Photographers and artists such as Mike Mandel, Bruce Davidson, Alec Soth, and Kirill Golovchenko feature in a group show on hobbies and photography
“The Hobbyist is the first major exhibition to explore the relationship between photography and hobby culture, focussing both on the photography of hobbies and photography as a hobby,” write curators Pierre Hourquet, Anna Planas and Thomas Seelig of the forthcoming show at the Fotomuseum Winterthur, The Hobbyist – Hobbies, Photography and the Hobby of Photography, which opens on 08 September.
It’s a fair but also deceptively simple summary of this intriguing show, which is backed up by a busy events programme and a magazine (in place of a catalogue). “A phenomenon as diverse and participatory as the hobby can hardly be tackled through a classical exhibition alone,” write the curators, and the magazine reflects some of this diversity, including images by photographers such as Alberto Garcia-Alix, Bruce Davidson, Alec Soth, Mike Mandel, Ricardo Cases, and Kirill Golovchenko, vintage adverts for TVs, cameras and videotape recorders, an extract from Theodore W Adorno’s test The Culture Industry, a Q&A with Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane on their Folk Archive, and essays by contemporary cultural theorists such as Olivia Baeriswyl, Therese Steffen, and Doris Gassert.
As the curators state, photography features both as a hobby, and as the means through which other hobbies are recorded – but the latter is also complicated in their hands. Olivia Baeriswyl contributes an essay titled Free Time for Sale – The Hobbyist in Advertising, for example, which considers how supposedly free time is managed and orchestrated by advertising images that push certain leisure pursuits. Doris Gassert offers up a text titled Between Work, Play, and Attention – Hobbies/Images under Digital Conditions, meanwhile, which looks at the use of photography in the age of social media. Not only do images and images of hobbies become commodified and monetised online through sponsored posts and marketing, states Gassert, the pastime itself becomes image-driven.
“When the Russian photographer Alexander Remnev scales the highest skyscrapers and cranes a city has to offer without any safety gear and equipped with only a smartphone and a selfie stick, then it is not just about capturing the breathtaking photographic views of the urban landscape, but above all about the spectacularly staged demonstration of life and survival,” she writes, later adding: “The thrill of ‘roofing’ or ‘skywalking’ lies not only in its life-threatening challenge and illegality, but also in the photographic image’s promise of fame and media immortality.”
As these texts suggest, at the heart of the Winterthur exhibition lies an essential question about the hobby – whether hobbies suggest work, play, or something in-between, and what “free time” is in the context of paid labour. For Adorno, writing in the mid-20th century, “free time is nothing more than a shadowy continuation of labour”; for Gassert, writing in the early 21st century, “under digital conditions, both work and play function according to capitalist, neo-liberal rules whose mechanisms we have yet to decipher”. Photography’s place in all this, makes for a fascinating, disturbing proposition.
Hobbies, Photography and the Hobby of Photography is on show at the Fotomuseum Winterthur from 08 September – 28 January 2018. www.fotomuseum.ch