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Obituary for Manfred Schmalriede

Obituary Manfred Schmalriede

We are travelling and waiting

My first encounter with Manfred Schmalriede was at a DFA conference in Hamburg in 2007, when he was still its president. I immediately enjoyed his enthusiasm for discussion and the debates he initiated about the pictures (and not just what was depicted), which led to us meeting for many years, especially at DFA conferences, but also to a lively exchange beyond that.

Manfred Schmalriede impressed me from the very first meeting I mentioned, as well as at every subsequent meeting, with his enthusiasm for argumentation. In our thinking, we met in our doubts about the reality of photography. "When we look at photographs, we still make a naïve assumption that has been shaped by the history of photography itself: A photograph authentically depicts what it represents." (1) he wrote in a catalogue essay in 1989. And he never tired of questioning this misguided misconception in texts, lectures and discussions.

The discussions he initiated at the DFA conferences, where he was particularly interested in "talking about talking about the images" (2), were extraordinary. He did not discuss what was depicted, but always the image as an object with its own aesthetic qualities.

Whether in conversations or in lectures, he presented his thinking so that you could watch him do it. Although I never experienced him as a student myself, I imagine that this presentation of a "thinking thinking" (as Donna Haraway calls it) made him an outstanding teacher for generations of students, who developed his figures of thought like thread games (which Donna Haraway also refers to), which produce a new figure each time they are removed. His eyes sparkled to the end in these thread games with mental images.

He was able to develop his thoughts like no other in a game between planned presentation and improvisation. This was particularly enjoyable to watch in his slide shows, where he obviously discarded the planned sequence in the middle of the presentation and allowed it to unfold anew. In this way, new mental images were created in the truest sense of the word, images that Manfred Schmalriede thought about and with.

Whether in lectures, essays or conversations, as a draughtsman, photographer or theorist, as a teacher or presumably even in functional positions, in all his activities, in all their diversity, he was driven by an enthusiasm for perpetual development.

"We are travelling and waiting" is the phrase chosen by the family in the obituary and on the card. It can be understood as a guiding principle for Manfred Schmalriede's life and our farewell to him. Waiting is connected to being on the road through the rest of the restless, which only serves to find a new destination where he can go again. Then the restless person is already on the road again.

With Manfred Schmalriede, we are finally leaving a man who was able to live many roles in fluid transitions, for some of us one at a time, for others several at once: as a teacher, colleague, photographer, draughtsman, painter, theorist, curator, but also as a husband, father, grandfather, father-in-law, brother-in-law and as a friend, a great thinker in theory and artistic practice, in rare diversity and agility, from whose memory I will continue to learn personally in my future.

Silke Helmerdig, Berlin in November 2023

  • (1) Catalogue of the exhibition "Inszenierte Wirklichkeit", Dortmund, 1989, ed. Museum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte der Stadt Dortmund
  • (2) Bulletin III, Deutsche Fotografische Akademie

Manfred Schmalriede during the general meeting on 6 May 2016 in the Biblothek of the Deichtorhallen. © Axel M. Mosler
Presentation of the gift from the DFA at the farewell ceremony for MS as President on 7 May 2011 | Gift of a photograph by Axel M. Mosler, left in the picture. ( Photographer of this picture unknown )
Panel discussion on the occasion of the DFA 100th anniversary exhibition at the Deichtorhallen on 11 October 2019 | from left Ingo Taubhorn, Prof. Dr Gottfried Jäger, Marlene Schnelle - Schneyder, Prof. Manfred Schmalriede, Corinna Weidner © Axel M. Mosler
Panel discussion on the occasion of the DFA 100th anniversary exhibition at the Deichtorhallen on 11 October 2019 | from left Marlene Schnelle - Schneyder, Prof. MS, Corinna Weidner © Axel M. Mosler
Manfred Schmalriede in conversation with F. C. Gundlach during the DFA Annual Conference on 4 December 2010 in the exhibition at the Deichtorhallen. © Axel M. Mosler
DFA Annual Conference Leinfelden, Filderhalle 29 April 2012 Silke Schmalriede and Manfred Schmalriede. © Axel M. Mosler
Farewell to Manfred Schmalriede as President of the DFA on 7 May 2011 | DFA Annual Conference Leinfelden in conversation with Axel M. Mosler during the ceremony. © Axel M. Mosler
DFA Annual Conference Leinfelden, Filderhalle 8 May 2011 | Manfred Schmalriede © Axel M. Mosler

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