WEBERS VIENNA Knowledge of a city derives from the deciphering

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					                                                              Ein Projekt der Kulturabteilung der Stadt Wien

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                                                              (Rathausplatz), 37, 38, 40, 4, 42, 43, 44 (Schot-

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Catalogue text, Timm Starl


         ‘Knowledge of a city derives from the deciphering of its dreamily casual pictures.’
                                   (Siegfried Kracauer, 1931) (1)

‘A city is only a city, our city, and, so to speak, our home as long as we grasp and embrace it with
                                              our imagination.’
                                      (Bogdan Bogdanovic, 1980) (2)

                 ‘The closer you look at Vienna, the more distant it looks back at you.’
                                       (Franz Schuh, 1995) (3)

Street Pictures

‘I am a mad photographer’, Harry Weber remarked concerning the abundance of material he
presented for his exhibition and the catalogue on July 5, 2006. ‘I’m a shooter’, he added after a
little while, meaning that most of his photographs were taken spontaneously and often in rapid
succession. He had ended up with about 30,000 pictures, made with a digital camera, a Nikon D
00, between 2003 and 2007. But what do numbers mean? ‘A good photographer has a lot more
bad pictures in his files than he will ever publish good ones. His quality is not independent of the
number of pictures he can choose from. For the good photographer, likelihood is a factor to be
taken into account. And again, the two-fold truth of the principles of photography becomes evident,
as does the impossibility to pin them down unequivocally. The likelihood of having a good photo,
which also means an important photo, is not only determined by the number of pictures taken but
rather by the variety of situations the photographer looks for.’ (4)

The photographer encounters these situations in passing or while waiting, when taking a stroll

or watching people in a park. Weber was no flaneur – an attribute used in quite an inflationary
manner when photographers take city streets as their motif. Katharina Sykora has dated the end
of this urban figure and discovered his successor: in the 1920s/1930s, the flaneur turned into a
‘passer-by taking pictures’: ‘[…] the gaze searching for adventure has become a gaze mechani-
cally assessing, registering, and classifying things, which may be endowed with meaning only a
posteriori, i.e. in the photographic development process.’ (5) Unlike the flaneur, the passer-by with
his camera does not regard the street as a panorama providing inspiration but as a mirror granting
him a feeling of his presence.

Yet, both figures not only move on the same urban terrain but also owe their encounters to the ran-
domness they give themselves up to. While the flaneur walks the streets without any expectations,
drifting along, the picture-taking passer-by will visit places that seem to promise him some motif
or other. Even if he does not set out on a premeditated path, he will be in a state of permanent ex-
pectation, his camera at the ready. The photographer will often be ‘too late’ when he comes upon
people; they will have already walked on before he has adjusted his apparatus and can press the
shutter release. This is why most people Weber has met in the streets are taken from the side or
from behind. The first impression has no photographic equivalent; the pictures result from a se-
cond glance in which the track of the first is sublated.

The Other

‘Die Anderen’ (The Others) was the title of an exhibition of photographs by Harry Weber at the
Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien (Historical Museum of the City of Vienna) in 994. Visitors
were confronted with residents of Vienna who dressed differently, celebrated differently, had a
different colour, with Turks, women with headscarves and long gowns, female migrants from the
Balkans, with tourists from the Philippines, refuges, with a Jew reading the Talmud, and Greek Or-
thodox believers in church: children, old people, newspaper vendors, football players, musicians,
on park benches or in trams, in the first, tenth, and twentieth districts. They were introduced to a
special view of Vienna, to an approach aimed at demonstrating that ‘the “other” people are like all
of us’ – that is to say, like all those not in the picture. This view is a view of ourselves since ‘spea-
king about the ones implies that there are the others; and vice versa. The ones owe their existence
to the others and the others to the ones.’ (6)

In his commentary on the pictures, the photographer mentions his fondness for ‘fringe pictures’,
‘pictures that are not immediately connected with the story I want to tell but nevertheless belong
to it, as an accompaniment, as it were […]’. However, ‘fringe pictures [may] turn into main pictures
as they do not only illustrate the story but lend weight to it’. (7) The fringes which Weber refers to,
which he saw and pictured, are both in the centre and on the periphery. Here and there, he chose
his position amidst the goings-on as well as on the platform of the uninvolved chronicler. Weber
always says ‘we’ when he looks at others.

