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On Graham Hains

Martin Jankowski (2018)

(c) berliner literarische aktion

For some years now, Australian-born Berlin based photographer Graham Hains has been portraying the authors and activists of Berlin’s international literary scene. Our collaboration in the context of various projects of the Berliner Literarisch Aktion began in Jakarta in 2010, where Hain’s impressive portraits of inhabitants of the Indonesian metropolis were created for an exhibition of our Jakarta Berlin Arts Festival, which was shown in 2011 at the Red Town Hall in Berlin under the title “Inhabitants – Faces of Jakarta”. This cooperation was successfully continued for the Stadtsprachen: Accompanying the process of creating this literature festival, which was realized in 2016 together with many partners of the free Berlin literary scene in honour of the international,”non-German writers” of Berlin, Hain’s poets, writers and activists* began to portray individual sessions at their leisure and with great empathy away from the festival events.

Already at that time he  peu a peu selected pictures of this Stadtsprachen series on his photographic website The Peerless Portrait Company. Many of these portraits also found their way into the authors’ magazines and book covers; Others have long been to be found in various versions and in considerable numbers on the pages and picture galleries of the digital stadtsprachen magazine, for which Hains continued his promising work after the end of the festival and (besides documenting images from the thematically related PARATAXE series of events) also continued his independent work on the artistically demanding portraits of authors. Hains is an explicit portraitist with high artistic aspirations. He takes a lot of time for his personal portraits, starting with the preparations, and uses extensive professional equipment for the implementation. The locations of the photographs, no matter whether indoor or open air, are of primary importance for the portrayed persons and are chosen by them themselves. The pictures in this series usually show the whole person in an environment of relevance for themselves. Both elements in the dialog only produce the image. Colours are used sparingly, sometimes the person is also depicted in clear black and white. For the on-location photographer Hains, the focus is on the effect of the person; in order to capture his or her expression, he or she uses the entire instrumentation of contemporary image arts, from classical mechanical processes to digital processing to special image development processes and special or unusual papers and formats. Therefore, the results of these photographic encounters are as individual as the people depicted.

For the exhibition INK – The Stadtsprachen Portraits, Hains has selected fifty-five images from the extensive collection of the ongoing series. He produced them in a wide variety of formats and materials and deliberately placed them in the “St. Petersburg hanging” he favored in the Literary Colloquium Berlin (LCB). The Stadtsprachen projects, in whose surroundings the pictures were created, explore the astonishing diversity of Berlin’s international literary scenes literarily – Graham Hains’ portraits go beyond that and explore the city and the people who shape its literary present in a visual and artistic way.

The Australian Berliner traveled the world as a child, since his father worked in various countries (including Malaysia). He added the following autobiographical short description of his life to the exhibition guide (in original English): Graham Hains was born in Australia in 1951. In 1983, bored with life, he bought a very second hand Pentax K1000 and a couple of lenses for what he thought at the time to be a great price, though time disabused him of this conceit. Later, after seeing a short new wave film call Genesis, he thought to try his hand at art photography. Experience soon taught him it was harder than he had thought. By now obsessed with the medium, he went to night school to learn how to develop black and white film as well as the basics in photographic printing. His wife, at first glad he had a hobby, became increasingly discontent as the hobby began to negatively effect both his working life and the family income. A weekend retreat to discuss matters proved fruitless because she bought ultimatums to the weekend and he bought his camera. They separated and were divorced two years later.
.. In 1990 Graham left the world of commerce for a small and cold woodcutter’s house in the farm areas of southwest Western Australia where he set up a darkroom and began to diligently learn more about his craft. A high school dropout, he took the advice of a friend and sat the mature-age university exams and achieved a result that would enable him to enter the inaugural Photo-Media course at Edith Cowan University in 1993. In the first semester he went with a friend into what they thought was a deserted inner city house to photograph for a unit assignment, only to be surprised to find that the house was occupied by street kids and alcoholics. With their full consent he photographed them for a series on social problems in the city. Photographs from this series won him the student prize in the City of Perth International Photo Awards. In his third year at University he entered and won the open section City of Perth International Photo Awards. During this year he also spent six months at Illinois State University as part of the University’s international exchange program. He graduated with distinctions and went on to do an honor’s year in Edith Cowan’s Fine Art department.
In 1998 he visited New York to meet a friend and met a German woman who lived in Berlin and would later become his wife. In 1999, on his way to try and make his way as a photographer in London, he used a stop over option on his ticket and came to Berlin to visit his future wife. They were married in 2000. In 2007 they moved to Jakarta, where they stayed for six years. During the 2011 summer of Berlin he exhibited 32 large format portraits of Jakarta residents as part of the Jakarta-Berlin Arts festival. The portraits making up this exhibition where photographed either in sitters home or their place of work over a 12 month period. In 2016 Martin Jankowski asked him if he was interested in photographing authors for the upcoming Stadtsprachen Festival’s web page and author profiles. The portraits in this exhibition were all taken as part of the Stadtsprachen Festival, Parataxe and the Stadtsprachen Magazine.

