The archives of Lothar Wolleh hold over 900 negatives of Joseph Beuys. A mammoth number that testifies to a fruitful period of collaboration and shared interests in the early 1970s. With portraits, recordings of Beuys’s performances and photographs of the ‘artist at work’, this is possibly the richest photographic documentation of Joseph Beuys by a single photographer.
It was in 1970 that Joseph Beuys decided upon a one-time re-enactment of Filtz TV, which he had first performed in Copenhagen in 1966. This time it was staged exclusively for the cameras of photographer Lothar Wolleh and filmmaker Gerry Schum, whose recording was broadcast on German television that year. Wolleh’s selected sequence of 16 photographs of the performance is unique. Its narrative character gives the series the status of a ‘photographic polyptych’, yet each image – in keeping with Wolleh’s conceptions of photography – also stands on its own. This first acquaintance with Joseph Beuys proved to be a fruitful ground for projects in the years that followed.
Lothar Wolleh took one of the most iconic photographic portraits of Joseph Beuys, a portrait that is now part of the collection of London’s Tate Modern gallery. Wolleh was able to achieve the extraordinary size of this gelatin silver print, no less than 233 by 227.5 cm, by using canvas as a support – at the time a rather innovative procedure. This particular photo is part of a larger series, conceived in 1971. In the early days of that year, Lothar Wolleh took the initiative of accompanying the Beuys family to Stockholm, where Beuys was to install his first museum exhibition outside Germany at the Moderna Museet, and Wolleh conceived the idea of portraying the artist at work, during the setting up of the exhibition.
Comprehensive Understanding of Art
Wolleh brought these ‘Stockholm photos’ together in his artist’s book Beuys. Eine Dokumentation von Lothar Wolleh, conceived in 1971. The photos also led to a joint initiative, the publication of the so-called Unterwasserbuch, consisting of 51 of Wolleh’s photos, printed on PVC, with the addition of a multiple by Beuys. The project was never completed due to technical problems, although a number of copies of the book do exist. But Wolleh’s photographs on PVC did get an ‘afterlife’ as 3 Tonnen Edition (1973) – referring to the total weight of the sheets intended to be bound as Unterwasserbuch – as some of them were individually ‘overworked’, signed and stamped by Beuys. Joseph Beuys also created a composite work in a limited edition also entitled Unterwasserbuch (1972), consisting of Lothar Wolleh’s book produced in PVC and a metal torch, immersed in a basin of water.
What connected Joseph Beuys and Lothar Wolleh was their broad, comprehensive understanding of art in a programmatic as well as a conceptual sense. The rich variety of Lothar Wolleh’s photographs testifies to the unique ‘working relationship’ between these two artists.