GERMAN PHOTOGRAPHERS SHOOT TO SHOCK

Daniel and Geo Fuchs


CONSERVING, photographs by DANIEL and GEO FUCHS, opening at the STEPHEN BULGER GALLERY (700 Queen West), Saturday (October 28), 2 to 5 pm, and on view to November 25. 504-0575.


DANIEL and GEO FUCHS, speaking Friday (October 27), 7:30 pm, at Ryerson Polytechnic University (lecture hall L72, Jorgenson Hall, 350 Victoria). Free. 979-5167. Rating: NNNNN


Looking at Daniel and Geo Fuchs’s lush, large-scale colour photographs of dead things peacefully floating in formaldehyde and alcohol, it’s hard to imagine how the controversial husband-and-wife team ever thought these grisly objects could be beautiful.

But there is no question that their three-part Conserving series is beautiful. Stunningly and profoundly beautiful.

But there is no question that their three-part Conserving series is beautiful. Stunningly and profoundly beautiful.

That’s what makes the images of fish, animal and human remains so disturbing.

That’s what makes the images of fish, animal and human remains so disturbing.

“We were looking for a way to show life after death,” Geo explains over the phone from the couple’s home in Neuberg, Germany.

“We were looking for a way to show life after death,” Geo explains over the phone from the couple’s home in Neuberg, Germany.

The resulting photos create a deeply spiritual sense of peace, perhaps even eternity. And if images like a large fruit bat called “flying dog” in German are kind of spooky, the silvery fish seem alive in their liquid environment.

The resulting photos create a deeply spiritual sense of peace, perhaps even eternity. And if images like a large fruit bat called “flying dog” in German are kind of spooky, the silvery fish seem alive in their liquid environment.

The human specimens — including malformed 17th- and 18th-century fetuses dressed in ornate costumes reflecting long-lost burial customs — have been portrayed as if they are simply at rest.

The human specimens — including malformed 17th- and 18th-century fetuses dressed in ornate costumes reflecting long-lost burial customs — have been portrayed as if they are simply at rest.

Each 60-by-80-centimetre print is transmounted (i.e., laminated) to a sheet of extra-thick plexiglass, a presentation that preserves the tranquil, fluid quality of their subjects.

Each 60-by-80-centimetre print is transmounted (i.e., laminated) to a sheet of extra-thick plexiglass, a presentation that preserves the tranquil, fluid quality of their subjects.

This is a body of work that feels like its moment is now, even though many of its subjects have been pickled in glass for more than 300 years, and it’s brought the Fuchses to the brink of international stardom. They make their North American debut with a Toronto doubleheader, a solo show opening at Stephen Bulger Gallery Saturday (October 28), one day after a high-profile talk at Ryerson.

This is a body of work that feels like its moment is now, even though many of its subjects have been pickled in glass for more than 300 years, and it’s brought the Fuchses to the brink of international stardom. They make their North American debut with a Toronto doubleheader, a solo show opening at Stephen Bulger Gallery Saturday (October 28), one day after a high-profile talk at Ryerson.

“We went looking for beauty and found it. Although,” Geo concedes, “it must be hard to see this work for the first time, all at once.

“We went looking for beauty and found it. Although,” Geo concedes, “it must be hard to see this work for the first time, all at once.

“Daniel and I worked on it for five years, starting with the fish, which really

“Daniel and I worked on it for five years, starting with the fish, which really are beautiful. So by the time I saw the fetus that looks like it’s sitting on its tumour, I was able to think of it as the Little Prince with his planet.”

If that sounds a little creepy, the spiritual search that comes through in these images saves them from coming off as merely marginal.

If that sounds a little creepy, the spiritual search that comes through in these images saves them from coming off as merely marginal.

“Sometimes you can’t tell why you do something — you just have to do it,” explains Geo.

“Sometimes you can’t tell why you do something — you just have to do it,” explains Geo.

“We were in an automobile accident in Italy, and though somehow we were not hurt, we had to spend hours at the accident scene watching what happened to the other people.

“We were in an automobile accident in Italy, and though somehow we were not hurt, we had to spend hours at the accident scene watching what happened to the other people.

“We spent the rest of the trip photographing headstones in cemeteries. From this time on, we started to think about death. Until then, we never had — even though I totalled a car when I was 18.”

“We spent the rest of the trip photographing headstones in cemeteries. From this time on, we started to think about death. Until then, we never had — even though I totalled a car when I was 18.”

At the time of their Italian accident, the Fuchses were already photographing fish. When they happened to see some preserved piscine specimens at a natural history museum, they realized they’d found their way to explore mortality.

At the time of their Italian accident, the Fuchses were already photographing fish. When they happened to see some preserved piscine specimens at a natural history museum, they realized they’d found their way to explore mortality.

It speaks volumes for the Fuchses’ extraordinary aesthetic power that they can achieve serious popular appeal with such macabre imagery. Right now they’re huge in Germany and on the verge of breaking out across the globe.

It speaks volumes for the Fuchses’ extraordinary aesthetic power that they can achieve serious popular appeal with such macabre imagery. Right now they’re huge in Germany and on the verge of breaking out across the globe.

“Usually, when (German pop culture magazine) Stern does a piece, Spiegel won’t touch you. But both wrote about this. Max as well,” Geo laughs with mixed astonishment and pride. She isn’t bothering to mention the spreads in German trade publications like Photo Technik and ProfiFoto.