The unusual we come upon and regard and experience as strange is something ordinary and
usual for the photographer. He explores the strange and the ‘stranger within us’, that ‘hidden side
of our identity’ (8), which most people are afraid of. It is the fear of the doppelgänger within us,
of Mr Hyde in Dr Jekyll. Only those who have overcome this fear of the other in themselves may
become familiar with the strange. As an émigré, Weber experienced both sides: as a Jew in his
native Austria, as a stranger in Palestine, his temporary home.

Pictures in the Picture

In order to transform the ‘we’ into pictures one needs an exuberant and naïve eye. An eye that
registers the ephemeral and the momentous, the trivial and the significant. But one has to conti-
nuously rediscover people and objects as if one had never seen them before in order to prevent
that the pictures turn into stereotypes. One has to forget to be able to grant one’s curiosity suf-
ficient leeway. The window cleaner Weber photographed for Die Anderen is different from the
one he recently watched behind a pane. This does not refer to the person, but to the gaze, the
mise-en-scène, the atmosphere. There is something like resignation written in one cleaner’s face,
the expression of an existence without perspective, of actual hopelessness, of the futility of a job

that determines past, present, and future and will keep the man imprisoned. The other is full of
zeal, demonstrating something to the lookers-on, probably a vendor praising his product, sure to
sell something before he will move on. The lines and the pattern on the pane tell of the moment’s
excitement to which the actor succumbs. In comparison, the water drops and foam splashes in the
earlier picture have something of a curtain impeding the view of and by the subject, attracting the
gaze and rejecting it.

Harry Weber’s penchant for looking into shop windows is something he shares with the American
photographer Lee Friedlander, who has focused on this motif again and again for forty years since
the 1960s. (9) The reflections and refractions provide both with an opportunity to simultaneously
capture what is behind the pane and beside it or behind the photographer. Friedlander frequently
points his lens head on at the object, occasionally bringing himself into the picture. He thus em-
phasizes the special dimension of the photographic and the photographer’s position, which is not
only determined by the pictures he produces but also by what surrounds him. When Weber looks
into shop windows or vitrines he does not do so because he wants to be in the picture or hold forth
on reflections on the medium and the viewpoint of the picture’s author. He rather looks for further
perspectives that may provide his objects with additional contours. He tries to outwit his lens, so to
speak, which cannot include more than part of what he sees. The reflection replaces a second ca-
mera or position. The presence of two (or more) pictures in one reveals the variety of appearances
flooding people that walk through a city.

Pictures relying on reflection effects are nothing unusual, of course. The façades of shops already
inspired several representatives of the photographic avant-garde in the 1920s to combine two
views – one of the street and one away from it – in a single picture. This suggestion of turning
around or turning one’s head mirrors the city dweller’s feeling that arises from the change between
inside and out, between public and private life, from looking at the street and at the house fronts.
Weber repeatedly thematizes the different spheres of the city, and also does so without using the
transparency of glass or its reflections. When he looks out into the open from a museum hall or
discovers a woman leaning on a window breast from the pavement, his picture always implicitly
encompasses the outer or inner space behind the photographer or his subject that is not visible.

Distortion is another effect that has been used by photographers for quite some time. Such pic-
tures resemble anamorphoses – as if one might be able to restore the ordinary view with a mirror
curved the other way. The fascination of such pictures lies in the viewer’s intellectual activity who
‘imagines’ a distortion, i.e. holds a corresponding mirror up to the photographic view in his mind.
This is an approach Weber shares with photographing contemporaries who regard themselves
as artists and – like Denis Roche or Annelies Oberdanner – explore collapsing perspectives in
through-views and reflections. In Weber’s and Oberdanner’s (10) pictures of Vienna, car windows
and bonnets, puddles and panes are surfaces where the feeling of urban existence manifests itself
– an experience mainly characterized by the simultaneity of several impressions. Wherever the
eye turns to, other pictures crop up in its corner, whomever one listens to, there are other sounds
that reach the ear.

