by Kurt Weidemann
Not even the first, scuffed fashion photos that were intended as his entry ticket into the business were subtle, delicate, or elegant, as generally necessary. But they were powerful. Drawn from a rich wellspring of ideas, all the photos that have followed evoke a sense of calm above hurriedness. The words of German comedian Karl Valentin aptly describe his art: “If one has talent, then it’s not art, and if one doesn’t have talent, then it’s definitely not art.
”He “releases” a shot like a gunslinger with his hand always on the trigger. But he isn’t shooting blindly. Just the opposite, he takes careful aim and is sure to meet his mark. It is clear that there is a lot going on in his head and that he’ll take everything in, before he’ll say nothing. Creative people with recognizable artistic talent are different in terms of what they view as thinkable, conceivable, or presentable. They exit the realm of propriety, risk confrontation with something beyond their control, open our eyes to something that did not exist before. I am talking about Ralf Schmerberg.
Occasionally suffering bouts of economic crisis, the publishing industry has recently brought one formula for success to full flourish: cookbooks, cookbooks according to country and region, written by grandmothers and star cooks or nowadays by celebrities and talk-show hosts, sorted by recipe and specialty or trends and fashion. With illustrations that make your mouth water. A solid bet. You can tell a good restaurant, because the waiter immediately clears the table, along with your mind, of whatever has been picked clean, pushed aside, or covered with a napkin.
Not so fast! Ralf Schmerberg inconspicuously holds his camera in his hands and captures what is on the way out.
He’s done this well over a thousand times. All over the globe: at official dinners, at restaurant food-stops in Singapore and Thailand, in back-alley bars and multiple-star hotels. You’ve eaten, and then you’re asked to pay. “Lord, when the time comes, let me hunger. A full belly leads to dullness and sloth … “ – the words of German poet Gustav Falke – is what we were taught in our paramilitary training and later unfortunately forced to experience. The eternal rhythms of hunger and satiation, of desire, appetite, table companions, and the delicacies of the palate, of satisfaction, well-being, and sleepiness accompany us throughout our lives.
The part of our meal where we start to become less alert is the moment that Ralf Schmerberg is wide awake: “the dirty dishes“, the leftovers of devoured food, the crockery and utensils. Down to earth, clear, real, quick as a flash, inimitable – he sees what other people don’t. The unusual is the ordinary – the evidence, the visible and undeniable proof – which Schmerberg adroitly transforms to the best possible effect. That’s what you call art, or at least an artistic feat.
It stimulates us, makes us think, and liberates us, so that we keep paging and thinking through the images. Jogging personal memories: of holidays with unusual culinary endeavors or a quick stop at a hot-dog stand. We see something indisputable, beyond likelihood, and true to life – a naturalistic reality independent of the internal workings of the mind. Of course, anyone else could have done it, but no one else thought of it. Our curiosity is awakened and begins to roam – with Ralf Schmerberg at the shutter. The world is within reach. Greed and hunger span the globe, leaving their traces behind.