Michael Schnabel is known for testing the limits of the visual with his photography. In his series "Stille Berge" (Silent Mountains) and in other work from the series "Nachtstücke" (At Night), he eschews the use of light to let darkness illuminate wondrously sublime landscapes. In an exposure time of roughly an hour, his large-format camera extracts just the amount of light required to capture an image of a mountain like the Bristen in the meagre light allowed by the darkness.
It is readily apparent that Michael Schnabel is not given to any romantic longing whatever for reproducing simple beauty or majestic scenery. His mountains, oceans, the museums or photos of the sky and clouds in no way assemble ´postcard art´. The offset prints in the catalogue only hint at the quality of the photos displayed in the exhibition. Like paintings, Schnabel´s work has to be seen in the original. That is essential.
Mountains, water, the sky as well as more recently the museum interiors are favorite motifs of Schnabel the photographer. Light and its absence constitute the formal framework of his photos, each of which is a visual phenomenon. His aim is not to project a scenic panorama, but to concentrate on absolutely pure photography that speaks for itself, uninterruptedly. If we disregard the motifs in viewing his works from an epistemological perspective, we can appreciate how Michael Schnabel dissociates himself from the objects on which he trains his lens. The object is never eliminated but its objective reality questioned.
As Michael Schnabel once explained in an interview: "I wanted to create an image of the mountains that stands out from any contemplated previously."
This contrast with a conventional photographic approach leads into the world of abstract photography. Nature, on whose physical phenomena Schnabel depends, is just a vehicle for his art. It appears in a distinct light-ambience, which hides more than it reveals. The mountain is reduced to a fascinating close-up. But what do we learn about the mountains, their location and the vegetation on the lower slopes?
These are not close-up photos, which help us identify nature in a specific location.
Apart from any epistemological perspective, one can summarize about these photos: It is their otherness that makes them fascinating. This photography portrays itself. That is how it relates substantially to paintings. If they were painted, these pictures would lose their authenticity. These photographs are elemental. They are.
Tayfun Belgin, Art Historian and Director, Osthaus Museum, Hagen