Last, not least, Weber indulged in his fondness for pictures in the picture by getting posters lined
up in his sights whose texts or images seemed to give a commentary on what was going on in front
of them. Only the viewer understands these dialogues without words that take place without the
persons involved. They are the photographer’s invention who has lain in wait for chance in order
to capture a strange coincidence. Though these photographs may reveal a number of contradic-
tions of present-day society, Weber does not present his attitudes with a moralizing undertone but
rather with a twinkle in his eye. His photographs are neither to be compared with works such as
the famous snapshot by Barbara Pflaum showing the visitor of an exhibition passing a sculpture
by Fritz Wotruba without paying attention to it. With its subdued pathos, this scene hints at many
people’s ambivalent attitude towards modern art. Weber’s findings are rather interested in strange
or even funny situations and often make us smile.

However, Weber exactly measures his position when it comes to ‘exposing’ political aspects. A
sand bucket in front of an FPÖ poster, for example, turns its message into –‘He says … Vienna
may … not become.’ Or a group of women and men standing at a buffet of the Salzburg ÖVP red-

uce the words below Wolfgang Schüssel’s picture to ‘not him’. Weber always had a preference for
such seemingly random constellations: in 1988, he took a photograph of a city vagrant on a bench
who had been dragged there by the police; behind him, we read the SPÖ promise ‘We act’. ()

Heads, Hands

Though one may dismiss such solutions as jokes, they should be seen as springing from an
author’s inclination to question the meaningfulness of personal propaganda and reduce political
slogans to absurdity. With such arrangements, Weber turns the catchphrases against what they
intend by further shortening the claptrap or taking it a bit too literally. His visual language thwarts
the advertising imagery.

This practise reveals a sceptical attitude towards everything official, towards the pathos and slick-
ness which become even more obvious in pictures of prominent figures at some function. Weber
refused to shoot agreeable portraits of people who enjoy the limelight, turning towards every ca-
mera with pleasure and practiced gestures. He rather looked at them from behind or when part of
their faces was hidden, and shot a picture when they thought that nobody was watching them and
did not hide their annoyance or boredom. During a May Day rally, the photographer took his stand
behind the waving politicians on the platform in front of the City Hall; Cardinal Schönborn remains
hidden behind the raised monstrance during the Corpus Christi procession when the church digni-
taries sport their gloriously colourful robes. Weber also took different pictures occasionally when
he still worked for the press, yet his main concern was documenting the events and providing
photographs in which the actors were recognizable. But when his clients’ requirements were not
relevant any longer, when he was not expected to deliver a quota of ‘official’ pictures any more, his
interest rather focused on the hidden aspects of such events.

This is also the way Weber dealt with anonymous subjects, with the people he encountered on
his excursions in the streets, in restaurants, cafés, and bars, at events, or in the underground. He
did not look out for certain types or conspicuous forms of demeanour but for people’s behaviour
in everyday situations: for someone pulling a face in the dazzling sun, for people spontaneously
erupting into laughter, for someone who thoughtfully props up his head, concentrates on his work.
The facial expressions are as telling as the hands are: they hold a child, adjust a piece of clothing,
play with an ashtray. These unconsidered expressions are the decisive moments for the photo-
grapher. And they are familiar to the viewer: attitudes and emotions he continuously comes upon
without really registering them because he looks beyond them.


Some of Harry Weber’s pictures also tell stories, albeit very short ones. There are only rare in-
stances of chronological sequences, such as that of the bearded Muslim who makes a stop in a
meadow to say his prayers or that of old and young Jews preparing matzo dough. Mostly, some
hints suffice to make a story. Weber asks the viewer to rely on his fantasy. The attraction of the
photographic and the anecdotic results from the fact that something is hinted at or depicted or
makes a picture emerge, while everything that has taken place before and next to it is withheld.
Photography is the ideal medium in this regard, because it is fond of the fugitive or, in fact, shows
only part of the picture – a part that cannot be grasped in its presence. For as soon as one’s at-
tention turns to it, it has already entered a new present disclosing a later, new view of the objects

The lacking narrative potential of the individual photograph can supposedly be compensated by
series and sequences or multiple exposures and fadeovers. Yet, these always comprise distances
to be bridged by the viewer, whether in space or in time. Weber’s forte is that he knows how to
place certain hints in his pictures which do not point in a certain direction and only become obvious
at second sight. These hints inflame our imagination, provide it with points of departure. Associati-
on is the viewer’s instrument with which he approaches the pictures and which continually supply
his reading with new fuel. One has to run across the street with the children, look over the reader’s
shoulder, participate in the group’s conversation, make out the roof structure in the shadows, re-
construct the original building through the remnants of its walls.


