Ulrike Ottinger (b. 1942) resides in Berlin, where she works as a filmmaker, visual artist, and director of theater and opera. She became interested in photography at the age of nine and it has remained (along with cinematography) one of her primary pursuits as a visual artist. Over the course of her career, she has created a body of work that is deeply informed by her encounters with fellow artists and intellectuals as well as different world cultures.
Coinciding with the virtual cinema retrospective East Meets West: The Films of Ulrike Ottinger, MATRIX 276 is BAMPFA’s first exhibition of Ottinger’s photographic work. The images on view were made over a period of decades and display Ottinger’s abiding interest in portraiture and landscape. Often, but not always, Ottinger’s photographic work runs parallel to her film projects. Held in common across both media are her talent as a cameraperson—her eye for detail, frame composition, color, and light—and her worldview.
As a photographer, Ottinger is witness to a world in transition. She documents places and settings that are imbued with a sense of history and cultural customs. This is especially true of her photographs taken in China in 1985, in which an old world and old ways are memorialized in time. By contrast, Ottinger’s expeditions to remote reaches of the world are where she finds an atmosphere of serenity and wonder. Her epic-length documentaries Taiga (1991, filmed in Mongolia) and Chamisso’s Shadow (2016, logging a voyage to the Bering Sea region) will be shown in the film retrospective, and photographs from Taiga figure as part of the gallery exhibition. The overall character of Ottinger’s photographs is at once intimate and direct. The portraits of people she encounters on her travels offer a sense of the subjects in dialogue with the photographer through their gaze at the camera.