Julian Schnabel (b. 1951) became famous in the 1980s as a vigorously gestural Neo-Expressionist painter. The Hague Museum of Photography
is now the first museum anywhere in the world to present eighty large-format Polaroid photographs that reveal a completely different side of the artist. Schnabels photographic work transports the viewer into his studios and into the midst of his famous friends and family. His moody, almost impressionist images turn the personal into art. Many of the photographs are in black-and-white or sepia, creating a nostalgic, almost romantic atmosphere recalling that of the films he has directed with such success since the 1990s, including Basquiat (1996) and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007).
Between 2002 and 2006, Schnabel photographed his immediate surroundings using a rare, hand-made Polaroid camera dating from the 1970s. The extraordinary thing about this camera is its format: it is the size of a refrigerator and produces instant photos measuring approximately 20 x 24 inches. For years, Schnabel took it with him, recording anything that caught his eye: his family and friends, his work on show in galleries or in his studios in Montauk, New York, and the interior of his New York home, the extravagant Palazzo Chupi in Manhattans Lower West Side, which he designed and decorated himself.
The most impressive pictures are the probing self-portraits and the images of family and friends, including Mickey Rourke, Christopher Walken and Lou Reed, who allowed themselves to be snapped at intimate moments when they were visiting Schnabel or away doing something together. Polaroid photography is regarded as the purest form of photography; each photograph is unique and the print appears the moment the picture is taken. There is no possibility of retouching or improving the image in the darkroom or computer. The characteristic colours, shadows and nuances are unsurpassable by the digital technologies of today. In some cases, however, Schnabel has added to the image or painted over parts of it to give it extra impact; in the photograph of himself with Mickey Rourke, for example, he has painted himself all over in satanic red, making Rourke appear a wholesome hero by contrast.
By using his photography to examine his own life, Schnabel raises fundamental, existential questions about life and death. Not only because some of the people portrayed, like his father and his friend Tucker Geery, have since died, but because a photo can resurrect a specific moment in the past. This is a key theme in Schnabels work; his art brings the past into the present and thereby denies the reality and inevitability of death. Another example of this is the series of Polaroids that Schnabel has taken of original late nineteenth-century photographs of mental patients. By re-photographing their images in this way, he transports the people into the twenty-first century.
The exhibition is curated by Petra Giloy-Hirtz and being held in cooperation with diCHromA Photography (Madrid) and Bernheimer Fine Art Photography (Munich).