Frederike Helwig / Skype

A Digital Shadow of Herself

This is the original text and artwork of an exhibition called SKYPE by Frederike Helwig at Berlin's Gallery for Modern Photography in 2010. The work was made during the early days of recovery after the shock of the financial crash of 2008/2009. It seems a fitting time to be sharing this as photographers and image makers are, once again, having to try and find new solutions.

Hope you enjoy it.



09.07. – 09.09.2010

A Digital Shadow of Herself

Adriano Sack, 2010

According to Frederike Helwig, creating the perfect image has become simple. Blemished lighting, gestures, complexions and backgrounds can be easily recognised and repaired in the studio. Perfection, which had earlier been the result of painstaking construction with a hint of luck/talent/genius, has become a bulk commodity.

The images that are now on view at the Galerie fuer Moderne Fotografie are anything but perfect. Depicting a beautiful girl, Alex, wearing pieces from Lanvin, Marc Jacobs, Chloe, etc.’s Spring/Summer 2010 collections, the images were originally made for the British fashion magazine, Lula. There the normalcy already ends. The photos are pixelated, blurry and offset. Next to the model is a digital shadow of herself. Parts of the image disintegrate into fields of colour. It is a movement study that harks back to the Surrealists’ experimental photography. And at a certain point, the Skype menu bar seeping through the middle of an image.

If one is willing to regard them as such, these disturbances serve the same narrative function as the subject, the background, the tripod and the assistant play in traditional photography. However, while the “workshop” motif was just as meticulously generated as the “spotlessness” motif, the Skype disturbance is a real representation of the means of productions. It represents the series’ unintended radical.

Because “Lula” only allowed a narrow disposable budget that didn’t allow for any transatlantic travel (media crisis, etc.), Helwig arranged the shooting a bit differently. The model posed in front of an open laptop in New York. The photographer gave her instructions on what to do over Skype, through which she could see the image on screen in London. She simultaneously took photographs with her medium format camera. “I worked with her the way I would have anyway,” Helwig says. The results are sharp, high resolution, “professional” shots. The image’s source is however Skype’s imperfect, time-delayed view. Two worlds meet here: fashion photography and the junky immediacy of modern digital media. It is as though two technophile friends are playing “dress up” over the Atlantic.

“Skype is inhumane,” says Helwig. “If my three year old son Skypes with his grandparents, he starts panicking after a few minutes. The medium suggests human contact where there isn’t any.” As a photographer, however, she employs open possibilities. The images that are on display in the Galerie fuer Moderne Fotografie (some of which were reproduced in poster form and as a bonus, there is a corresponding video) are in no way her answer to the increasingly economic drive. She rather branches off, taking a bold step away from the available tools of perfection and turns back to a raw style, like that which the British Magazine, i-D, employed for years and had long acted as Helwigs aesthetic home base. By leading the possibilities of modern communication to their finish, she inspires them to come back to life.

Frederike Helwig’s series ties into Thomas Ruff’s work: his pornographic, hardly recognisable, pixelated images from the Internet and his jpg. series, which was recently published as a book.

Her photographs are free of any pretensions – although they are art even when they don’t want to be. Instead of these rather perfect fashion photographs, as she hopes not to evoke interest in and covet for only a girl and her clothes, with her intellectual wit and visual curiosity, she produces images and as well a world unlike any we’ve ever seen. Or one such as we have often seen, although we never have noticed the beauty hidden in a database.