Front view
Inv. No.S-1942
ArtistAndreas Müheborn 1979 in Karl-Marx-Stadt, Germany


from the series "Obersalzberg"


Dimensions12,7 x 10,2 cm
Edition1/7 (+ 3 a.p.)

Primary Instincts
The mountains are mighty, the forest stands dark, the uniform fits to a tee. It is too good to be true. The perfection of these pictures is ambivalent, for the signifiers Andreas Mühe assembles in them are poisoned. The mountain is not just any mountain; the uniform, not just any uniform. Nazis at Obersalzberg: that is impossible, inappropriate, an outrage. Why would a photographer even go there today? Mühe says: “I am interested in power.”
Andreas Mühe brings the mountain and the forest and the uniform together in an ostensibly affirmative gesture he immediately breaks up to ironic effect: if you look closely, you recognize that the SS men the pictures capture are urinating on the sublime setting. Sometimes the tiny uniformed figures are virtually invisible amid the confused tangle of branches around them. Sometimes the mountains are too captivating for us to let the public display of nature’s call interfere with their splendor. You do need to look very closely to see the jet of urine. Sometimes the sunlight refracts its image. Yet there it is. At that moment, the picture is transformed: the strange intimacy of the private gesture the beholder witnesses as though by chance undercuts the bombast of what is asserted all around it.
These photographs are a provocation that some beholders may find too clever, too calculated. Yet the allusion to famous affronts in recent art history reveals more than contextual cheek on the photographer’s part. The “Pissing Nazis” may be read in relation to Warhol’s “Piss Paintings” as well as Wolfgang Tillmans’s punk urinating in the studio. Mühe’s Nazis are as frozen as Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ,” preserved in Urine instead of formaldehyde. And here, too, it is in a certain way the provocation staged by the photographer that suddenly transforms the photograph’s monumental theater into an enigmatic conceptual emblem.
Posture, perfection, tone—in the “Pissing Nazis,” the male muscular armor Wilhelm Reich described is utterly with itself. Yet the orgasmic relief the writer promised is out of reach for these men, set in a monumental environment, constrained by their rigid uniforms. At least they permit themselves a moment of weakness and piss on the majestic scenery.
In the more recent “Obersalzberg” motifs, too, Andreas Mühe’s focus is on posture and mental states, on theatrical staging and appearances. The photographer directs an ensemble of Nazis of different ranks photographing one another, already producing an image within the image within the image illustrating the subjects’ perception of their own significance exalted by delusion or perhaps by puerile self-overestimation. Who would give a definite assessment of the range of primary instincts the National Socialists’ theatrical productions awakened and gratified? Which features of the illuminated spectacles of power, of the speeches the Nazis delivered and the gestures they made, were deliberate and which, unconscious? That is a question we may speculate about even today. By contrast, the effect and unambiguousness of the signifiers photography has a greater capacity to reflect than any other medium are beyond dispute. The emperors of the Wilhelmine Reich staged themselves in paintings; the National Socialists recruited film and photography for their purposes to a historically unprecedented extent.
Andreas Mühe distills all these aspects into a single photograph: an SS officer dressed in a white summer coat, standing before a dramatic dark sky, has his photograph taken by a subordinate. The beholder does not see much of him beyond his rigidly straight back, a bent arm, and the scowl on his lips. These features convey everything we need to know. Andreas Mühe’s photography is interested in the power and vacuity of a pose, the effects of a formulaic posture. Here it is the body that determines consciousness: everything was to be redefined and reinvented in National Socialist culture—brainwashing with a grand gesture.
With the “Obersalzberg” series, Mühe charts a new field of reflection on the influence of photography over the aesthetic of National Socialism, as well as other totalitarian regimes. The people who created the décors, sceneries, and costumes in which the political actors of National Socialism staged themselves with a keen sense for theatrical efficacy—set designers like Benno von Arent, film people like the director Leni Riefenstahl and the cameraman Walter Frentz, and architects like Albert Speer—always worked with a view to the documentation of their productions in films and photographs. Eva Braun’s creation of the figure of Adolf Hitler the private man in the subsequently famous color Super 8 films she shot at Obersalzberg also marks the drawn of private color photography in Germany.
For many years, Andreas Mühe worked on the photographic canon of the postures, gestures, and dispositions of today’s political sphere. He photographed politicians until, as he says, “it started to bore me too much.” Now he invents his own piece of history afresh, an act that owes as much to his intense curiosity as it does to a fundamental anxiety.
(Magdalena Kröner)

S-1942, "Sissi"
Andreas Mühe, "Sissi", 2012
S-1942, Front view
© Andreas Mühe, courtesy Carlier/Gebauer / Bildrecht, Wien
S-1942, verso view
Andreas Mühe, "Sissi", 2012
S-1942, verso view