Max Pinckers – the world as stage of appearances

Text by Hoda Afshar
First published in Der Greif blog, December 2016

Reading Max Pinckers’ powerful and engaging images, and reading what others have written about them, I am interested not only in the similarities between our respective ways of seeing the surface and of constructing images, but also by the way in which our similar approaches – and our individual-but-overlapping intentions – are, or might be, easily mis-read; for like myself, Pinckers’ has elected in many of his documentary-narrative series to use ‘staged’ photography in order both to capture a side of reality (which has to do with the meaningfulness of the world for us as an image, and with re-presentations), and to interrogate the way in which reality itself – and not ‘merely’ our attempts to re-present it – is always bound up with the nature of reality as appearance and as appearing – with the world as the ‘stage’ of appearances – and with the plurality of viewpoints that make up our shared reality; but it is easy to misread this second concern (which in Pinckers’ series “The Fourth Wall”, “Will They Sing Like Raindrops…”, and so on, is partially explored through their ‘cinematic’ language) as a sort of secondary, and perhaps ‘merely’ aesthetic concern which is meant to point to the image’s (and these images’ in particular) blurring of the boundary between reality and fiction – to add an added layer of surreality which is supposed to mirror the fictionalization of lives and stories that we see projected in and through the cinema, newspapers, television screens and magazines (etc.), and which re-enter mediated ‘reality’ as real fictions when living-actors act out the roles they see played out in such scenes. But between these imaginative layers of Pinckers’ work – the back-and-forth play between real life and its captured images, and the self-interrogation of the photographic medium as implicated at one and the same time in mediating and in re-creating ‘reality’ – we can also read in Pinckers’ images (or this is how I read them anyway) a playful but serious concern with the self-selecting nature – the reality – of life as appearance; for the very nature of appearances suggests both what appears, and those beings to whom all ‘appearances’ appear, and on both sides there is always a ‘choice’ – conscious or mechanical – that determines both what is shown (or not shown), and what is seen (or unseen); and this is mirrored in both the actor’s choosing how to appear and in the audience’s choosing what to see – both of which are partially mediated by the circulation of representations (such as stereotypes) that precede us. So, speaking about his series “The Fourth Wall”, Pincker has noted: “The people in these images become actors by choosing their own roles, which they perform for the camera and its western operator”, while in “Two Kinds of Memory…”, Pincker gets ‘real’ Japanese actors to act out our own – “Westerners'” – projected fantasies about Japan, with the important foot-note, which Pincker gives, that these fantasies are in part as well the product of the country’s own projected self-image… None of this, however, can or should be reduced to a simple statement about life itself or its documentary or artistic images as being always situated between reality and fiction, for it speaks instead to the absolute coincidence of being and appearance: to the plurality of viewpoints or positions – situations – that mark the world-as-appearance (which again, is the only world we know) – a constellation of perspectives which, far from ‘resolving’ into nothing, pure fiction (as if the world just were those viewpoints themselves), we must struggle to navigate, and to judge, as both positioned and concerned spectators and actors.