The core of The German Eye in America resource is a subtle collection of photography books which reflect Native American realities through photographs. One day I realized that most of the books I had found on this topic were by German-born photographers. I began to wonder if the consideration paid to indigenous people by German-born photographers reflects an innate disposition. For some time I have pondered how my own Native American DNA has shaped my own sensitivities and my expressive reactions. What had started as a casual inquiry into my Native American roots suddenly posed a very interesting question: Might we carry our point-of-view in our DNA? Does a genetic thread connect these German-born photo artists with the spirit of Karl May, von Humboldt, Goethe, and Gutenberg? Is there any such thing as a genetics of aesthetics? To shed light on this I decided to build a comprehensive library of German-born photographers who have photographed the Americas. Then, what is to be found might be more easily seen.
First of all, I had to figure out who counts as a German. Is this a geography question, or a matter of mother tongue? Over the 170 years since the advent of photography, German political borders have ranged widely. The German language diaspora, on the other hand, has remained quite the same. Some photographers who demanded consideration for inclusion in my syllabus were born outside the contingent German speaking areas, in Rome or Paris, even in New Jersey. For those, it seems a matter of whether they reconnected with Germany per se through education or publishing, typically a consequence of German having been their mother tongue and family language. My intention, however, is not to explore the German language per se nor to explore what might be said particularily well with the German language. Language is a only a determinate in The German Eye in America project; my intention is to explore what can be seen from this splendid legacy of photographs of the Americas. I perceived their coherence (before I realized that German language was a factor in this aesthetic discussion) because I am a photographer and a visual artist who is more into what can be seen than said.
The German impetus to publish photography books continues to produce new talent, so there will be more than the 710 photographers included presently. The German Eye in America library has grown to include more than 900 volumes plus a great number of magazines, journals, catalogs, even a few important original prints. It is wonderfully photogenic. I am documenting the changes with my Mamiya 6x7 to create life-size C-prints from gigabyte scans. Core themes are sustaining as I add new names. A definite feel has emerged and strengthened, as has the presence of a cultural force which I refer to as the "invisible machine." A sculptural metaphor, The Cube conveys the power and authority of this "invisible machine."
The German Eye in America as a fine art installation shows great potential to draw people into discussion through their already held opinions about art, talent and DNA. My use of the expressive potential of digital tools engages those accustomed to the internet and Google, while my inclusion of traditional painting and photography allows me to involve the expressive nature of hand-made things. My digital multi-media explorations of the photographs in the data mine itself touch on issues of German-self regard, American self-image, Native American self-esteem, and the emergence of women in photography. I have found that as a person exploring my own Apache roots, my voice rings true for Europeans living in the shadows of Karl May, von Humboldt, Goethe, and Gutenberg. These Europeans see in the New world legacy of pre-columbian stone work and painted art, an indigenous people who live on and who may well blossom once again. Curators and collectors passing through my studio find their regard for German cultural contributions over the last 7 generations reshaped by this expressive, multi-media presentation.
The syllabus which I intend to publish is already 1300 pages and still growing. A computer readable version (pdf), an ebook edition for the Amazon.com Kindle, and a whole array of flash movies which present my observations and conclusions are also in development. The German Eye in America syllabus will be arranged retrospectively by year of birth with each photographer's name qualified by city of birth. If deceased, that will be indicated. Seems straight forward, yet, I am bedeviled by a need for basic biographical details about some individuals. About one in five of those who demand consideration has proven difficult to place with absolute confidence. Basically, until I can ascertain a city of birth, I cannot be sure I've got the right person. Some currently being considered may prove to be writers or picture editors, not photographers at all. This can be hard to determine even with a book in hand. My on-line presence allows for social-network driven refinements. This is happening: People do find their way to my site and respond with needed information to the address below.