Graham Hain’s photography has been exhibited in many countries over the past few years, including Berlin galleries such as Galerie Bassenge, Altenburg Photographie Auktionshaus, Another Country Bookshop Galerie, Wally Woods Galerie für Gegenwartskunst and Bago Galerie. Hains is a member of the artist group Brücken Kunst. His paintings are in important private and public collections. Thanks to the proposal of the Berlin Literary Action and the preparations for the current INK exhibition, the management of the LCB at Wannsee was also made aware of the special artistic signature and the quality of his work, so that he now receives commissions from Berlin’s oldest literature house and connects his work with the House beyond this exhibition.

I had personally met Graham Hains first time in a Berlin street café in the summer of 2005, when I was asked to advise him and his wife on whether they should move to the Indonesian mega-city of Jakarta (currently about 20 million inhabitants) for a few years, where I realized various literary projects and lived temporarily. Later I visited Graham and his wife several times in Jakarta and only there I got the opportunity to get to know his artistic work as a photographer. His immense talent and his personal artistic handwriting inspired me immensely, so I spontaneously suggested to him to work together for a larger Berlin exhibition project. On behalf of Berlin’s Governing Mayor Klaus Wowereit, I prepared an extensive Jakarta Berlin Arts Festival in honour of the twinning partnership of the German and Indonesian capital, and I asked Graham Hains to create a series of large-format portraits of the city’s inhabitants, which could give the Berlin public a concrete impression of the very different everyday life of their largely unknown contemporaries in the Indonesian mega-metropolis.
.. I was as impressed and surprised by Hains’ thorough and technically perfectionist way of working as I was by the strong results. His exhibition Inhabitants from summer 2011 at the Rotes Rathaus became a first success of our cooperation, which made his name known in the Berlin literary scene. In this respect, it was by no means coincidental or surprising when, a few years later, his name came up when he was asked for a suitable photographic companion when designing a project for the international author scene in Berlin. The fact that Graham Hains was immediately interested in exploring Berlin’s literary scene with the camera in his own way speaks both for his artistic spirit of adventure and his attachment to this city and its extraordinary artistic personalities. In addition to the usual documentary recordings for the festival, however, he asked for portraits to be realized according to his own ideas – a suggestion that we gladly accepted and whose results are now inspiring not only the Berlin literary scene.

