Wolfram Hahn’s new book is an existentialist journey through plastic bags

"Draussen Dehors Outside" is the new photobook by the german photographer, and he talked us about plasticity, evolution, mass comsumption and society.
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So, Wolfram Hahn contacts us to talk about his new book, and yes, we felt flattered! Draussen Dehors Outside is a beautiful work, a sort of typological record of disposable plastic bags found in the streets. But there’s so much more than that. He described his essay as conceptually and process-oriented kind of work at the same time. We talk about how that can be and how that represents symbolically many aspects of contemporary society. Here’s the transcription of our dialog:

GUERRILLA: Looking at your book, we see a strong presence of colour in the images, isolated tones and shapes over a neutral background, almost as if were a colour palette or a catalogue. Then one starts to realise that the photographs are showing plastic bags. How did you come up with the idea of linking this subject and the way you are showing it?

WOLFRAM HAHN: I found all the plastic bags in the urban vicinity of Berlin. Through continuous atmospheric and external conditioning the bags are crumpled and swatted, their hue faded, each bag contains its own iridescent qualities creating individual imprints. Having lost their purpose as functional objects the mass produced bags appear as individually crafted shapes.

Trying not to change the individual shape of each bag, I carefully collected and photographed them in a classic studio manner in front of a white background.

The bags are civilizational waste caused by contemporary economic and cultural circumstances. Mass production, consumption & throw away society are some of the reasons why those bags are lying around everywhere. Through the plasticity of the bags, caused by the external influences on the polyethylen, newly found forms appear like living organisms such as plankton and insect larvae. In my opinion, those bags are examples of contemporary specimens, which are subjected to, in the Darwinian sense, evolutionary pressure to adapt and change accordingly and develop. In the presentation of the bags, I tried to make a reference to historical drawings of new specimens of flora and fauna on white paper and finally arranged the images in the book due to their individual colour palette and shape.

Furthermore I think the plastic bag images bring to light an ambivalence symptomatic of our society. They act as a signifier towards the fast technical progress and the possibility of economical processes. On the other hand also being articulated is the effects intrinsic to such processes such as terrestrial pollution, that has befallen the oceans as much as within the kingdom of birds, where the dissipation of the plastic bags leads to atrocious results.

G: How ironic it is to find a certain poetry of beauty through such a disposable product as a plastic bag. This typological approach on the subject, sort of speaks, that  we can see in your book, reminds me of your other works, especially: “Into the Light” (published in Guerrilla No.2) and “Entzaubert”, do you think there’s a strong presence of the “Düsseldorf School” or the so called “New Objectivity” movements in your work?

WH: There is a lot of poetry in everyday life. As well as myths. I think of Roland Barthes’ Mythologies. The myths of everyday life, or call them stories, which circulate from person to person and find through media dissemination, have interested me in relation to the two aforementioned series. The plastic bags carry stories too. For example social, economic or concerning the materiality. Through the transformation of photography and finally the object on the wall, my view on the subject is added and the viewer is invited to carry them on.

Basically I would describe my work as conceptionally and process-oriented at the same time. I mean by this that a concept can change during the process. First there is a thought and then the attempt to photograph it. The photograph is challenging the thought and vice versa. And thus a process is in progress. This includes the aesthetic solution as well as the representation, either on the wall or in the book.

I think, when you study photography, you can not avoid being influenced by August Sander, Karl Blossfeldt, Hilla and Bernd Becher, Thomas Struth,…

The work of Rineke Dijkstra have always been very inspiring, as well as Michael Schmidt, Paul Graham, Collier Schorr, Zoe Leonard, Anna Meyer, the Dardenne Brothers… just to name a few.

G: So, what are the plans for your book, Wolfram? How is it for a photo book in Europe these days in terms of circulation, number of copies, visibility, reviews and so on?

WH: That’s a good question. It’s great to look at your finished book, because it takes so much time and work until you can hold it in your hands. But the work is not done after the release. There is a huge amount of new books coming out every month, so to get recognition for your own publication is not easy. You have to try to get into good festivals, contacting magazines to get reviews, try to get into the good book shops, applying for competitions, … By the way, “Draussen Dehors Outside“ made it into the Longlist of “Die Schönsten deutschen Bücher 2016“, a annual german competition of the “Stiftung Buchkunst“. It’s a great honor.

An artist book is like a portfolio. You should be able to hand it out to some people. It doesn’t make sense to have a book and not to spread it. It needs circulation.

For more information about Wolfram Hahn, visit his website: www.wolframhahn.de

© Vexer Verlag St.Gallen/Berlin and Wolfam Hahn, 2015
Photography: Wolfram Hahn
Text: “Beeing or Life”, Catherine Malabou
Language: French, German, English
Number of Pages: 124 Pages
Number of Images: 99
Format: Book 32 cm x 21,3 cm / Poster 70 x 100 cm
Shape: Thread Stitching, Softcover, Poster
Edition: 500 Copies
ISBN 978-3-909090-69-3