About the Photographer
Geissler, Beate and Sann, Oliver
German, b. 1970 and German, b. 1968
The German, Chicago-based duo, Beate Geissler and Oliver Sann, investigates themes of human agency, ownership, placement, and displacement. Geissler explains that an interest in “mise-en-scene” or the stage-like arrangement of visual elements characterizes her approach to photography. Correspondingly, her work with Sann emphasizes ways in which viewers occupy the pictorial world.
In their series, Horses (2002), equine profiles before black backgrounds that highlight the subjects’ accessories. The artists note that their series, “gives the horse the space that humans would normally claim in a portrait.” In the image, Banks and Breese, the dark backdrop makes the lushness of the horse’s chestnut fur and royal blue mask hard to miss. The headshot of this dapper horse recalls renderings of historical figures shown from the side, while also displaying good breeding and the wealth of its owner—the horse, itself a luxury item.
Geissler’s and Sann’s meditations on belonging—who belongs where and what belongs to whom—resurface in their later series, the real estate (2009). This body of work, consisting of sixty color photographs, features interiors of foreclosed residences that Geissler and Sann encountered in Chicago after moving to the city during the financial crisis of 2008. At this time, the percentage of the nation’s homes that were vacant and for sale or rent was at historic highs. Feeling somewhat displaced themselves as new arrivals to the United States, Geissler and Sann began to reflect more deeply on what it means to be uprooted and to explore the link between familiarity and feeling at home. These tensions are apparent in the image, the real estate # 11. Here, a sense of hominess conflicts with one of emptiness, underscored by torn walls, blank windows, and the low angle view of wooden flooring. The openness of this floor creates room for the viewer to imaginatively insert his or her body and thereby identify with the house’s former inhabitant. Through evocative spatial relations and associative traces, the photographers signal the presence of the missing homeowner.
Geissler and Sann further blur physical boundaries by installing the real estate as a long row of images butting up against each other, separated only by thin white frames and occasionally the architecture of the viewing environment. The artists connect the pictures based on compositional elements formed by architectural details in the areas depicted. This layout invites the viewer to link distinct types of homes, while discouraging fixation on one place, and by extension, one story. Furthermore, the diversity of spaces shown suggests that no socioeconomic group is immune to the economic crisis and that the very idea of ownership is tenuous and elusive. Although radically different in form and content, Horses and the real estate both raise questions about our relationship to images’ real and representational space.
Beate Geissler was born in Neuendettelsau, Germany, in 1970. She studied photography at the Staatliche Fachakademie für Fotodesign in Munich (1992) and then attended the Staatliche Hochschule für Gestaltung in Karlsruhe (1994-2000). Oliver Sann was born in Düsseldorf, Germany, in 1968. He attended the Staatliche Fachakademie für Fotodesign in Munich studying photography (1994) and graduated from the Academy for Media Arts in Cologne (1999). Geissler’s and Sann’s work has been exhibited at Neue Gesellschaft für bildende Kunst, Berlin; Gallery ftc, Berlin; and the Renaissance Society, Chicago; among others.