Heinz Peter Knes

very near-sighted but unspectacled

On October 13th, 2023, Duane Thomas Gallery will open its new solo exhibition featuring Heinz Peter Knes, titled “very near-sighted but unspectacled.” This singular installation comprises 57 photographs selected from the artist’s analog archive, dating from the 1990s to 2010.

In his newly published series of essays from Is-Land Paris titled “Heinz Peter Knes Correspondances” Knes reflects, “The more I looked at my contact sheets, the more I found myself fixated on the failed shots and questioning the ones I had initially preferred.”
The photographs, all printed on black and white 8×10 silver gelatin sheets and mounted in a single line against the wall with glass, challenge photography’s capacity to provoke judgment. “The mistake,” whether it be a failed photo session, a project gone awry, a regret, or a practical mishap, is here presented as an opportunity for seeing both up close and from a distance. Within this preternatural range of examination, Knes discovered a spectrum ripe for unexpected and liberating discoveries. He writes, “For the type of photography that interests me, intuition is crucial. What has always intrigued me about photography is that an image arrives at the viewer as a possibility— an uncertain and open entity.”

Heinz Peter Knes, very near -sighted but unspectacled, 2023. Installation detail. Image courtesy the artist and Duane Thomas Gallery.

This endeavor, far from a strictly formal enterprise, serves as a discreet examination of conscience for an artist who has explored the role of photography as a diary, document, and archive since his active years in Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In this series, the photographs vary in their function as “outfits,” and the aura projected by “not fitting in” is significant for Knes, who once claimed that Pasolini had influenced him deeply. Some images, at first glance, appear as abstract compositions with grainy surfaces, reminiscent of scientific imaging. They evoke the possibility of another plane, or an entirely different world (doubt and uncertainty pervade this body of work). Other images are sharp and descriptive: a house, a grand stone staircase, a group of attendees at an art show. It becomes apparent that these images, when inquired about, have some connection to corruption (the staircase built for Hitler’s speech but never used, the house that was once a synagogue raided during WWII, and the controversial art show associated with a fortune built in the Nazi era). Other works, sometimes slightly out of focus, depict people: a group of teenagers removing a license plate, a kindergarten student throwing a fit, a young woman with a stitched forehead, a young man clenching his fists in contemplation, an actress seemingly posing for a photo op.

In these portraits, there’s a subtle unease, as if the photographs were not meant to be taken or displayed.

Knes, an avid reader and writer of essays on photography, is well aware of the medium’s relationship to indexability and truth. In “Camera Lucida,” Barthes refers to Eidos in Plato’s “Theory of Form” as the origin of a myth that would link photography to a realm outside of the mind. While entirely dismissive of this possibility, Barthes embraces the myth and its potential for understanding photography as a medium. In many ways, Knes performs a similar breach of faith in this new installation by inviting viewers to see what cannot be explained, articulated, and, to a greater extent, observed. The absence of intentionality imbues the work with a dark and prophetic mood.

Heinz Peter Knes, born in 1969 in Gemünden am Main,Germany, currently resides and works in Berlin. He graduated from Fachhochschule Dortmund in 1999 and gained recognition through a series of photographs depicting rural German adolescence titled “E.M.T. in MSP” in the early 2000s. This project was published in its entirety by Edition Taubein 2021. Knes engaged in collaborative work such as with artist Dahn Vo, culminating in several museum exhibitions, including a highly acclaimed show at the South London Gallery in 2019. In 2021, “Gesture Studies” was exhibited at Duane Thomas Gallery in New York, exploring human typology and differences. The work has since become part of the collection at Berlinische Galerie. Knes is also recognized for various collaborative project involving different archives, such as “Hannah Arendt’s Library” (Where The Lions Are:2012; with Danh Vo and Amy Zion), “IMU-UR2” (Galerie Buchholz; 2013; with Danh Vo, Julie Ault, featuring the collections of Martin Wong and Florence Wong Fie), and “Der Weltrevolutionäre Prozess seit Karl Marx und Friedrich Engels bis in die Gegenwart” (BOM DIA BOA TARDE BOA NOITE: 2019; with Dominikus Müller). Knes has been featured in numerous international publications and co-founded the photo fanzine “Strahlung” in 1998.