“Usually, when (German pop culture magazine) Stern does a piece, Spiegel won’t touch you. But both wrote about this. Max as well,” Geo laughs with mixed astonishment and pride. She isn’t bothering to mention the spreads in German trade publications like Photo Technik and ProfiFoto.

After obsessing over and photographing these specimens across Europe for the past five years, Geo compares releasing the final instalment to “a birth.

After obsessing over and photographing these specimens across Europe for the past five years, Geo compares releasing the final instalment to “a birth.

“Suddenly,” she says with breathless understatement, “everybody is aware of it.”

“Suddenly,” she says with breathless understatement, “everybody is aware of it.”

The Fuchses are getting used to being followed around by a documentary film crew making a television feature, while recent exhibits in Trieste have also made them the darlings of Italian fine art and photography publications including Focus, Photo, Immagini and Zoom. Gigs in Sweden and at the National Museum of Photography in Bradford, England, haven’t had quite the same impact — yet. But the buzz is big.

The Fuchses are getting used to being followed around by a documentary film crew making a television feature, while recent exhibits in Trieste have also made them the darlings of Italian fine art and photography publications including Focus, Photo, Immagini and Zoom. Gigs in Sweden and at the National Museum of Photography in Bradford, England, haven’t had quite the same impact — yet. But the buzz is big.

They’re capitalizing on the art star thing by doing a Famous Eyes series of snapshots of celebrities — including photographer Martin Parr, installation artist Christian Boltanski and, um, Bryan Adams — holding Polaroids of their own eyes.

They’re capitalizing on the art star thing by doing a Famous Eyes series of snapshots of celebrities — including photographer Martin Parr, installation artist Christian Boltanski and, um, Bryan Adams — holding Polaroids of their own eyes.

And while Geo states with pride that they’ve had no formal photographic training, I don’t buy it. I keep pushing — the work is just too technically accomplished. Finally, she reveals that Daniel’s dad is a commercial photographer.

And while Geo states with pride that they’ve had no formal photographic training, I don’t buy it. I keep pushing — the work is just too technically accomplished. Finally, she reveals that Daniel’s dad is a commercial photographer.

“Daniel grew up with photography, assisting his father. You learn by doing it, and after a while the technique becomes a tool you don’t have to think about any more.”

“Daniel grew up with photography, assisting his father. You learn by doing it, and after a while the technique becomes a tool you don’t have to think about any more.”

Daniel’s background in ultra-high-production-value photo imaging casts some light on what might be a perplexing choice of publisher for the stunning large-format book version of Conserving.

Daniel’s background in ultra-high-production-value photo imaging casts some light on what might be a perplexing choice of publisher for the stunning large-format book version of Conserving.

No expense has been spared, from extra-heavy paper stock through state-of-the-art six-colour hexachrome printing, to create a genuinely gorgeous volume.

No expense has been spared, from extra-heavy paper stock through state-of-the-art six-colour hexachrome printing, to create a genuinely gorgeous volume.

But the publisher, fledgling Munich-based Edition Reuss, with only nine other titles in its catalogue, specializes in nude “art” photo books — cult erotica with titles like Crazy Sexy Girls, Shaven Angels and Pisseuses.

But the publisher, fledgling Munich-based Edition Reuss, with only nine other titles in its catalogue, specializes in nude “art” photo books — cult erotica with titles like Crazy Sexy Girls, Shaven Angels and Pisseuses.

An erotic context for Conserving reeks of necrophilia by association, but Geo insists they chose to work with Reuss because no other publisher would have considered footing the bill for such a lavish edition of their work.

An erotic context for Conserving reeks of necrophilia by association, but Geo insists they chose to work with Reuss because no other publisher would have considered footing the bill for such a lavish edition of their work.

“We met Matthias Reuss at a book fair and became friends, but never thought we’d do a book with him. Then, two years ago, he told us he wanted to branch out and do fine art photography. Conserving is his first fine art title, but he will do more, and it won’t seem so strange.

“We met Matthias Reuss at a book fair and became friends, but never thought we’d do a book with him. Then, two years ago, he told us he wanted to branch out and do fine art photography. Conserving is his first fine art title, but he will do more, and it won’t seem so strange.

“And frankly, he is making money doing the nude photography, and that pays the bills for our book.”

“And frankly, he is making money doing the nude photography, and that pays the bills for our book.”

Given their subject matter, it’s inevitable that there’s a notoriety factor in the Fuchses’ growing fame. In fact, it was another controversial portfolio that first put the collaborators on Germany’s cultural map.

Given their subject matter, it’s inevitable that there’s a notoriety factor in the Fuchses’ growing fame. In fact, it was another controversial portfolio that first put the collaborators on Germany’s cultural map.

In 1995, when the Fuchses were still a couple of unknown 20-somethings, they exhibited their black-and-white portrait series Transsexuelle Menschen In Deutschland at a small Frankfurt gallery.

In 1995, when the Fuchses were still a couple of unknown 20-somethings, they exhibited their black-and-white portrait series Transsexuelle Menschen In Deutschland at a small Frankfurt gallery.

The opening was swarmed by 1,500 people.

The opening was swarmed by 1,500 people.

“They went to see freaks, and left having recognized themselves.”

“They went to see freaks, and left having recognized themselves.”


deirdre@nowtoronto.com

CONSERVING, by Daniel and Geo Fuchs (Edition Reuss, Munich), 240 pages, $125 cloth. Rating: NNNN

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