In January 2018, Graham Hains wrote to me at the INK exhibition in January 2018, referring to the gratifying and astonishing development of our friendship cooperation: “At first it may sound like an exaggeration, but think about it: Extensive research has convinced me that what we do with this series of portraits has never been done before, never before… I couldn’t have a literature festival, no gathering, no event, no grouping, no big meeting, not find a small meeting or whatever that has given all authors or festival participants the opportunity to hold a free portrait session, especially a session outside a studio, at a location of their choice. I have found nothing other than the usual head and shoulder or studio recordings of the festival stars. The exhibition of these portraits in St. Petersburg style, which cover the walls and completely fill the room, will be another premiere. This style stands in complete contrast to the predominant exhibition mode of regular head shots in a row. Of much greater relevance is the not unimportant distinction that both the important and upcoming authors will be shown together in this historically charged place, which is also the home of the country’s first literary institution in the state capital.
.. All in all, we have moved from the realm of fiction to the realm of imagination with the urban language project: No, it’s never been done before. These portraits are so far away from Dominique Nabokov’s canon of literary portraits that they are a different language; together with this series we have brought the literary portrait into the 21st century.
.. But what is even more interesting is that for this exhibition there is a connection between people (you who make these things possible; Anna, who organizes the author contacts and knocks me on the head when I need them and I, as an acting artist), approached me with such specialized talents, goals and ambitions that it would be difficult and horrendously expensive to realize elsewhere – which explains why it has never been done before and why it may never happen again. That’s why my idea is to name the exhibition Die Stadtsprachen Portraits – this is a statement about something unique, namely photographic portraits of international authors* from Berlin as a document of processes that would otherwise be ignored in my opinion.
.. Please be aware that I know that all this could sound like an exaggeration and that I have become a bit delusional with age, but it is not and I am not. I know the photo story better than most people: This series of portraits is a unique project.”

If you want to understand what makes these pictures so special, if you are interested in the theoretical background of Graham Hain’s work and want to understand his artistic development, we recommend the artist’s entertaining and rich blog: Under the title The Day Diaries of a Photography Addict, Hains continuously provides information, explains and discusses important images of his everyday creative process in an inimitable way – here Graham Hains himself becomes an original and in two ways horizon-expanding author of his own school of vision.

Incidentally, the current INK exhibition shows only a small fraction of what Graham Hains has created in the last two years in unique portraits of authors in a wide variety of locations under diverse circumstances. A first excerpt of these works appeared as early as the end of 2016 as a private print of a picture book in a few copies – and it is very likely that further parts of this still ongoing series will be made public in the next few years. At present, the LCB has “only” a few selected portraits of the following Berlin authors on display (note that Hains usually creates a number of very different motifs for each person in each session): Ewa-Maria Slaska, Scott Martingell alias MC Jabber, Cristian Forte, Dario Deserri, Haukur Már Helgason, John Peck, Lars Jongeblod, Kenny Fries, Milenko Goranovic, Rafael Mantovani, Rajvinder Singh, Jerome Robinet, Wilfried N’Sondé, Martin Jankowski, Andrea Scrima, Ekaterina Vassilieva, Elsye Suquilanda, Erica Zingano, Esther Andradi, Göksu Kunak, Irina Bondas, Isabel Fargo Cole, Junona Guruli, Katy Derbyshire, Marie-Pascale Hardy, Maroula Blades, Elina Mikkilä, Samanta Schweblin, Tzveta Sofronieva, Valentina Uribe, Yimeng Wu and Luísa Nóbrega (names are linked with the biographies of the authors in the city-language magazine, often also photographed by Graham Hains).

Every picture, every meeting between the author and the photographer has a special story; not infrequently the photo sessions have led to intensive friendships and in any case have made Graham Hains a respected and popular protagonist of Berlin’s international literary scene. These stories will have to be told at some point, but the acquaintances and interrelationships are still growing and developing intensively and it is by no means foreseeable where all this will lead in the future. What is clear is that this exhibition is a first, highly interesting interim report by an extraordinary photographic artist who is in the process of making Berlin’s contemporary literature visible in a way we have never seen before.

Berlin, 16 February 2018
Martin Jankowski

The exhibition INK – The Stadtsprachen Portraits by Graham Hains can be seen from 16 February to 25 May 2018 at the Literarisches Colloquium Berlin, Am Sandwerder 5,14109 Berlin with free admission (before and after the evening events or by appointment on 030-8169960).

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