f/stop Print

In Hospital

Ludwig Kuffer, Andreas Langfeld, Elisabeth Neudörfl, Timm Rautert

At the centre of f/stop Print is the publication released in 2018 by Spector Books „Im Krankenhaus (In Hospital)“ with photographs by Ludwig Kuffer, Andreas Langfeld and Elisabeth Neudörfl. The book allows us to imagine how an institution is “shaped” in a literal sense—the co-existence of a great number of individuals, their shared everyday lives, their different positions and roles, their conflicts, and compromises. The publication makes reference to the book of the same name published in 1993 by Timm Rautert, which will also be exhibited.

 

Bertolt Brecht was doubtful of the ability of photography to adequatly depict the complex reality of social institutions. His statement from 1931 is often quoted: “The situation is of such complexity because a simple reproduction of reality says less about this reality than it ever did. A photography of the Krupp Works or the AEG reveals virtually nothing about these institutions. Actual reality has shifted to the functional. The reification of human relationships, such as the factory, fails to disclose those relationships. It therefore really is a case of ‘constructing something,’ ‘something artificial,’ ‘something staged.’”

 

But can all of that really only be read as proof of Brecht’s fundamental mistrust of that “simple reproduction of reality” by means of photography? Couldn‘t his proposition also be interpreted as a credo for the photo book? Not the individual photograph, but indeed a sequence of images, the thinking in series, the media montage of different segments of reality—i.e. “something artificial, something staged”— can give us a better understanding of those complex social contexts that underpin the institutions of society.

 

How do you portrait an institution like the hospital? How do you assemble the different perspectives to make a whole?—Towards the end of the 1980s, the designer Otl Aicher, the photographer Timm Rautert, and the author Regina Rauch started work on the book „Inside the Hospital. The Patient Between Technology and Care“.

 

Calling this a photo book does not do it justice, since it combines image and text in a vivid visual constellation on each spread. The result is a kind of book that could be described as democratic because of its openness and adaptability and the way that all of its elements converge coequally. Inside the Hospital was Otl Aicher’s last book project, the layout for the first chapter had just been completed when he was killed in an accident in 1991.

 

The designer Otl Aicher’s influence was as formative for the identity of the old Federal Republic as the architect Frei Otto, whose graceful tent structures, apparently floating above the ground, marked a break with the ideal of monumentality and representation. Frei Otto and Otl Aicher are united by a quest for constructive perfection in the minimal.

 

Compared to the varying types of text, Timm Rautert’s photographs maintain a high degree of continuity in the course of the page: the black and white images are usually medium shots or close-ups, the camera is directed equally at people, situations as well as medical procedures and instruments. Occasionally, the clinic’s own image production is also exhibited, those images produced by the MRI scanner or ultrasound that contain important information for the doctors, but this parallel image production is only one of the many aspects of everyday clinical life Timm Rautert captures in his images. It is above all the different text genres that create an oscillating movement, a permanent change of perspective that is characteristic for the book’s form: a biographical sketch is followed by a short essay on a single medical instrument, the situational descriptions of a reportage alternate with more theoretical reflections. An account from a patient’s perspective thus appears next to a text describing the hospital as a service company in which economic requirements must not be played off against medical and human needs. These different modes of speaking about one and the same institution create a dense echo chamber for Timm Rautert’s pictures.

 

25 years after the book with photographs by Timm Rautert, a second book on the Alfried Krupp Hospital in Essen was published this year. Three photographers and three authors depict and describe the institution of the hospital as it is today, from different perspectives. The photographs by Elisabeth Neudörfl, Ludwig Kuffer, and Andreas Langfeld have been interwoven by the designer Nicola Reiter in the sequence of images she has conceived: situations from everyday hospital life alternate with photographs of technical equipment and room views. On the double pages of the book, the different aspects meet directly: contrasting each other, complementing one another and growing in the process.

 

In contrast to the previous book from the early 1990s, this time there are no coherent narratives here, only different perspectives that viewers must assemble into an image of the hospital. What is made visible in this way are the tensions that the hospital as an institution has to balance out continuously: medical, ethical, technological, and economic questions overlap and must be constantly brought into a relationship with each other. This highly complex interplay which makes the hospital a parable of modern society is impressively evident in the book’s image sequence.

 

In both editions of Im Krankenhaus“ you can leaf through the pictures and read the texts to grasp how someone had literally “discovered” an institution—the coexistence and collaboration of a multitude of people, their shared routines, their different positions and roles, their conflicts and compromises. At the same time, however, each reading of these two books also leads to a point of self-examination: as a viewer, one wonders which of one’s own experiences one associates with these institutions; because by reading one understands the inherent logic in the spatial order, in the processes, in the encounter of the individual protagonists.

 

In this sense, the portrayal of an institution always includes an emancipative aspect, as the observer is given different inside views of an institution; fragments that are assigned to different actors in the reality of the institution; not only the narrow section of reality that the patients get to know, but also the perspective of the doctors and nurses, the view of the administration, the view of the technical personnel.