Interview with Wolfgang Scheppe
Sarah Rosenbaum / Venice / 0|1|2003
- How did you become involved in the Endcommercial® project?
WS: With a background in Europe living in NY we have more of a distance to phenomenons that are subsumed under normality by the common perception. It was natural for us to document these facts and objects. We were not interested in the singular, the unique and the picturesque, but in generic processes and developments of the city and society as long as they emerge as visible facts.
- Since Endcommercial® is a collaborative effort, what individual roles did each participant play in its production?
WS: The photos were done by all the three authors. The concept of the book, the editing and the layout was conceived by Wolfgang Scheppe and Florian Böhm.
- How do you understand the significance of digital photography to this project, and to general photographic practice today?
WS: With Endcommercial® a new way of aesthetic production is evolving. What we organized was a kind of photographic field work in a mechanical manner. What we did was similar to what a scanner does: mechanically registering the streets block by block. It was resulting in a mass production of a very large number of pictures. This put a high relevance in the organization, the structuralization, the taxonomy and the classification of the photos. The scope of the aesthetic act was in the archival work not in the moment of taking the picture. A mass production like this could not be done with conventional chemical photography. At least due to costs. The mass production was based on data compression algorithms and mobile data storage (1 Gigabyte Microdrive equivalent with up to 10000 pictures). The other qualities of digital photography that affected the project was immediate availability of the picture and a certain lack of obligation: the physical instability of the picture data - it can be erased - stimulates a technique of trial and error.
- Approximately how many images are now in the database?
WS: More then 100.000.
- Was the project always conceived of as a combination of exhibitions, a book, and a website? How do you view the interplay between these three parts?
WS: No. We are mainly interested in the form of the book. A book is a private situation in which a singular reader is confronted with a singular page at a time and the picture on the specific page is situated in a defined linearity of pictures. We tried to translate this set up into space when we were asked to do exhibitions in museums. It was not an easy thing because museum space is public not private and hanging pictures on a wall puts them in a simultaneity of perception and values the single picture. We are not interested in the aesthetic quality of a picture out of context. We are interested in the relation, the coherence and the grammar of pictures. We want to formulate a syntactic structure of signs and pictures. So it was not easy to conceive the form of exhibition that we developed for the Storefront event in NY and kept since as the system for public articulation of Endcommercial®. Up until now we never showed single pictures in commercial galleries. The website is an organizational framework and administration of the project.
- Also, the exhibitions and book were from 2002, but when did you launch the website?
WS: Synchronously with the publication of the book.
- What artists/photographers/etc. would you cite as influences on Endcommercial®?
WS: Influences from the history of arts are not particularly relevant for us. What we do has an informal character. It is about the representated not the representation. Possibly scientific and ethnological photography and Claude Levy-Strauss has some relevance. The main influence is the device itself: the product line of electronic consumer goods. Digital cameras by japanese makers. Nikon, Canon, Sony.
- What relationship do you see between the charts (text) and the images (especially in the book)?
WS: Reconstructing the logical context and infrastructure of types of objects.
- Also, could you please explain the chart that links the subsections to areas of the city? For example, “Corporate Monuments” links up to “5th Avenue,” and it looks like all of those photos are from the 5th Ave. area; at the same time, “Fading Markets” links up to “Brooklyn” and some of those photos are from the Lower East Side. Is it just a general guideline? How did you come up with the grid (A to E across, 1 to 17 down)? Why are some of the titles (“A Barrier,” “Police Line Do Not Cross,” “Shop Watch,” etc.) in black font, while others (“Tape,” “Blue City,” “Steel,” etc.) are in tan? What are the blank boxes (e.g. E5-E9) for?
WS: This was ironically quoting situationist traditions. Guy Debord etc.. The map of NY has moments of a generic composition of every modern first world metropolis. There is a PRADA store in every big city, a 5th Avenue in every city and a Red Hook in every city. Tan font is for phenomenons that are ubiquitous. Black stands for endemic and local phenomena. The logical structure is important, the topographical structure is more ironic.
- Especially given some of the subtitles of the different sections, do you see humor as being important to/part of the project?
WS: Yes. Humor is an element of understanding.
- Why choose to forgo printing page numbers in the book?
WS: There is. You just did not see it. It is only printed in a light color on the bottom of the opening pages of each chapter. We are planning to publish a text appendix. But the connection between a picture and its comment should happen in a way, that people have to situate the single picture in its context. I.e. have to flick through the whole chapter to find the specific picture.
- The images in the exhibitions were all from New York, as are the images in the book. I noticed, however, on the most recent Daily Digital Slum (12/28/02), that there were some pictures that were definitely not taken in New York. Has Endcommercial® always included photos from other cities, or is this something new? Why was New York chosen as the focus of this project?
WS: The images in the book are not all from NY. To substantiate our hypothesis of the generic city we blended in pictures of other cities. Cities that are not supposed to be any similar or easy to be confused with NY. There is a substantial number of pictures from Venice, Italy in the book. A city that is held in high esteem for its uniqueness. The broad understanding of Endcommercial® as a project on NY proved that nearly nobody mentioned the difference even if it is quite obvious.
- Given that the exhibition photos were all from New York, did you feel that the New York Storefront show was somehow special or different than the other shows? Was the exhibition received differently (public, press, etc.) in New York than in other cities?
WS: There was a big difference. The Storefront is located in the middle of the area of our daily shootings for years and years. People that are objects of the photos walked by and even walked in. The representation and the represented got mixed up. Yes, it was received differently than in Rome, Berlin, Paris. There is a lot to say about this.
- Is Endcommercial® still an ongoing project? If so, how do you envision its future?
WS: Yes it is an ongoing project.
- Also, could you please just confirm for me that none of the images were manipulated.
WS: There are three photos that are staged. The twins are part of an installation about identity/diversity. The are not just twins but meta-twins. I.e. they run a twin restaurant, the website www.twinworld.com an so on. We asked them to stay in front of a closed store with the inscription “unity”. The other photo is Luca holding the old Lombardi Pizzeria sign in his hands in the Voice chapter. It is the address of Florian and my apartment in NY. The traffic pagers saying “Endcommercial” and “Sacra Conversazione” were reprogrammed by us. (“Sacra Conversazione” is a type of renaissance picture with Maria surrounded by saints. Nobody ever talks in this pictures. People even don’t see each other.) Everything else is “Dogma”. Empirical documentation of found situations.