Karin Rehn-Kaufmann –
Art Director & Chief Representative Leica Galleries International

About the photographs of Franziska Stünkel

When I say to the Moment flying;
Linger a while! Thou art so fair!

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust

We are living in a time of visual overstimulation. What do we see, what images are we still even noticing? What criteria need to be fulfilled—by artists in particular—to attain visibility, get our attention? We can absolutely take these basic questions as our starting point for considering the work of Franziska Stünkel and enrich our knowledge enormously. The very first thing we need is sufficient time. Take your time, though, and look at the artist’s motifs, and you will soon be spellbound by the force of her astonishing compositions. In a unique form, she takes photographs of reflections and mirrorings on glass surfaces, condenses moments of everyday urban reality into complex motifs. It is rewarding to look very closely, for the images’ author leads—or better, leads astray– the spectator into her very own visual worlds, which, while existing as full reality at the moment of the shot, were only recordable in this form by a camera. In this context, photography appears to be the perfect medium for approaching a reality that is becoming more and more complex. In Stünkel’s work, the fleetingness of the moment is given contour and stability; her photography reveals the world’s beauty in a way that is barely perceptible otherwise. “Linger a while!”: Yes, it is true, to do this we no longer need – to use Goethe’s words – to have ourselves bound in bonds undying and bear our final ruin, as Faust says to Mephistopheles. But recognition of beauty always precedes its capturing: and this artist has long been an experienced perfectionist in finding and recognizing very special magic moments.

Franziska Stünkel has been working on the ongoing series “Coexist” for ten years. So far, she has traveled on four continents, and has published—and above all, exhibited—initial parts of the series in the recent past. Now, with the present book, the time has come for a synopsis. Never before has it been possible to take a look at the specific essence of the series in this amplitude. The first shots were taken in Asia in 2010; two years later, the next photographs were taken in Africa; and then, at further two-year intervals, in Europe and the Mediterranean region as well as, most recently, additions in America this year. But the years of the images’ creation are not relevant for this presentation after all, the artist is more concerned with the globe-encompassing impact of her concept. For this reason, countries and continents are deliberately blended and set in exciting relationships with one another. “Coexist” denotes the exuberant diversity of visual impressions from the journeys, the commonalities and similarities, as well as visible contrasts that clash in urban spaces. In Stünkel’s motifs, regional specificities or cultural traditions, along with globalized convergences of urban street scenes, are united with the individual phenomena and self-dramatizations of protagonists who appear in the images entirely by chance. “Mirrorings enable simultaneous life to get noticed. We all live in coexistence, sometimes even without consciously realizing it. I look for the visualization,” the photographer explains in an interview.

A Leica M9 is her constant, inconspicuous companion. While, at first sight, the photographer barely differs from other flâneurs, her trained eye on the surroundings at hand conveys a wholly divergent view. Stünkel has honed her swift response to any visually attractive situation to perfection. At the same time, it remains a mystery to the spectator how she always manages to stay invisible, not at all discernible, in the reflections in the images. Independence and freedom are important when she is taking photographs. In contrast to her work as a movie director, which is characterized by reliable teamwork above all, with her photographic excursions Stünkel has created independent creative latitude that is steered only by reacting to places and situations. She always travels alone and light, the camera coming along almost casually, hidden in a convenient bag. Only this way does she have the necessary freedom to react to her surroundings intuitively and with poise. Unlike most tourists, she is not interested in the sights or architectural specificities of the cities she travels to, but her gaze is turned solely toward the artistically relevant yet universal moments within the world’s metropolises. What is also remarkable is the fact that the images receive no post-editing at all. The objective is the image that happened in the moment. There is no further cropping or digital post-editing, no Photoshop, no retouching. The artist allows her photographs to exist as real factual portrayals, even though she was able to visualize this moment, and this moment only, using her camera.

Cities are the only suitable places for her series. The streets and squares of metropolises offer the necessary stages for the scenes and ingenious mirror motifs of “Coexist”. However, unlike the authors of traditional street photography, Stünkel has almost no interest in passers-by themselves or documenting street life, but elaborates a constant consolidation of different but simultaneous moments. Her street-photography strategy is definitely more complex than merely detecting the crucial moment. Complex image structure is used as a synonym of the multilayered urban space. These are no snapshots, but acutely perceived visual tableaus. In Stünkel’s motifs, reality is shaped into a sensitive form of abstraction. The composition that she saw is irretrievably lost in the next half-second. Her works’ most important creative features are the factors of light, transparency, and colors. Over and over again, it is astonishing how the photographed objects appear to lose their materiality and specific boundedness to the respective location, and take on new forms in an artistically fragile state.

There is something magical about this artist’s motifs. They shine, although these compositions made out of light and colors are not illuminated by any light source behind them, but the images themselves seem to emit an extraordinary radiance. This effect is intensified if one stands in front of the originals; after all, the surfaces of these photographs—which are rendered via the Diasec method—are likewise glossy reflective planes. In the same way that the natural reflections in the artist’s images link the exterior with the interior space, in the large pictures on display the spectator himself is woven into the motif with his own image.  The significance of the material aspect beyond technical data and pixels is all the more evident here: an image is not a picture—a counterpart for physical contemplation—until it has been given the right form.

Despite their initial apparent casualness, the artist has created works that make an impact and report very impressively on our present-day globalized world. While her motifs seem to be timeless and not very typical of any locality, their consistency ensures that they are an excellent mirror of our times after all. They depict a cross-section of modernity’s metropolises, an interplay of the many coexisting destinies of people living today and of the architecture and urban landscape that surround them. Employing the universal language of emotions, Franziska Stünkel creates her own, artistically extravagant visual worlds out of the locations’ initial strangeness. The series is therefore right up to date and emblematizes—perhaps more vividly than anything else—the attitude toward life of a globalized, dynamic generation of contemporary creative artists. Stünkel’s studio is the world. It is no surprise that the camera is her most important and preferred tool at the same time.