Achim Lippoth, Storytelling
It is said that childhood is synonymous with innocence and autonomy, freedom and timelessness, like a child’s birthday party—at least in our culture.
But it is difficult to present these emotions in a way that we can feel them. The Cologne-based photographer Achim Lippoth is one of the few who is in a position to do so.
It is remarkable that someone has dedicated himself to such a theme for decades. It is even more remarkable that the photographer has been publishing his own internationally distributed magazine, kid’s wear Magazine, for more than twenty years.
The magazine serves as a platform for his work and —because he has invited renowned colleagues such as Nan Goldin, Martin Parr, Jitka Hanzlová and Bruce Gilden to submit multipage editorials — at the same time as a forum for contemporary photography of children in general.
Children are patient models: already in the early days of the medium, they regularly appeared, but sometimes they are the complete opposite, namely, egocentric and unpredictable. As a photographer, you have to be prepared to improvise. When working with children, you have to make chance your accomplice and circumnavigate numerous clichés.
What we see here is exclusively Lippoth’s free work: various series, in both black-and-white and color, not chronologically arranged but in some cases already published and now reassembled as a book.
In the case of the portraits, for example, the children’s faces alternate between enthusiasm and obliviousness to their surroundings. Achim Lippoth reacts instantly and intuitively, but usually he is staging an idea planned in advanced with children chosen at casting calls.
He is in the middle of the action; the children whirl about him, and then he seems to remain a reserved, empathetic observer. Lippoth anticipates the sometimes clumsy, sometimes artistic movements of his young models. Famously, younger children bubble with energy and lust for life, only to withdraw inside at the next moment—thus the interaction suddenly turns into mere observation. We become witnesses to a creative dialogue between the young models and the photographer.
Lippoth records something of the deeds and dreams of children and teenagers, fascinating, loving, without voyeurism. His work is like a visual diary, even if the children depicted are not his own. He looks them in the face and into their soul, exemplifying in everyday scenes that touch or surprise us.
Lippoth sends us on a trip back in time to our own childhood and youth.
Lippoth’s photographic series in turn are not inspired by fashion and the zeitgeist, but instead have features of a reportage, even when the context in which the editorials are produced is different. When taken together, we encounter in Storytelling an autonomous narrative chronicle of childhood in the twenty-first century.
Lippoth’s photographs convey moods for both sides, for the viewers and the viewed equally. At once director, dramaturge, arranger, and cameraman in a personal union, he skillfully plays the keyboard of emotions; he captures moments of carefree childhood that he has cleverly staged. Nevertheless, photography’s traditional promise of reality is still felt. And it will feel familiar to anyone who has watched a child grow up, from birth to adolescence—as if watching the daily life of a child and simultaneously ourselves watching it.
The child’s curiosity when looking at the world is doubled by that of the photographer or that of the viewer of the photograph. Again and again we are astonished by the magic of the moment, for example, in one blackand-white photograph from the Camargue series: a boy is looking through a pane of glass, on the other side of which a girl, perhaps his sister, is looking back at him wordlessly and almost without emotion. His face is reflected in the pane in such a way that it seems to fuse with the female head—a symbol for the social bonds among peers or for the shared level of experience within the double portraits. Like the other photographs, it is arranged, which we seem almost to forget because of its authentic character. On another occasion in this series, Lippoth focuses on the hands of a child, who is playing with cowboy and Indian figures battling on a threshold. This imaginative state of having fallen out of time escapes many adults, and the question remains as to whether this magical feeling is possible in the sunlight only in childhood or at most during summer vacations.
When adults appear in the photographs, by the way, they plan only a subordinate role on the stage of timeless daily life. Lippoth’s title Storytelling alludes to the ambiguous relationship of the sometimes somewhat extended, out-of-touch-with-reality storytelling of children and the story that the photographer himself is telling with his pictures.
Lippoth has created a fictional long-term study that is staged in such an unspectacular and subtle way that seems—in our imagination—to correspond to reality.
The photographer draws us into the spell of the children’s gazes and of their inner worlds.
As we have to acknowledge again and again, life is not a child’s birthday party, but at least these photographs are a great present.
The exhibition Achim Lippoth, Storytelling will be open from the 19th of March until June 11 2017, at Erholungshaus in Leverkusen.
If you want to join the vernissage on Sunday 19/03 at 11 a.m. please call +49 214 30 41283 or email email@example.com
Achim Lippoth, Storytelling
19/03 – 11/06 2017
Nobelstraße 37, Leverkusen – Germany
Have a look at:
Text by Matthias Harder, Childhood as (Allegedly) Ideal Lifestyle, published in Achim Lippoth. Geschichten über das Kindsein / Storytelling, © Hatje Cantz, 2017
1. Achim Lippoth, Erwood
2. Achim Lippoth, Body of Water
3. Achim Lippoth, Insular State
4. Achim Lippoth, Ride off
5. Achim Lippoth, Camargue