Apr 28, 2009

Horst Wackerbarth: The Red Couch lives on...

Wally Mander, Owner of a slaughterhouse, Chicago, Illinois, 1983.

I read a post today over on Thoughts of a Bohemain (link) regarding a cohesive series or repetition in a series. While I agree some people/photographers think all they need is a portfolio of stuff that revolves around a central theme, whether it be squirrels in evening gowns or green cars, and it will qualify as fine art, I disagree with the example he has chosen (I'll get to that in a minute).

If it's an interesting subject and a powerful image, why wouldn't the viewer want to see more? I know I love Pieter Hugo's Hyena Men and wanted to see each and every image in the series, regardless of the similar locales and characters. Each image on it's own was powerful and as a group it gave me more of a big picture of these folk. I continually shoot myself in semi-autobiographical narratives because my life is not over. I have unlimited memories to draw from and stories to tell. I will admit that a lot depends on the viewer's opinion and "interest" in the subject matter. Some people can't stop looking at my stories and email me asking where they can find more. It's like they're addicted to the new season of United States of Tara on showtime or something? Others may perhaps look at two or three and be done. They've seen enough and feel the next image is going to be as boring as the previous three?

Frank Fool’s Crow, Oglala Lakota medicine man, South Dakota Badlands, USA, 1983.

That brings me to the example he chose... Horst Wackerbarth's The Red Couch. Just the mention brought back memories of looking at a copy of the book my father had when I was a kid. I remember enjoying it quite a lot. The series depicted people from different races, classes, and backgrounds from all over the country each set in their own familiar location. The one thing everyone had in common is that they were all sitting on the Red Couch. It was (IMO of course) a powerful element that made more of an impact than any series (and there are many) I've ever seen documenting people across the states. It gave them all something in common when in actuality they had absolutely nothing that could tie them together. So in this instance, it is one of the best uses of repetition I have ever seen.

Left: Robi Güver, Sound engineer, Marstall, Weimar, Germany, 1997.
Right: Silvio Böhme, Unemployed, Marstall, Weimar, Germany, 1997.

Now get this! I googled the "red couch" and found plenty of porn, but more importantly I found a review (link) of Horst Wackerbarth's most recent show in Miami. He has not stopped! He has been continuing to shoot the couch for 30 years, and not just dragging it around the U.S. on the roof of his Renault Kangoo anymore. New scenes involve the couch floating on icebergs in Iceland, ruins in Romania, and other far reaches of the globe.

see many more images from dating from 1979 -2004 on the Red Couch site... awesome! What a wonderful find and a great feeling of deja vu for me looking at these again.


copies of the original book (1985) are available (link) in various locations for around $450.

Klara I. Sigurdadottir, Schoolgirl and tourist guide, Jökulsárlón, Vatnajókull, Iceland, 2003.


jimmieknuckles said...

the couch has to have crabs by now

Unknown said...

it actually has =D