Gallery Talk with Guido Klumpe

Born with a severe congenital visual impairment, German photographer Guido Klumpe perceives the world differently.

The most frequent question you are asked is how you can actually see what you are photographing?

As I am blind in my left eye and have only 25% vision on the right, I see the world differently and perhaps comparable to a video with a heavily reduced pixel count. Although I am able to recognize a single face, faces in the crowd become ovals consisting of lines and dots. I have no way of knowing what my work would have looked like if I had normal vision but, creatively speaking, I have a tendency towards a minimalist visual language, leaving out anything superfluous. However, my style of photography is not solely explained by my visual experience as I am also keenly interested in focusing on what is essential in creating an image. I only photograph what I am interested in and try to push boundaries by not showing everything. To create images that leave something to the imagination and invite the viewer to question what they are seeing and inspire them to walk the streets more mindfully and enjoy the beautiful shapes and colors that surround us.

Tell us more about your background and what inspired you to become an artist and photographer.

I first became seriously interested in photography during a trip to Southeast Asia. When I tried to enroll in photography programs to advance my skills, I was seriously discouraged to pursue a career as an artist and photographer, due to my visual impairment. I was so upset and disheartened by this experience that I became a social worker. It wasn’t until years later, when I saw a documentary about New York street photographers, that I recalled my own happy experience of taking photographs. So I bought a new camera and went back on the streets.

What fascinates you about cities?

To me cities are like urban landscapes made up of shapes, colors, and light. I enjoy highlighting the mystery and absurdity of urban spaces and reveal their hidden beauty. I use perspective and the poetry of chance in the old tradition of street photography, to create my compositions. These elements allow me to create a "stage" in which passers-by act as protagonists. The overarching theme is the tension between urban architecture and its inhabitants. I like to travel to cities known for their extraordinary architecture that have unusual buildings in beautiful colors that can be easily abstracted. In my work, I investigate how we perceive dimensionality and am particularly interested in the moment of transition, when by reducing the optical reference points, three-dimensional architecture dissolves into a two-dimensional plane. Considerations that arise during this process include the importance of information that helps establish a distinction between the foreground and background and the type of objects involved.

Did the pandemic lockdown influence your work?

My current series People in Urban Landscapes is in response to the pandemic. When it hit, I was working on a series that explored the tension between urban spaces and their inhabitants. But with the lockdown, people disappeared from the streets which made me examine architecture differently. I live in Hanover and prefer to roam through its outer districts, where there are many average looking but colorfully designed buildings and shopping centers. By using certain angles, I can superimpose different levels of buildings. By “cropping” an image, I reduce any visual clues transforming three-dimensional buildings into something that hovers between the concrete and abstract, resulting in a photographic image that could be described as painterly.

Are there artists that have influenced your work?

As painterly qualities are detectable in my work they perhaps reference painters such as Mondriaan, Rothko, and Edward Hopper.