Every city has two sides, its historical stock and that of its present change. While the one knows
nothing but silence, the other is dominated by movement, noise, and smells. The two sides are
close without ever touching each other. Our thoughts only reach one of the two, and there is no
medium that would be able to reveal the simultaneity of their coexistence. To get to know a city
means to pursue a path, a concept. One may choose the tourist’s approach and visit the sights,
stop on famous squares, drink and eat in the recommended places. Most photographic works de-
aling with Vienna are structured this way, and this is also what most publishers expect. (2)

Some photographers – like Gerhard Trumler – shun such stereotyped tours. (13) Though they
occasionally come upon famous buildings, they focus on details which do not permit to draw
any conclusions regarding the whole. And when a modern building crops up here and there, it is
made unrecognizable by means of graphic pictorial solutions. Generally, less attractive objects
are defamiliarized by the photographer’s mise-en-scène: by close-ups, by focusing on uncon-
ventional details, by presenting enumerations with the same camera setting. Thus, even the ugly
may be endowed with harmonious features. In between, we find a lonely bucket in a staircase or
a dried-up grape as still lifes or are introduced to coachmen, ushers, and caretakers as easygoing
characters. In front of the Café Hawelka, its proprietor stands with a double espresso with milk on
his tray, and old stone figures succumb to the ravages of time. Life is an idyll. Ultimately, such a
procedure lends a different image to a city even if it reproduces clichés.

Weber is also familiar with the idyllic, yet he only gives in to it from time to time, mainly at daybreak
or nightfall and at night. When Trumler centres on the loneliness of trite things, he is not really
concerned with the city, while Weber’s look falls prey to a transfiguration – as if he had tears in
his eyes. The views become blurry and the lights sparkle, a Christmas street emanates a golden
shimmer, and a gleaming white Mozart shines from behind leaves and branches.


Forms and colours do not play a crucial role in Weber’s work. The photographer regards them as
attributes, not as motifs, that is to say, they do not constitute the front of the things he depicts but
are attached to them, as it were. It is his mental image of the city that defines his approach: the
pictorial expression of the author’s emotional attitude towards Vienna and what the city ‘feels’ like
and how this manifests itself in its multiple appearances. There are neither patterns nor models
for such a search. Weber’s method strikes us as rather chaotic since he proceeds spontaneously,
and spontaneity does not depend on any considerations. It does not matter where he is, what co-
mes into view, and when this happens. He did not take notes; only the digital clock of the camera
provides a date for the pictures.

Such an approach differs essentially from how other photographers explore a city. Ulrich Gansert,
for example, leaves his flat for his working place and later returns to certain places which he looks
at separately. For him, the urban lies in the city’s great dimensions which it comprises and reveals,
establishes and changes: in buildings and halls, receding streets and long corridors, in courtyards
and excavation pits. (14) Paul Albert Leitner again characterizes his Vienna differently by following
signs and organizing them: doors and gates, inscriptions and plates, red and yellow. (5) A big city
is made up of the vast spaces which it creates; Vienna is an agglomeration of symbols that lure
you or bar your way.

Dream City

Weber’s Vienna is a notion endowed with photographic features. He had explored the familiar city
in his works for the press between the 950s and the 970s, in his commissions for stern and other
magazines: the big gestures and ordinary people, the politicians trying their best to appear close
to the people and the oh-so-sweet pets in animal shelters, the chic events and dashing Viennese
girls and women, the merry Prater visitors and the old women in the windows of crumbling houses.
Pictures of this kind catered (and still cater) for a clientele browsing the glossies to find their prefe-
rences and prejudices confirmed. It is part of the business of periodicals and magazines to fill the

spaces between their news with old pictures or even new ones if they only conform to the noble
idea of the subject concerned.

