Practice seeing with relish

Elfie Semotan. Position and Pose

Elfie Semotan, Self Portrait, 2020 © Elfie Semotan Courtesy: Studio Semotan

Is photography an art or a skill? It doesn’t really matter – the question does not arise in regard to the diverse oeuvre of Elfie Semotan. Under the title “Posture and Pose”, Kunst Haus Wien is dedicating an extensive retrospective to Elfie Semotan on the occasion of her 80th birthday until 29 August 2021. A visit to the exhibition is worthwhile, as it proves that photography can do more than the flood of images we swipe across our screens day after day.

Elfie Semotan, dancing story 307971.c2 #11 001

Even the first glance makes it clear that this is not a classic retrospective. The photographs are not arranged chronologically or according to thematic groups, but according to visual and thematic impressions. A very personal selection, that Elfie Semotan made together with the curators: “I started lining up photos on the wall in my studio, without regard to date, belonging to a series or other classifications,” says the sympathetic photographer, who comes across as both energetic and pragmatic. The joy of viewing and selecting remains visible during a visit to the exhibition. We see fashion photography, portraits, landscapes and “still lifes” as Semotan calls shots of static motifs.

Elfie Semotan, o.T. (Madonna mit Hunden Renaissance), 2005 © Elfie Semotan Courtesy: Studio Semotan

Upon entering the room, the photograph of a young woman in a blue dress catches the eye: colours, folds, composition – a modern Sistine Madonna flanked by pug-dogs instead of angels. Next to the almost life-size fashion Madonna hangs a small black-and-white photograph by Louise Bourgeois in the spotlight. Elfie Semotan is very fond of artists. The photographer was married to the artists Kurt Kocherscheidt and Martin Kippenberger. It was clear to Semotan at a young age that a bourgeois life simply did not suit her. That’s why, after attending fashion school, she turned her back on Austria to go to Paris with no money and lots of idealism. For a few years Semotan worked as a mannequin before she fulfilled her dream and switched behind the camera. Now her passion became her profession. Back in Austria, she gained a foothold in fashion and advertising photography; her campaigns for Römerquelle and Palmers are still well remembered by many. In addition, Semotan, who has lived in Vienna, New York and Jennersdorf/Burgenland, established herself as a fashion photographer of international standing. Her fashion series appeared in renowned fashion magazines such as Vogue, i-D, Elle, Esquire, Marie Claire and others.

Elfie Semotan, Vivien Solari (Life Moves Fast) New York, 2000/2008 © Elfie Semotan

Semotan’s closeness to art and its creators is not only expressed in numerous portraits of artists. She often finds inspiration in art history. She photographed the star model Vivien Solari crouching on the floor in “Live moves fast” inspired by Jeff Wall”, a fox terrier flies into the picture much like the gush of milk in Jeff Wall’s “Milk”.

“Posture and pose” is both the title and the central theme of the show. The fact that these two intentions are not always easy to distinguish becomes clear at the latest in a series of portrait photos: between a great deal of posture, for example that of Elfriede Jelinek and Johanna Dohnal in the legendary b/w portrait, the fashion photography of a coquettish pose à la Marilyn has slipped in. An exhibition that is worth to be experienced. At Kunst Haus Wien, you can currently practice seeing with relish.

(Barbara Libert)

Martin Kleid slide 001
Elfie Semotan o.T. Marfa Texas, 2016/2020, Elfie Semotan © Studio Semotan
Elfie Semotano.T. (Inspiriert von Diane Arbus), Americana, Wien, 2018/2020© Elfie Semotan, Courtesy: Studio Semotan
Elfie SemotanCordula Reyer (Puszta), Hungary, 1990/2013© Elfie Semotan, Courtesy: Studio Semotan