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Iris Klein’s »Women« (1998 – 2005) are photographic negatives, but only negative in appearance. It is darkness at noon. Reminiscent of silver-coated plates, these mostly small (12,7 cm x 17,8 cm) ghostly images hark back to an early stage when photography still had the power to mesmerise, or was still trying to match painting. Klein’s black photographs are translucent, but the chiaroscuro emanates from the bodies themselves, or rather from their clothes. The bodies are black, and the background is dark, but the clothes are spectral white with soft grey folds that give them a painterly look. It is the clothes that irradiate the entire photograph, floating in darkness around phantom limbs. (Klein admits that she shot empty clothes first; bodies were introduced later.) All the edges are slightly blurred, and this further intensifies the spatial ambiguity with their surroundings.
Everything else, including the face, is black, dense and velvety, so delicately textured that it is tempting to touch. In our era of mechanical reproduction and digital manipulation, the aim of these photographs is to reclaim the idea of an original.
In his essay celebrating the modern era in which photography and film have replaced lithography and painting, Walter Benjamin suggested that the aura was a unique phenomenon created in nature by the sense of distance, »however close it may be«. What he meant is that the feeling of something unique and authentic, wasn’t just a physical property of the images, it was the viewers’ attitude in relation to them that used to inspire some degree of awe. Actually, the claim for authenticity came much later, after religious participation had become problematic. Contrary to what happens in our society, where images are too close to be perceived or registered, the aura managed to maintain some separation. It couldn’t be domesticated or trivialised. »The closeness which one may gain from its subject matter«, Benjamin wrote, »does not impair the distance which it retains in appearance«.