Neither client nor topicality had a say in Weber’s Vienna project; the photographer was his own
master. He determined place and time, motif, and line of vision. He did not look at Vienna but re-
garded the world from Vienna – and fell into a reverie. In such dreams, contradictions get on well
with each other, and there is no need to define them. The marginal and the airy cut the same fine
figure as solemn and pathetic things. The accidental hides a whole universe, and the certainties
of history cannot cover the continuous shining of the present. Everything is always now and un-
expected. The metropolis reveals itself as a ‘city which is always on the move, always about to
change’ (6). Nothing can get a better grip of this continuous change than an essay of pictures:
loosely connected with the subject, offering motifs for association, a guide suddenly stopping with
a look of inquiry, then registering some detail with a wink, yet always full of amazement and pre-
pared for surprises. The realm of daydreams is also dominated by incidents and sudden changes
of direction, instant pictures being their photographic equivalents: they constitute the components
of Harry Weber’s construction of Vienna – a Vienna looking at us, dreamily, with all its secrets
pictured by the photographer and not to be fathomed.

(1) Siegfried Kracauer, ‘Aus dem Fenster gesehen’, in: S. Kracauer, Aufsätze 1927–1931, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp,
1990 (Schriften, ed. by Inka Mülder-Bach, vol. 5.2), pp. 399–401, here p. 401.
(2) Bogdan Bogdanović, Die Stadt und der Tod. Essays. From the Serbian by Klaus Detlef Olof, Klagenfurt, Salzburg:
Wieser Verlag, (993), 3994, p. 55.
(3) Franz Schuh, ‘Herr Schuh, ist Wien in Bewegung? Warum (nicht)?’, in: du, issue no. , KunstWerk Wien, January 995,
p. 7.
(4) Thomas Neumann, ‘Über Photographie. Gedanken zu Walter Benjamin’, in: Frankfurter Hefte. Zeitschrift für Kultur und
Politik, vol. 19, issue 4, 4 April 1964, pp. 261–268, here p. 265.
(5) Katharina Sykora, Unheimliche Paarungen. Androidenfaszination und Geschlecht in der Fotografie, Cologne: Verlag
der Buchhandlung Walther König, 1999 (Kunstwissenschaftliche Bibliothek, vol. 14), p. 131.
(6) Barbara Frischmuth, untitled, ibid., p. 0.
(7) Weber, ibid., p. 3.
(8) Julia Kristeva, Fremde sind wir uns selbst. From the French by Xenia Rajewsky, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, (1990),
299 (edition suhrkamp 604, Neue Folge Band 604), p. .
(9) See the examples in: Peter Galassi, Friedlander, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art New York, 2005, pp.
86–89, 120 f., 130–133, 274 f., 371.
(10) Cf. Annelies Oberdanner: Fotografien aus Wien, Salzburg: Fotohof, 2001 (Edition Fotohof, vol. 23).
() See the picture in: Harry Weber, Ein photographisches Bilderleben, ed. and introduced by Carl Aigner, exhibition ca-
talogue, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Vienna, Munich: Christian Brandstätter, 200, p. 56.
(2) Some of the more ambitious recent publications of the traditional kind are Ernst Hausner, Wien, Vienna: Edition Wien
im Pichler Verlag, 999; Kurt-Michael Westermann/Walter M. Weiss, Wien, Lucerne: Reich-Verlag, 2003. I am indebted to
Michael Ponstingl for drawing my attention to these and other illustrated books on Vienna.
(3) My following remarks refer to Gerhard Trumler, Turmalin. Wirklichkeit eines Traumes. Wien, Weitra: Bibliothek der
Provinz, 2000.
(4) Cf. Ulrich Gansert, Wien: Ort, Zeit: Blick, Vienna: Edition Atelier bei Facultas, n.d. (2002).
(5) Cf. Paul Albert Leitner, Wien: Momente einer Stadt. Vienna: Moments of a City, Salzburg: Fotohof, 2006 (Edition
Fotohof, vol. 66).
(6) Franz Hessel, Ein Flaneur in Berlin (original edition: Spazieren in Berlin, 929), Berlin: Das Arsenal, 984, p. 37.


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