paralysed, peeled out of black darkness and in the coolness of grey. The fact that Maria Sewcz also worked among experimental Super-8 filmmakers while still a student may well have something to do with the strongly cinematic impression made by the portfolio as a kind of montage of fragmented images. The hard rhythm, almost musical, or borrowed from lyric poetry and developed throughout the 35 images, communicates an aggressively smouldering energy that changes abruptly into an attack on the homogeneity of the picture spaces.   …

1. L. Moholy-Nagy. Fotografie ist Lichtgestaltung, printed in: Bauhaus, issue 1, 2. vol. 1928, p. 2ff, quoted from: Andreas Haus, Moholy Nagy. Fotos und Fotogramme, Munich 1978, p. 78.


Text by Inka Schube in:  inter esse,  Berlin 1985–87,  Maria Sewcz,  Steidl , Göttingen 2014