Mirko Martin
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Texts
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A city of dreams and reality
Where is the Cinema?
Noir City
The Schizophrenic City
At the Intersection
Roles and Mysteries

Alex Gerbaulet
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At the Intersection in Front of House Number 55, or KOO KOO ROO
Reality Fiction in the Photographs of Mirko Martin
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An empty intersection. In the background, we see a red granite building on the corner, number 55. Yellow blinds on the windows. Red neon letters on the façade spell out KOO KOO ROO. Two palms stand in front of the buildings. All of the streetlights are red. In the foreground are two cars, which have just crashed into each other. The trunk of the rear car is severely dented. A bluish cloud still wafts around the front side of the second car. Shards are scattered about. In the front, oil flowing out of the cars runs across the whole intersection, out of the picture. The accident creates an odd contrast to the stillness conveyed by the rest of the photograph. It seems to have just happened, yet the two cars are both empty. No onlookers are present. Police and paramedics are also missing. It is an urban intersection, in mid-daylight. An accident has occurred, but the protagonists are not on the scene. (fig. 1)
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In his photo series L.A. Crash, Mirko Martin presents many places that we associate with the idea of crime scenes. (1) Not least because our visual experiences of film, television, and press have taught us how to categorize the scenes in terms of various media. However, Martin also plays with the prejudice that we still have regarding photography: what we see is what we believe. Only a second glance calls into doubt the authenticity of his photographs, guiding our attention to things in the images that might possibly be staged, so that we focus even more emphatically on their stories. (2)
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Since it is possible to say that most photographs are staged in one way or another, Christine Walter prefers a narrower definition in her book, Bilder erzählen! (3) According to Walter, Inszenierte Fotografie, or staged photography, does not simply pursue the staged moments that are more or less inherent in all photographs. Rather, dramatic staging is employed as a means of expression, which means that the photo takes on a closer relationship to both theater and film. In Walter’s book, the German word Inszenierung—in this context, translated as “staging”—is used as recent dramatic theory would use it to describe the entire act of presentation (stage, light, performers, etc.). The people portrayed seem to take on roles within the staging, as it were. The people Martin presents in L.A. Crash also seem like actors in a story. (4)
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However, there are no people at all in the photograph described above, and this seems to increase the tension, since we automatically wonder what has happened. Martin writes that many of these photographs were taken on film sets in and around Los Angeles. (5) This explains the strong composition of the scenes, their dramatic lighting, and the locales without any people. Besides the artificial settings, Martin also took documentary photos of the areas surrounding the film shoots. The question of which photographs document actual places and which are staged is left open. Our habitual ways of seeing, our trained eye, our knowledge of culture, film, and photography are all directly addressed, and consequently, the pictures remind us of something. For a moment, we do not care if the images we see are staged or not. Regardless of how staged Martin’s photographs are, they are always full of codes that we can decipher. (6) Something happens, an essential moment is captured—and moments, after all, are still always magical. We believe that they contain something authentic; despite everything, something has been included in the image that has not been planned, a tiny element of the now! That’s the way it is. The automobile accident, at least, did actually occur. (7)
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So are we always reading certain truths out of things, such as the actual film within the film stills, even though the film itself is a staged sort of reality? (8) Or do we read the actual crimes behind the crime scene photos? The real emotions and relationships behind the poses and gestures? Is that why staged photographs have such a strong effect, and, in their own way, seem like fragments of truth—because they correspond so strongly to our cultural memory? After an event has occurred, it is primarily the gestures taken from the event that continue to be quoted, while they apparently manage to maintain something of the occurrence itself. Mirko Martin passes these gestures on to us once again, as citations, as film sets that have been photographed yet again, as recordings documenting how reality is made.
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1 On the other hand, it is interesting to look at actual crime scene photos taken in Los Angeles, such as pictures from the Los Angeles Police Department archives. In turn, these photographic documents recall scenes from films and contain strong allusions to film noir, probably not least because many photographers who are paid by the police for these pictures also work in film. “Like all photographs, their meaning can also change over time; seen in other contexts, they gain a new meaning—of the documentation of the composition, of the evidence of the work?” (for more on this, see The Art of Archive, Fotografien aus dem Archiv des LAPD, catalogue, Zurich 2005)
2 Later, the crime scene photo also has to be called just that, described as just that. Otherwise, it might not be recognized as a crime scene. At the same time, this moment of description is also a fiction that tells the story of the picture, even though it might be a “true” story. So the viewer creates the image, whereas the camera simply records or captures it.
3 Christine Walter, Bilder erzählen!, Munich 2001
4 Whereas Martin’s photographs often have a narrative turn and consciously plant doubts about the truth of the scenes they depict, the plots of his videos are very minimal and, in their precise observation, usually deal mostly with the gestures of the characters. Yet here, too, the people are not simply presented, but seem to play certain roles, especially in Javi, where the people, seen against a black background, look like actors on a stage, seemingly following directions given by an invisible director. Or the young guys putting on a tough act in Flow, where slow motion exaggerates their gestures and poses, and they are trapped in their youthful heterotopia.
5 Los Angeles is a city that has been filmed and photographed a great deal—each image of it has already been conveyed through some sort of media. The title of Martin’s photo series, L.A. Crash, also refers to the episodic 2004 film, Crash, which was released for the German-speaking market (and only for that market) as L.A. Crash. The director was Paul Haggis, who also wrote the screenplay. The first scene is of a car accident, which then involves policeman Graham Waters and his partner, Ria, who have been called to investigate a murder at a site where the accident takes place.
6 Paradoxically, the surplus of possible meanings and interpretations is what creates their authentic value (because then each picture becomes an individual experience for the viewer—in this respect, we are cannibals).
7 Derrida says, “To talk about an event means to tell what is . . . to describe the historical events as they have occurred . . .” and adds, “It is known that the techniques for directly reproducing words and images in the same measure that they develop also interpret, select, and therefore create the event, instead of simply portraying it.” Jacques Derrida, Eine gewisse unmögliche Möglichkeit, vom Ereignis zu sprechen, Merve Verlag Berlin 2003. Published in English as “A Certain Impossible Possibility of Saying the Event,” The Late Derrida, edited by W. J. T. Mitchell and Arnold I. Davidson, University of Chicago Press, Chicago 2007.
8 The advantage of reconstructed, or staged, photos (and films): they show things that cannot or could not actually be shown; they see what cannot be seen—impossible testimony. See, for example, Nick Waplington’s photographs, which reconstruct scenes of suicide and homicide, and thus refer to real events.

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in: Mirko Martin - scenic, exhibition catalog Städtische Galerie Eichenmüllerhaus, Lemgo/Germany 2008