Sebastian Riemer, Front Page Back End
Sebastian Riemer: Front Page Back End
Aug 13 – Oct 1, 2023
Sammlung Philara
Düsseldorf, Germany

The Philara Collection is pleased to present Front Page Back End, a selection of photographs by Sebastian Riemer. This exhibition shows works from his Press Paintings series, which focuses on retouched press photos from 1950s America and references the canon of characters featured in the popular press of that era. These photographs raise questions on the inclusion and exclusion of images in the media, and on the economy of image processing, where similar criteria still apply today.

The 1950s was an era when journalism, particularly in regard to context journalism and image processing, underwent lasting change. As well as printing representations of the politicians, musicians and actors of the day, at this time, figures notable for their attainments in the fields of sport, fashion or beauty were also deemed ‘worthy of portrayal’. These images were used and reused many times in reports, and were frequently heavily edited by retouchers, most of whom were women. Riemer’s extensive collection of original, edited for print, press photographs, from dissolved newspaper archives, which he buys online, is an integral element of his work. He meticulously selects images to highlight aspects of visibility and cropping, ‘beautification’ by retouching, strategic image manipulation, and falsification. By enlarging these retouched black-and-white photographic images, Riemer reveals their original, highly strategically positioned, painterly interventions, rendered invisible in the print media by the halftone process of that time, and brings them back into our visual field.

It is no coincidence that these images also make statements on the canon of the economy of the image: among Riemer’s selections we discover, for example, the curtailed physical strength of a Black boxer (Boxer (Bruce), 2016), and a female archer (Archer (Tenney), 2020), who has been given a beautifying retouch that is irrelevant to her athletic power. In contrast, a soldier has had his weapon of systemic and concrete violence removed from the image (Sergeant (Gun), 2014). In one of the images Riemer has chosen, the only celebrity photographed has also been removed, in favour of a younger woman; he holds an hourglass that might well indicate that his time has run out (Timely Topic, 2015).