Photographs are records. They show us how things once have been, how we once looked, point at things that are no longer there. Photographs bear witness and can thus serve as visual memories. Never is this more apparent than when we are shown pictures that provide evidence of our various life stages.
In 1982, Swiss photographer Barbara Davatz portrayed 12 young couples who were either in love, or friends or relatives. In 1988, 1997 and 2014, she photographed them again. Since not all of them were still together as couples or friends, they were given the option to bring their new partners (and their children) along. What resulted from this Davatz calls a "genealogy of relationships".
Katja und Enzo 1982
One of the major challenges every photographer faces is to identify a convincing theme that he or she feels passionate about pursuing. To document relationships over time I think a simple and most compelling idea. Will they last or won't they? Do the ones portrayed age favourably or not? What can such pictures tell us about the time, the people, the photographer?
"I wanted people who looked unusual and interesting – their appearance, their clothes, and their faces – and people who didn't look mainstream", says Barbara Davatz, who had a very clear idea of the kind of project she had in mind. She wanted the people to be authentic. "I just wanted them to look as if they were about to go to the cinema, for example."
Well, there's nothing more mainstream than looking for people who do not look mainstream.
Pamela und Enzo 1988
Portrait photography depends to a large extent on the collaboration of the photographer and the ones portrayed. And so I wondered whether Barbara Davatz' "objects" had a say in how they were photographed. For instance: Did they decide whether, and how, they were holding each other?
In an interesting and informative conversation between Barbara Davatz, Patrick Frey, and Martin Jaeggi, the photographer makes it clear what is guiding her. "What I'm looking for is the uninhibited presence of someone who is completely at ease, and that's pretty hard to achieve, the more so because I know exactly what I want: the expression I'm looking for is as if the person were listening to an interesting and amusing story. That's what I usually tell my sitters."
Cornelia und Enzo 1997
Parts of the conversation I thought rather funny, almost pretentiously absurd. "Aren't you trying to achieve a kind of discreet eroticism? Basically, you want people to fall in love wtih your sitters. That's obvious in the first series", Martin Jaeggi states. "It's wonderful if viewers realize that". responds Barbara Davatz. And Patrick Frey adds: "As in all photography, your work is about the eroticism of the gaze, not the person."
Well, as always, this tells me more about the persons making such statements and less about the photos and the people photographed. But judge for yourself. It definitely is a most fascinating book.
As Time Goes By
1982, 1988, 1997, 2014
Edition Patrick Frey, Zurich 2015