Part 2 Project 1: The artist as curator

Joachim Schmid

Joachim Schmid studied visual communication between 1976 and 1981 and after he began his career as a freelance writer he quickly became known for his criticism of the prevailing notions of art photography – instead advocating for a broader critique of photography as a cultural practice. I looked at his work whilst studying Context & Narrative (Level 1) and so had already accessed both links provided. The Interview with Sharon Boothroyd

On 10th December 2013 focussed on his interest in repetitive patterns in snapshots such as food and hands. He began by being interested in vernacular photography as a cultural practice with the idea of creating a visual survey of snapshot photography in the C20th.  I was interested that he called this ‘gathering’ rather than ‘collecting’ – so general rather than specific.  He expressed his enthusiasm for the advent of digital technology and sites such as Flickr because he had access to even more photographs.

The second link  provides a video of  Schmid discussing his work with Divya Rao Heffley and an essay by Heffley. The video begins with Schmid searching through boxes of  photographs in a fleamarket and then moves indoors to the interview. He calls his ‘gathering’ archaeological research, whilst only acquiring interesting photographs. He began in 1982 when he found a photograph in the street and then began collecting these discarded objects (Pictures from the Street (1982-2012)).  Schmid then moved onto being more systematic – visiting particular places in various Cities and roaming systematically – listing and cataloguing his finds in various categories (Photographic Garbage Survey Project (1996-97).

Schmids categories

“It’s amazing to see how much human energy is spent on the destruction of these pictures” (c7 min in) the dirt they take on, how they look. He calls his collection an Anti-Museum. this kind of collecting came to a natural end for him with the arrival of digital photography – people press the delete button so nothing in the street for him anymore. He talks of how people photograph food now where they didn’t before (see below) and apply photography in every situation – some of it strange/very strange. His curiosity about these practices shines through. “Somehow we all end up taking the same photographs” (c10.17 in). One collection is of photographs of newspaper on particular days. Again it was addictive to begin with having this unlimited supply but he was now trying to slow down.

He is seen showing his wife, Angelika Theuss, his new book  One Day in May a record of 50 shootings in one day. His wife is asked about his obsession’ and she confirms this is less now, for instance the other day he picked up a photograph in the street, looked at it for a while and then put it in the mailbox.

Heffley’s essay is a response to the video and these points interested me:-

  • By gathering rejects “Schmid’s work asks us to reconsider the so-called photographic canon, which depends on weighty notions of history, authenticity, and authorship”.
  • The traces of human action on the photographs (tearing, worn folds) “…. Are, for Schmid, the most revealing, and reflect the role that photography plays in everyday life. He is interested in the photograph as object
  • The Photographic Garbage Survey Project was an attempt to understand the flip side of photographic collection and preservations, and a need to document something specific in a world of limitless garbage, produced daily and on a global basis – both digitally and in print.

In his Chapter Archive Noises (Joan Fontcuberta writes how when searching through flea markets etc both Fricke and Schmid picked out images where they saw a resemblance to ‘unmistakable’ work of some great master and then produced pseudo-masterworks, thus conducting a ‘merciless critique of the notions of genius, style, canon ….. extending even to the whole notion of the masterwork” (2014:174). In Fontcuberta’s view these images are not false masterworks but alternative masterworks “because we have been left with no clear criteria for ascribing authorial value to an image……..What is important in a photograph does not lie in the excellence of the process by which it was obtained, or the ability of the eye, but in the function that we oblige them to perform, in their management, the mission we assign them”. Schmid’s grouping of ‘banal’ photographs into arbitrary typologies seems to mock the series of the Bechers and the Dusseldorf School.

Geoffrey Batchen wrote an article around Schmid in the Aperture blog ((Aperture 10, Spring 2013) and the hours he spends grabbing images from Flickr and using them to illustrate his own series of artist books Other People’s Photographs (2008-20111), having really written about this, I was interested to see that one of the books contains images of “currywurst” fast food in Berlin photographed by people about to eat some. Batchen’s point is this – that Schmid provides “.. a kind of anecdotal, surrealist ethnography of global photography today” and so he turns an  “… international genre of food photography into a regional, even an autobiographical, focal point ……. collapsing the global into the personal” and making it true to the character of social media itself.

On the above point, I should mention that Schmid does sometimes take photographs himself. I follow the blog of Elisabeth Tonnard – a Dutch artist and poet who works in artists’ books, photography and literature.  and on 26th July this year she referred to her own book Joachim Schmid Works and also his E-Book (2016). Tonnard’s book contains thirty-three photographs of Schmid working on his E-Book. Joachim Schmid Works is a small book with only 75 copies. Schmid’s E-Book   is based on a letter that Schmid wrote to Tonnard – the words of the letter remain invisible, but every E is included in the form of a photograph. There are 500 E’s which were photographed in a number of different cities in 2015. There is no digital version of this book. Tonnard provides a link to a review of both books in the Times Literary Supplement (July 26, 2016) by Dennis Duncan. Duncan links Schmid’s work with earlier books that omitted certain vowels (one of the authors Georges Perec, having been cited by Schmid as an influence) and the fact also that Tonnard’s book is a book of unselfies – each image being a photograph of someone else photographing someone else.

I find Schmid fascinating to observe for both his enthusiasm for collecting and his attempts to curb the obsessive nature of this.



Fontcuberta, J (2014) Archive Noises in Pandora’s Camera, MACK (pp169-181)





  1. Interesting post Catherine , I love his commitment and passion . I did some research on him for the Documentary course & am looking forward to this part of the course –when I finally complete Part 1 that is !


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