Torsten Hattenkerl’s “Autoportraits”

Torsten Hattenkerl has just released a new book called “Autoportraits”, from Fotohof. It’s one of those rare, successful combinations of street & conceptual photography. The photographs may be posed, but they’re taken on the street, and while they’re stationary, they have the feel of a chance, brief (and perhaps illicit) encounter.

Plus, as a categorization of something/someone who’s still, rather than in passing, they accrue a formal power in their aggregate. Torsten doesn’t have a site up, and I haven’t found a place (online) where the book is purchasable in the US, yet, but it’s available in the UK. RamPub is the US distributor, and I wrote some text about Autoportraits for their catalog, which I’ve copied below.

Dörmbach (by whileseated)
from Torsten Hattenkerl’s “Autoportraits”

Silke (by Torsten Hattenkerl)
from Torsten Hattenkerl’s “Autoportraits”

Andi (by Torsten Hattenkerl)
from Torsten Hattenkerl’s “Autoportraits”

In a world of camera ubiquity and digital overload, Torsten Hattenkerl’s Autoportraits are a refreshing step forward for the European photographic tradition. A future of portraits. People in poses. Eschewing the exactitude of the current European affinity for large-format detail, Hattenkel’s portraits of car owners (with the object of their affection) have a warm familiarity while they propose a larger statement about a nation of one.

These 37 color plates of people standing in front of their cars are as modern as they are retro, while Hattenkerl’s subjects are as brilliantly individual as they are terrifyingly uniform. The pictures ask “Who are we?” while answering “Who are we without our cars?”

Seventy years after August Sander, the traffic of everyday life has moved off of the sidewalk and onto freeways, while the world of advertisements urges us to believe we’re nothing without our vehicle(s). Hattenkerl’s trained his sharp eye on the confluence of culture and cars while executing a brilliantly simple concept. If we are no one without our cars – who exactly are we?

MDM, for RamPub

Full disclosure, I helped edit the book’s opening essay, as well. And for you gearheads, Hattenkerl made the photographs with a regular old 35mm camera and Kodak 400NC film, which proves if you have a good idea, pursue it, shoot it, and get it out there, regardless of whether or not you have the perfect camera.

9 thoughts on “Torsten Hattenkerl’s “Autoportraits””

  1. I’m sorry, but I see nothing special about these photos, nor do I believe they say much. So, he’s doing a pun on a term. I don’t think that’s enough to support a whole book. 80 or 100 years ago it may have been a clever idea, as artists broke conventions that had been in place for hundreds of years, but today it falls a little flat.

  2. I’m not sure what the above poster is trying to say about how things should be today, but this little project is certainly not that bad. I find photo #2 quite beautiful in a certain peaceful way, and the concept of “me and my car” to be quite interesting, relating to that of “my house is my castle” in my mind. Just for the heck of it, here’s my perhaps unwanted opinion: This should have been medium format at the very least. Take that!

  3. What I am getting at that in terms of subject, composition and emotional impact I find these images very lacking.

    There is a fine line between what works and doesn’t work when you are doing this very minimalist style. If it goes wrong it can either look like a shot from an IKEA catalog or one of the gazillion shots that are processed everyday at 1-hour photos or grabbed digitally and are of little or no photographic value.

    I think one guy who is getting this minimalist look it right is Christopher Morris. Click over to the VII Photo site and take a look at ‘Auto America ‘. Much stronger compositions that turns a mundane subject into a piece of graphic art and capture a mood. And he doesn’t even have any people in his shots.

  4. I looked at christophermorris.com and found a photographer who only does editorial and corporate photography, both quite specialized areas that are not very interesting to me. None of his photos were what I would call minimalist. But perhaps there is another Chris Morris out there.
    The Auto America series on VII site does indeed some nice shots, but overall it does not appear to be a very consistent or systematic body of work. I suppose Chris Morris can make a nicer edit of the series later on; right now the minimalism you were talking about shows up in only two or three of his photos.

  5. Christophermorris.com is the wrong guy. As I mentioned I’m talking about Christopher Morris from VII.

    Take a look at several pieces of Morris’ (VII) work. As far as I know he began experimenting with this style around the time he started shooting the White House for TIME. His book “My America” works a lot better than the car series.

    I agree that Morris could have edited ‘Auto America’ tighter. I probably would have dumped about 6 of those shots. But I find that the Morris shots that work, are better than the three shots from “Autoportraits”.

  6. Autoportraits leaves me a tad cold. I agree, the pun or play on words that is the title is sort of annoying. Maybe flipping through the book I’d feel differently. I prefer the series by Morris, the total opposite of Martin Parr’s Last Parking Space. To bring things full circle, you could take Parr’s Love Cubes approach, where you try to match the person to their car.

  7. I’ve never been a fan of conceptual art. You can have an interesting idea but , in my opinion, the images also have to succeed as individual images. I think these images offer very little of interest. I’m sorry to be so negative, I haven’t seen the book, I think the images to analytical/cold.

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